What They Left Behind: Thank Goodness for Skype
Hawai‘i is far away from everything! This tiny group of islands is literally smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To get to California, it’s at least a 5-hour plane ride for Daniela Guzman, who comes from the Bay Area, near San Francisco. To get to Maine, it’s probably a 9-hour flight (or longer) for Julia Simpson, whose hometown is Hallowell. Both students considered University of Hawai‘i for their home college, but were uncertain about being so far away from family, friends, and what was familiar. But through the program, A Semester in Hawai‘i, Daniela and Julia are able to sample UH for a short time see what being “far away” is like.
Julia’s sister, Maggie, attended ASH several years ago, and her good experience influenced Julia’s decision to apply to the program. In fact, Maggie returned to UH to do graduate work in Museum and Library Science and is graduating this December. Both sisters are here at the same time! But who has time to see each other? Julia is taking 5 classes, including courses in her major, Environmental Studies. In the geology course, “Humans in the Environment”, the class takes frequent field trips around the island, including a trip to the Big Island in November. Julia has decided not to take that trip, though, because her boyfriend is coming for a visit at the same time. It’s important to know your priorities! Leaving a boyfriend 5,000 miles behind can be tough, but Skype has bridged the distance for the time being. Being in Hawai‘i has given a Julia a new perspective that might bring her closer to her boyfriend. “Coming from Maine and attending the University of Vermont where just about everyone is white, this is the first time I’ve experienced being a minority.” Her boyfriend, whose father is from Laos, has grown up as a minority in the Northeast.
Julia is combating homesickness by staying busy with school and dance classes at the YMCA. She is on the dance team at U. of Vermont, and looks forward to returning to the squad next semester. Attending UH though has given her an “abroad” experience without the burden of language barriers. She is learning the skills of independence and is appreciating cultural and lifestyle diversity, whether it be the relaxed, “Hawaiian time” approach, the great mix of American and Asian cuisine, or big city living.
“Hawaiian time is perfect for me,” says Daniela. “Hawai‘i is a chill environment.” Even though Daniela and “chill” match, it’s been a challenge to leave her family and friends behind. She also takes advantage of Skype, and regularly discusses her Hawaiian adventures with the folks at home. Her celebrity sightings and visits to movie filming locations have been a hot topic with her friends in California. Being in Hawai‘i has also been a good excuse for her family to visit, and she is currently planning a list of things to do when her cousin comes in a couple of weeks. When asked about her home college, Contra Costa Community College, Daniela says Honolulu and UH is much prettier. The view out her dorm window is gorgeous, and after class, students can go to the beach. “The weather is always nice, and the mountains are so green.” She is taking a Tahitian dance class through UH’s Leisure Center and several intro level, general requirement courses. She is also taking the same Geology course as Julia (different section) and especially enjoys the teacher, Dr. Scott Roland.
Daniela, who is fluent in Spanish, has remarked that speaking Spanish and walking down the street at home is no big deal, but here, in Hawai‘i, it’s like speaking in code. It took a few weeks, but she has found a favorite Mexican restaurant, and her craving for home-style food is finally satiated. Still, living away from what is familiar certainly has its advantages for Daniela. She too has become independent and has learned how to think on her own. Looking for new friends has given her a better appreciation for the people at home, and as she discovers the qualities in other people that are important to her, she is discovering more about herself.
Julia will return to the Northeast in December with an “abroad experience” to flavor the familiar. Daniela, however, has decided to stay on at UH for at least one more semester and hopes to discover more of the island and more of the unfamiliar. Come next year, each will be a different person from the one who landed at Honolulu International Airport back in August.