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Welcome the first students from Kiribati - Tautongo & Tirenga

  • Date 2023-03-30 14:25
  • CategoryStory
  • Hit660

The KDI School of Public Policy and Management is known for providing high-quality education in the field of public policy and international development. In Spring 2023, the school welcomed its first-ever students, Tautongo Kaiteie and Tirenga Tauea, from the Republic of Kiribati, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean. This is a significant moment for both the school and the country, as it represents a step forward in promoting diversity and inclusivity in higher education. The students from Kiribati will have the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and skills to contribute to the development of their country, while also experiencing a new culture and building relationships with their classmates from all over the world. In this article, we will delve into the experiences of these students and how their presence at KDI School is a positive step toward their professional goals.    

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your country, the Republic of Kiribati

Tautongo: My name is Tautongo Kaiteie and I am married with 3 children. Before coming to KDI, I worked with the government at the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives. I am from the Republic of Kiribati, most people have never heard of the country and when they googled it, it is just a tiny dot on the map. My country is made up of 32 atoll islands dispersed across the vast Pacific Ocean. Kiribati is clustered into two main island groups, the Gilbert Group, where the capital island, Tarawa, is located, and the Line and Phoenix Group.

Tirenga: My name is Tirenga Tauea. I'm married and have 3 children. I worked at the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce, Industry, and Cooperatives Branch on Kiritimati Island. Adding to Tautongo’s points, Kiribati was colonized by the United Kingdom and became the first country in the world to see the first rays of the rising sun. 

What motivated you to choose KDI School of Public Policy and Management, and how did you hear about it?

Tautongo: My number one motivation for choosing KDI School is that it offers the MIPD program and other related concentrations. It was confirmed that I would be joining KDI School when The World International Property Organization (WIPO), which helps Kiribati with many intellectual property (IP) policies, offered me a scholarship to study here.

Tirenga: Since I am interested in intellectual property for capacity building, I was thrilled to learn through the WIPO webpage that KDI School offers a Master’s in Intellectual Property and Development Policy. Given that the program also offers courses in development policy, this is a great opportunity for me to gain knowledge in both IP and development policies to further contribute to my country.

Could you tell us a bit about your experience so far at KDI School (as the students from your country)? What are some of the things you have enjoyed or found challenging? 

Tautongo: My experience as the first student from my country at KDI has been an honor, and I have been fortunate to experience many different things. The school setting and environment, the dormitory and school facilities, and especially the professors, staff, and people have all been wonderful. They are very friendly and helpful. In terms of challenges, being far from home and family can be difficult, but as I have settled well with my studies, these feelings have subsided.

Tirenga: Many things are new to me at KDI School. The advanced technology used at the school, such as the ID system for the library, cafeteria, and classroom seating selection, was a pleasant surprise. So far, I’ve enjoyed attending the gathering party hosted by one of my Korean friends/classmates at his home and then walking to the Geumgang Pedestrian Bridge to enjoy the view. It was such an enjoyable night to hang out with my classmates. Joining the KDI Fellowship club was a great way for me to meet new people. I believe that people are the most important aspect of any experience, and I am grateful to have met such friendly and welcoming individuals. The most challenging aspect is the weather, especially in winter, which we are not accustomed to back at home, where we have wet and dry seasons.  

As someone coming from Kiribati, which has a unique culture and history, what have been some of the cultural differences you have experienced while studying in South Korea?

Tautongo: I think that every culture is unique and special in its own way. Although there are quite a lot of differences between Korea and Kiribati in terms of language, food, dressing/attire, I feel like I can adapt to these differences and get along just fine. One of the notable cultural differences I have noticed is the food culture. The main diet in Kiribati consists of rice and seafood, while I noticed that in Korea, I was exposed to a variety of foods that included red meat, chicken, and pork. Back home, these foods are typically only eaten on special occasions. 

Tirenga: As someone from the Pacific Island, studying in South Korea has been an eye-opening experience for me in terms of cultural differences. For instance, Korea places a strong emphasis on hierarchy, which can be seen in language and social interactions. Based on my observations, people here bow when greeting each other, while in Kiribati, people typically say, “Hi” or shake hands. 

What do you hope to gain from your studies at KDI School, and how do you plan to use your education to benefit your home country?

Tautongo: I will use the knowledge and capacity gained from the master’s degree in Intellectual Property and Development to advocate and improve the innovation and knowledge sector, to become one of the policy-change drivers and one of the recognized enablers of sustainable economic development in Kiribati. 

Tirenga: My country is currently in the stage of legislating its own IP Laws. In this regard, I believe my experience at KDI School will equip me with the knowledge I need to assist in the development of new IP laws.


Have you had the chance to interact with other international students at KDI School, and if so, what have you learned from those interactions?

Tautongo: Although I am not a very outgoing person and can seem quiet at times, I have had the chance to interact with other international students at school, especially with my classmates and TA sessions, as well as with friends in the dormitory and through Christian fellowship/bible study groups.

Tirenga: I have also enjoyed meeting and interacting with other international students both in and outside of classes. Through these interactions, I have found out that many of the students have plans for their stay in Korea, whether it is to travel across South Korea or nearby countries, try different foods, or visit cultural places. Hearing their plans has inspired me to make my own plans for my stay here, as the time we have here is not long, and I want to make the most of it.

What advice would you give to other students from Kiribati or other small island nations who may be considering studying abroad at KDI School?

Tautongo: The advice I would like to give to other students from small island nations who are considering studying abroad at KDI School is to go for it. I believe that KDI School offers world-class facilities and top-notch professors with a variety of programs and collaborations. I especially recommend the Master of Development Policy program for government employees from underdeveloped small island nations.

Tirenga: I would like to add saying that it is important to take advantage of the opportunities that come with studying abroad, including experiencing a new culture and making international connections. Although it can be challenging to leave one's home country and adapt to a new environment, I believe that the experience is worth it and can greatly benefit one's personal and professional growth.


Tautongo and Tirenga have demonstrated their adaptability, willingness to learn, and dedication to contributing to their country. Their experience at KDI School is not only about gaining knowledge and skills but also about personal growth and cultural exchange. They are grateful for this opportunity and are determined to make the most out of it. Their gratitude for this opportunity fuels their determination to extract the maximum benefit from it.
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SAIDALIEVA, Dilrabo

2023 Spring / MPM / Tajikistan

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