Kayla has five brothers and sisters and her parents and older siblings never completed high school.
“It is common for people to work instead of getting an education, so they can support their family,” she said.
“For some, high school is the end of their education path.”
But her parents acknowledged the importance of education and encouraged her to go to university.
“They told me the world today is a challenging environment and in order to get a job you have to get qualifications,” she said.
Kayla is in her second year at Brigham Young University in Hawaii, studying political science, minoring in hospitality and tourism, Pacific Islands studies, human resources and certification in criminal justice.
“I want to work for the embassy, analysing data and working with visas,” she said.
“The system here is so different to what we have back at home and I can take what I learn here and incorporate it back home on the islands.”
While serving her mission in in Independence Missouri Mission, Kayla was inspired by the members who are alumni of BYU-H.
“The opportunity to study in a school where the student body share the same values as I do is rare to find.”
But it wasn’t easy packing up her life and moving away from home.
“I had a good job after my mission as a human resources assistant and financially I was able to support my family. Leaving them was a huge decision to make,” she said.
“Not only was I giving up my job, I was always worried about my family and what would happen to them.”
But Kayla said she has been blessed abundantly since making the move to Hawaii. One of them is learning more about her culture while working part-time as a multi-purpose guide at the Polynesian Cultural Centre.
“I have so much pride in my culture now than ever before,” she said.
“I did not realise much about myself and my culture until I moved far away from home.
It is my dream after I leave this place to continue learning about my culture and about who I am as a Polynesian woman.”
She is also able to attend the temple more often now that there is one only five minutes from where she lives.
“In the Cook Islands my family and I sacrificed and saved all we could in order to travel to the temple at least once a year,” she said.
She hopes more Polynesian people will take the opportunity to study, including her younger sister who will graduate from high school next year.
“Education is an investment that brings great rewards and opens doors of opportunities,” she said.
“Sometimes we are uncomfortable with trying new things. The opportunities are here, but we just need to take them. You might hear stories from people saying studying is hard, but it will be worth it in the end.”
And Kayla is grateful for the heavenly help she has received while studying.
“Every time I pray, I ask for strength, knowledge, and understanding to retain the things I have learnt,” she said.
“Heavenly Father is always there. You can always reach out to Him 24/7. He’s always waiting at the other end of the line.
“My testimony has grown here at BYU because I am including the Lord in all my plans. Sometimes my plans are not His plans, but He knows what’s best.
When I go a day without doing the simple things such as praying and reading the Book of Mormon, I notice I struggle with school and finding time to do everything.
“When I put the Lord first in all I do, He provides a way for me to accomplish all that I need to do.”