International students make up 15.5% of the BYU-Idaho student body. This equals around 6,569 undergraduates from all over the globe who decide to leave their homes in search of education and spiritual nourishment. Out of this group of international students, Keri Ann Kaitu makes up an even smaller percentage as the only Tuvaluan student at BYU-I.
Tuvalu is a country in the west-central Pacific Ocean with a population under 11,000 inhabitants. Keri Ann Kaitu left Tuvalu in 2021 to achieve her dream of getting an education. Although many islanders choose to attend BYU-Hawaii, Kaitu says that thought never really crossed her mind.
“I’m not sure why I never thought about Hawaii, most Islanders would choose to go there because of the weather, the sea, the culture, but not me,” Kaitu said. “When I applied I just always thought about BYU-Idaho.”
During high school in New Zealand, Kaitu’s mother was adopted by an American/ New Zealander family. Through this adoptive family, Kaitu was able to attend a US-based institution.
“I was in the middle of my mission when my adoptive cousin Elizabeth emailed me saying her parents, Uncle Bern and Auntie Keri, were willing to sponsor my studies in America,” Kaitu said.
Kaitu was named after her mother’s adoptive sister and best friend, whose daughter Elizabeth became best friends with Kaitu.
Some of the biggest changes Kaitu faced were the weather, the people and the dating culture.
“Winter for me is 68 degrees with no snow,” Kaitu said. “Rexburg is crazy cold. I should’ve researched some more about the meteorological factors of the city. I really didn’t even think about it.”
Kaitu said many foreigners marry Tuvaluans, however, she is more used to Samoans, Fijians or other Asians, and not so much the cultures we have in Rexburg.
“I am not used to being surrounded by so many Americans and Latinos, but I admit I love learning about them,” Kaitu said.
The Rexburg dating culture can be impactful for many international students and Kaitu is no exception to this.
“Dating here is so casual,” Kaitu said. “In Tuvalu, if you want to take a girl on a date you first need to tell your parents and then they will come to the girl’s house with gifts, often food or goods, and talk about the intentions with the family’s daughter. If agreed by both families, then dating begins. It’s not as simple as going out for an ice cream, there’s a process.”
Although Kaitu is still adjusting to the many changes Rexburg requires of her, she is looking forward to the future. She is excited to make more friends and immerse herself in the American culture as much as possible.