Of the 1200 employees at the PCC, 800 of them are students. The PCC was particularly established so that students who would otherwise not be able to attend college can come to BYU-Hawaii and work and attend school.
They are put to work immediately on arrival—learning a whole variety of new skills from fire dancing to climbing palm trees. (If every university in America had an attraction nearby, think how much less onerous student debt would be.)
Of the 2700 students at BYU-Hawaii, 72 nations are represented, making it one of the most internationally diverse schools to be found anywhere.
Those who work at the PCC are often the highest wage earner in their entire family—and the first to go to college.
One student said, “I make twice as much as my parents.” With BYU-Hawaii’s iWork program, most finish school and are able to return home without any debt whatsoever. Those who have debt, 25% per year is forgivable as long as they stay in their own country and contribute there.
One young man came from Papua, New Guinea and it had taken half of his family’s income to get him there—and it was gone in the first two weeks. It is clear how important it is to get the students working right away.
In total 20,000 students over the years have been able to attend BYU-Hawaii because they were able to work at the PCC. Think of the impact that has made when they returned to their home countries.
In fact, a survey showed that the majority of the church leadership all over Polynesia is from those who were formerly students at BYU-Hawaii—many of whom worked at the PCC. The first stake president in Mongolia was a graduate of BYU-Hawaii.
A critical part of the PCC experience for the students is the celebration of their own culture. It gives them or renews for them a sense of their own identity.
Becoming converted to the gospel is often a familiar and natural thing for Polynesians because so many elements of their culture resonate with the truth. They love family. Their ancestors are remembered and revered.
Though employees at the PCC can answer questions about the Church if they are asked directly, they do not proselytize. However, a tram is available to take visitors to the temple visitors’ center if they desire. Many desire—making the Laie Temple Visitors’ Center, the second most visited visitors’ center in the Church.
Even without active proselytizing, the PCC has become a powerful missionary force by spreading such good will. On a regular basis government dignitaries from Polynesia and Asia come to visit the PCC and leave impressed.
A famous story happened back during the Reagan administration when the Premiere of China came to visit America. He was asked where in all of America he would like to go—and he answered to everyone’s surprise—not Disneyland, not New York City, not the Grand Canyon—but the Polynesian Cultural Center.
The day he arrived, the PCC was full of security—with frogmen in the lagoons and secret service everywhere. In advance, he asked for a specific guide to take him around. It wasn’t until later, it was learned that that guide was his daughter—and she had been attending BYU-Hawaii!
The Secret Service watched the show in advance and told the Fijiians in their dance that when they raised their spears to throwing position, they could only go so high. “What if we bring them up higher?” they asked. “Then we shoot you,” was the answer.
The good will that was generated from that visit was inestimable. Since then the PCC has had high-ranking dignitaries from China on a fairly regular basis.
BYU-Hawaii offers the Wave Asian Executive Management program that allows executives both in the private and public sector to attend a couple of semesters at BYU-Hawaii to learn about American management style.
When President Gordon B. Hinckley went to mainland China in 1996—the first time a president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had visited there—it was through an invitation arranged by the Polynesian Cultural Center.
They greeted him with a banner that did not say he was the president of the Church. Instead it said, he was the President and the Supreme Leader of the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Since then other Chinese dignitaries have often come to the PCC and the park has set up sister relationships with other cultural parks in China.
When the new Tongan village opened this year, their majesties the king and queen of Tonga attended that evening with one of their sons. Though they are Wesleyan Methodist, their youngest son has joined the Church.
The king was particularly impressed with the young men and women of Tonga who greeted and took care of him. He said Tonga’s future looks brighter because of these young men and women and their abilities which were obvious to be seen.
PCC President Alfred Grace said it is cute to see the students when exams are coming. “You see them in their Polynesian costumes with a textbook in hand.”
There is no dominant culture at the PCC or at BYU-Hawaii except one—the gospel of Jesus Christ.