Angelina Finau, a California State University, Northridge alumna and scholar, credits her success to her family and Tongan roots. Finau ’17 (Political Science) believes she is a non-traditional person, in part due to her parents’ immigration to the United States in the 1980s. Their “go-get-it attitude” taught Finau to challenge herself, she said.
Located in the South Pacific, with a population of 107,122 people across 40 inhabited islands, the Kingdom of Tonga is a tropical island nation known for its welcoming people. This may explain Finau’s relentless gratitude and kindhearted manner.
“Even though I was born here, being the first in my family to graduate [from college] and being a Tongan-American, I totally understood what it meant to be foreign. I thought that perspective would be something interesting to bring to the table,” said Finau, 22 from Van Nuys. “I wanted to share that perspective with others, but I’m also eager to learn from others in other parts of the world.”
Finau is one of more than 1,900 U.S. citizens selected to conduct research, teach English and provide expertise abroad for the 2018-19 academic year, through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. The Fulbright Program offers research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students. Fulbright scholars are chosen based on their academic and professional achievements, as well as leadership potential. The program was founded in 1946 and is funded by Congress through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Through Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistant Program, Finau will provide assistance to English teachers in South Korea while serving as a cultural ambassador for the U.S.
“I chose South Korea because as a kid, I spent the first half of my life going to a church that gave services in Korean, Tongan and English,” she said. “It was something that I grew up around, and I’ve been interested [in the culture] for a really long time.”
Finau learned about her Fulbright award and assignment to South Korea in April.
“After everything was said and done, the best part was telling my parents — to see the joy that they have and excitement [for my] next step,” Finau said.
In 2017, upon graduation, CSUN recognized Finau with the Wolfson Scholar award, the top honor given to a graduating senior. Not only must the student have an exceptional academic record, but he or she must also have made significant contributions to CSUN or to the community through co-curricular and extracurricular activities. After graduation, Finau worked for Councilwoman Nury Martinez, working to improve public safety in Los Angeles’ 6th District, which includes her native Van Nuys.
In order to be considered for the Fulbright program, Finau completed a rigorous application process that included essay submissions, transcripts, a copy of her diploma, an FBI background check and approved health paperwork. Although she found out about the application just one month before it was due, Finau’s former professors encouraged her, particularly Finau’s mentor and Director of the Office of Student Success Innovations, Kristy Michaud. Finau found their support as absolutely crucial saying, “They told me to go for it – because this is the time to search out different opportunities and apply myself,” she said. That advice proved invaluable.
“The most important thing I learned as a CSUN student was that it’s important to reach out for help,” Finau said. “There are so many opportunities and people that are willing to help. That’s what made the difference for me.”
“[My background] is everything to me,” Finau said. “My culture [as] a Tongan-American, Polynesian-American is so grounded in family and understanding that if you have a bad day, it’s just about pushing through. I have a network of people all across the world. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but more than anything it’s a lot of love.”