Samoan graduates amidst virus threat

The coronavirus COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works of her graduation preparation, as it led to her parents not joining her on her big day at the Kyoto University in Japan.

But that did not stop Japan-based Samoan scholar Leativa Sonya Okesene from graduating with a masters degree in global environment studies. 

The 27-year-old of Letogo, Sapapalii and Sasina told Samoa Observer that she was saddened by her parents’ absence, but their health and safety from the increasing threat posed by the virus was more important for her.

"I'm very sad that my parents and family couldn't make it to my graduation. I do understand and feel that it's better not to travel to Japan during this crucial period. They need to take precaution about the seriousness of COVID-19,” she said.

“Their safety and health are more important to me.  It's more likely that I'll be staying behind for another month or two till the COVID-19 dies down soon (hopefully) and the borders are open for travels.”

Looking ahead of her return to Samoa following the completion of her studies, Ms Okesene said she believes things will eventually improve, to open the door for her to travel.

"It's scary, knowing that I'll be stuck in a country where there are no families with endless hopes about when we are all coming home; yet I do believe that everything is going to be fine for God never forsake His children," she said.

Describing her journey in Japan as one of self-discovery, she said there were a lot of people who inspired and pushed her to eventually graduate after a three-year study.

"I'm still in awe - couldn't believe that I made it this far to achieve such a goal that I had always set for myself. I mean, I cannot deny that getting such a degree was easy. Yet, truly humbled and forever grateful to God for He's the one who made things possible for me to achieve this," she said.

Learning the Japanese language was one of several challenges she had to overcome, but Ms Okesene said she was assisted by her Japanese classmates and lab members.

But it was the new environment and her longing for home that were the major hurdles she had overcome.

"What I found most challenging is the difficulty of coping with a completely new environment. I feel homesick to the point I fell into anxiety because I miss my family. I am miles away from home. I also don't have families here in Japan. It was tough in the beginning when I just came to Japan. Then again, I still cope with it," she said.

"I made the choice to come to Japan so I had to be strong and keep telling myself that. Suck it up! I can do this. Again, always surround myself with friends I've made here and the fact that my families keep constant contact with me always.”


And as the first born of the family, Ms Okesene said she began to feel the pressures to meet up to the expectations of the success associated with her own parents’ success.

"There were a lot but it has always been my parents. Growing up with strict parents as well as the fact that I'm their eldest, I always struggle living with that feeling of obligation and with higher expectations, that I have to set good examples for my siblings,” she reiterated. “I guess that's one of the things that kept pushing me to take this journey no matter how hard it would be. My parents have their own achievements and sometimes, I feel pressured by that... In a good way.”

Ms Okesene refused to let people attribute her success to her parents, and revealed that it was one of the driving factors behind her completing her studies.

"I don't like hearing people say that I got this and that; I'm lucky with this and that, all because of my parents. That somehow drove me to take this journey as if I'm making something for myself. Building something on my own for myself, to have my name on it," she added.

And there were people who did not believe in her ability and potential, which infuriated her as she wanted to carve her own path.

"Perhaps taking this journey shows them that if my parents can do it so can I but in my own ways you know. My parents always paint things in my life like a challenge - that's a compliment - because they know me very well that I love taking up challenges. Well I do love challenging myself with new things and coming to Japan that is miles away from home to partake this journey is one of those new things," she said.

The highlights of her time in Japan include celebrating Japanese festivals such as that of the cherry blossom during spring, and admiring ancient Japanese architecture works in the old city of Kyoto. 

And with her eyes now set on home following the successful contribution of her studies, she said the next box to tick is full time employment. 

She also thanked everyone who supported her during her academic journey in Kyoto University in Japan.

"Thanking my parents, siblings, families from Sapapalii and Sasina and around the world, Letogo Ward members, my boyfriend and his family, friends who are in Samoa as well as here in Japan, professors at Kyoto University as well as the Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho: MEXT) Scholarship for this wonderful opportunity to study in Japan," she added.

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