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Samoan teen set for charmed experience after getting into elite US college

Mary Afemata

A former De La Salle head boy will soon be walking the same halls some of America's most powerful businessmen have graced, thanks to securing entry into Brown University.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

An American college synonymous with some of the United State's most powerful families, will soon be home to a Ōtāhuhu teen for the next four years.

Charm Tuala will be studying at the prestigious Brown University in Rhode Island from next August.

Some of the Ivy League college's most well-known alumni include media mogul and CNN founder Ted Turner, business tycoon John D. Rockefeller Jr (from one of the world's richest families in the early 1900s) and John F Kennedy, Jr, who was the only son of US president John F. Kennedy.

Watch a Tiktok video Tuala made of his reaction to finding out:

Tuala is a New Zealand-born Samoan who hails from the villages of Siumu and Leauva’a in Samoa, and has lived in Ōtāhuhu all his life.

He attended De La Salle College in Māngere and was elected as Head Boy in 2022.

Tuala has recently finished his first year at the University of Auckland studying Commerce.

He says he experienced culture shock when he started university in Auckland, and thinks that travelling overseas and going to Brown will be similar, but on a far bigger scale.

“For me it still hasn't like sunk in really," he says.

"I'm still kind of just pinching myself, almost being like, wow. Is this actually like happening?”

Tuala is the middle child of three siblings and says he has been the first to attend university in his family.

His friend Andre Fa’aoso got accepted into Yale earlier this year, and they plan to catch up in the US.

As two young Pacific people from Auckland, Tuala says it’s showing others what’s possible even if going to an Ivy League college might seem out of reach at first.

He hopes other young people will be aware of the different pathways available.

“Having people such as Andre as well, kind of just showing that it is possible as well and that anyone can do it.

“Like, if I can do it, then you can do it as well, especially coming from South Auckland.”

Tuala describes his years at De La Salle College as a brotherhood which has given him a desire to give back to his community and represent his home and his Pacific heritage.

“I spent all the way from year seven, all the right to year 13, just building the connection with my fellow brothers and then also with the juniors as well.

“My final year just kind of just mentoring them, helping them out as well… just giving back to them.”

The process of applying to Brown University was lengthy, but he was helped and supported by his school principal.

Tuala had to complete different questionnaires and write a personal essay, which he focused on his roots.

“For me, what I thought that was valuable to me, was my community and my family and I thought that was such an important thing as well that I can take to Brown and to the world as well is where I'm from and my background.”

Tuala says there’s a crucial thing that will make sure he succeeds at Brown.

“Just a simple one … it means a lot and it's very impactful … just to make your parents proud.”

Hero image: US-bound Charm Tuala was head boy at Māngere East's De La Salle College. Photo / Mary Afemata

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