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Seasider Spotlight: Inoke Hafoka

Inoke Hafoka standing outside in front of greenery.
Photo by Bilguun Enkhbaatar

Name: 'Inoke Hafoka

BYUH Employee since: 2022

My job at BYUH is... assistant professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, Jonathan Nāpela Center for Hawaiian & Pacific Studies.

I grew up in... Salt Lake City, Utah.

I just finished working on... a project that looked at schools that cater to the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations in Utah. It focused on how practicing culture in a classroom setting can benefit the students who identify with the culture. There may be a part two in the works.

I chose to teach at BYUH because... my wife is from Hawaii. In the past we'd always discussed if the opportunity ever arose to raise our kids here, we'd want to consider it. Then, in 2021, while attending a Tongan Research Conference, my mentor, Tevita Kaili, shared the job position with me. The rest is history.

My favorite thing about teaching... is hearing that the students enjoy the content taught in class and watching them take more courses from myself or within the Pacific Islands Studies Program.

The best advice I've ever received about teaching... is that, as a teacher, I know it takes a lot for students to come to class. I may not know what happens in students' lives before entering the classroom and what other people or students have had to sacrifice to make their education possible. So, I try my best to give time and space to everyone in the classroom, not just those succeeding.

My advice to incoming first-year students is... to be bold and take courses you know very little about. Those classes will surprise you and contribute to creating new interests you've never really tapped into or understood.

Inoka Hafoka
Photo by Bilguun Enkhbaatar

My advice to graduating seniors is... to take chances on opportunities that arise. I never thought about being a professor; it wasn't anything I ever saw in my future. But the opportunity arose and led me here.

My favorite lecture/course to teach is... the Intro to Pacific Studies. The class is usually full of freshmen trying to find an elective they like, so it's nice being a point of entry to the major. I also enjoy teaching the History of Eastern Oceania and the History of the Pacific courses.

My college professors ...sparked my interest in my field. I never really cared much about school. But, a few professors saw potential in me, even though I was trying to hurry through the motions of getting a bachelor's degree. Their support led me to jump into a master's program in Utah, where I had a lot of fun. I began learning things that made me feel seen and gave me potential. With their motivation, I continued my academic journey.

One of my hobbies includes... hanging out with family and friends.

My dream car is... a Ford Bronco.

The next big trip I'm interested in... coincides with part of my research and is working with Pacific Islanders, especially Tongans, in the airline industry. I've been working for the airlines for ten years. It helps me have the freedom to travel.

My favorite holiday tradition is... when my paternal grandmother would gather random things around the house, wrap them in newspapers, and deliver a gift to each of us for Christmas. The gifts ranged from top ramen, to spam, and even toilet paper. Seeing her come in with a trash bag full of presents was always so fun.

If I could travel anywhere, I would go to... Europe or Africa.

What's one thing that can instantly make my day better? When my wife is happy.

The title of my autobiography would be... "Don't Let Them Know Your Next Move."

One item on my bucket list is... learning how to swim.

My favorite food-truck on the island is... Baddabingsu or Da Bald Guy.

I have always... wanted to maintain good relations.