Experiences of university

Going to university can be a big change after high school – universities are much bigger places than schools, students are expected to be more independent, and academic standards are higher.

These differences can be particularly challenging for ‘first in the family’ students who may not have family members or friends able to guide them. However, uni life can also be incredibly enriching, exposing you to new ideas, allowing you to meet new friends, and providing the opportunity to challenge and extend yourself.

Many of the people we talked to had attended university. In this video, they share their experiences of finding support at university, the importance of having other Pacific Islanders at their institution, and the pride they felt on graduating. Some people confronted a few challenges getting in to the course they wanted to study, or completing university once they were there, and you can learn more about those experiences here.

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The big difference between primary, secondary and higher education is that higher education is…you don’t…well, you do get as much support, if not more but it just comes in a different way. But I found though that in higher ed, there’s more peer support and peer support works, in my opinion. Well it certainly works for me, with either having Facebook groups or different social medium chat platforms, where we can share ideas, share notes and we can have physical conversations. That’s been quite advantageous to me. To be honest, without it, I don’t think I would’ve gotten through.

I’ve never completed a degree in the usual three years or whatever the timeframe is. It’s always taken me longer. But at the same time, if you know where to ask for support, the support’s generally available to you. If you know that you can approach your academic advisor and say, “Hey, I’m really struggling with this particular area,” nine out of 10 times, so long as you’re not doing it every single time, or asking for extensions constantly, they’re going to help you. That’s their job. And they actually do care. I don’t think I’ve met one that didn’t. So I found that leaning on…well, it was my wife’s idea, but leaning on the academic institution that you’re partnered with at the time, leaning on their facilities and making sure that you use all of it to your advantage, not just the advisors but leaning on the library staff, leaning on the people in your group that you have…working together has been the key for all of it. If I had to try and do all of this 100% by myself, it wouldn’t have happened. But with the support of other people and other groups, yeah, I’ve gotten through it.


We did have Pasifika students in the school.

I know that there was a minority of us at the time that were going to university, but I felt like we were all connected because we were all from different Islands. We had some Tongans and some Samoans as well, that were going into university. So, me being i-Kiribati and Australian, I just felt like, “Oh, we’re all here, we made it, I know there’s only three of us, but hey, let’s all stick together even though we’re doing different subjects.”

So, it was just about that sense of community again, which is such a prevalent characteristic that we have in our culture. As long as we’re all together, we’re going to be okay. So, we just stuck together and hung out in the libraries together. Even though we didn’t know each other beforehand, it was like, “Oh, you’re Islander too.” “Okay great, what are you studying?” “I’m doing science.” “Okay, let’s all hang out and study together and motivate each other.” And then, that’s where we felt that sense of connection as a minority in a place where we wouldn’t really find a lot of the same kind of people from our own culture.

We all felt that we’re all connected. You’d have Cook Island friends you’d have Samoan friends, Tongan friends, Fijian friends. And it was like “Oh, we’re all family.” Even though, we’re all from different islands. And, I feel like that’s one of the coolest things that our culture has. We all look after each other, regardless of what island we’re from. There’s no real discrimination amongst Pasifika from the others because we know that we’re from a minority in terms of the world. And, we just really do look out for each other, generally speaking and from the people that I was around and who I grew up with, there was always that sense of connection with friends from those different islands where we did feel like we could relate.


I went through university and I graduated and it was a very proud moment for me to be graduating, not only for my family, but for my community, someone from a regional town. Not only somebody from a regional town, but a woman, a girl from a regional town and a Pasifika woman from a regional town, and a second generation Australian from a regional town, from the low socioeconomic status. That was me. And I know I had been labeled in the past, but this was the label that I was making for myself. This was who I was. This is what I was going to achieve. This is who I will be and who I want to be remembered as: that role model. And so I graduated.

I remember going in to get fitted for my gown before we went into the theatre for our graduation. I sat down and I was dressed in a…[…] is royal blue, so I had a royal blue gown on, and I had my Tongan attire on and I was feeling very proud and patriotic and my parents were so proud, and my siblings. I’d finally done it. I’d finally achieved it. And just like in Year 12, when I graduated Year 12 and did VCE, this was that moment again, I had proven so many people wrong with the stereotype. I’d done it. I was about to go and receive it. And so all of these emotions were…I can’t even explain it. But anyway, I went in to get fitted and I remember the lady that was doing our gown, she said to me, “Oh, I love your attire.” I had a kahoa on. I had some kafa pulu on, which is… I don’t know how to explain it but it’s a material that they use to make the necklaces and the ropes that they use to wrap our mats.

And I had some shells. I had some puleotos. My Ma, I remember how proud she was to put my traditional attire on. She was showcasing my culture on the stage and she was very proud of it. She was so proud of it.

I sat down and she went to put my gown on and she goes, “I love the attire. I just saw a young man wearing the same attire as you.” And I said, “What? There’s another Tongan graduating with me? I’m pretty sure that I don’t know any other Tongan,” but I didn’t know that there was some students studying via correspondence, whatever it was. I was like, “Oh, how did I not know that there was another one here?” Anyway, on stage his name gets called up and he walks across the stage and he’s in full Tongan attire all the way from head to toe, even with the sandals on, and I was so proud. Everybody was so proud. You could tell that there were other Tongans in the room because the chee hoo-ing was on point when they say, “Oh, please save the clapping for the end.” But you know us, too proud. There is so much to be proud about watching us showcase that on the stage. I was so nervous walking on the stage. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so nervous.” But they made us feel confident with the way that they presented us, the way they put us on a pedestal to showcase what we’ve achieved. That was graduation day.

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
  • Chris – Field Officer (HR)
  • Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
  • Elisabeth – Teacher
  • Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
  • Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
  • Leki – Physiotherapist
  • Luisa – Registered Nurse
  • Malelega – Legal Assistant
  • Marita – Writer
  • Rose – Workplace Consultant
  • Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
  • Semisi – Lawyer
  • Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
  • Teisa – Medical Doctor
  • Tevita – IT Professional
  • Thom – Make-up Artist
  • Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer
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