Meet Veitania Lepani, the first student to be enrolled in Australia’s first undergraduate degree dedicated to the Pacific, the Bachelor of Pacific Studies.
Veitania Lepani is proud to be the first student enrolled in the new Bachelor of Pacific Studies program at ANU.
“I had more of a motive to go to university because now there’s a course that’s relevant to me, being a Pacific Islander,” she says.
Veitania first learned about the degree at a camp for high school students organised by Pasifika Australia, an event designed specifically to attract more Pacific Islanders to university.
“One thing they stressed to us at the camp was there aren’t many Pacific Islanders going on to university and they want to change that, especially at ANU because they do host one of the largest Pacific studies departments.”
She says she was immediately drawn to the new bachelor program.
“I just liked the sound of it! It’s more relevant to me than Asia Pacific studies, being focused specifically on the Pacific. It gives you a chance to learn at a university level about the place that you come from. Most Pacific Islanders don’t really get that chance in high school.”
In her first year of the program, Veitania says she’s had a “taste of all kinds of courses”, including international relations and gender studies.
“I think it will change in future, but for this year the main Pacific-focused courses are offered only at second- and third-year level, but I have still tried to focus my assignments and assessments this year on the Pacific, and there’s a lot of leeway to do that.
“I did do a course on Tok Pisin, the language of Papua New Guinea, and that was really good. It was a small, intimate class and fun. I’m from PNG myself, so it’s a language I could understand but never learnt to speak.
“From here on in, there’s a great range of Pacific courses offered through the degree, so I’m just waiting for my second year to come!”
Being at ANU has helped Veitania feel more connected to other Pacific Islanders, she says.
“I’ve met some really close friends, and it’s interesting because they share their culture amongst us too. You get a wider sense of what it means to be a Pacific Islander. I’ve always wanted to learn about other Pacific nations.”
Veitania is herself now volunteering at Pasifika Australia events, encouraging other students of Pacific heritage to join her at university.
“It’s a great little group. We have our own little annex, with a lounge room, free printing and free wifi. You can make yourself toast or a tea and sit back and study and you’re sure to run into most people because they go in and out all day. This semester I’ve used it a lot. It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but it really helps, and offers a great opportunity to socialise with other Pacific Islanders. We all have something in common.”