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On a perfect Sunday in Waimea on the North Shore, my friends and I pulled up to pristine turquoise waters of the bay and the sparkling sun as usual.

“I love Hawaii, but so far I haven’t found any seashells to make jewelry with,” said my artistic friend Jana, sighing as she laid back on our gigantic blue sheet. At that moment, a tiny white object in the sand caught my eye. Floppy hat in hand, I scuttled over to find a miniscule sea shell, flawless in shape.

“Jana!” I called, “Look what I found!” I yelled over. When I held up the small treasure Jana squealed with delight. “Let’s find more!” she beamed. We decided to split up and I headed for a small sand dune to our right.

As I scoured the particles of sand, I found a matching shell. And then another. And then another. I became consumed. Suddenly, a Hawaiian baby wearing bright pink sunglasses wandered over my way. I prepared to do my usual “Hello! How are you” in my gushiest baby voice, but instead I was ignored by the sassy infant. She reached down into the sand next to me and pulled out a seashell just like the ones I had been collecting. My eyes widened. How did she know what I was looking for?! “Sorry! I guess she wanted to join!” shouted her mother pleasantly as she herded over the rest of her family. Apparently, this baby girl had been watching me gather things in the sand, figured out that I was looking for seashells, and decided that she wanted to help me!

For the next few minutes, my heart melted. The baby and her 8 year old sister would pick up shells, inspect them for quality, and then hand them off to me as gifts. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, a stranger from another continent, and this family had no hesitation hanging out with me to help me find shells.

“Hey I think I found enough. Let’s get in the water!” yelled Jana as she sprinted towards me with a handful of objects. I nodded enthusiastically and waved goodbye to my new “friends.” As we walked away from the family, I stared down and smiled at my pile of shells. I knew that every time I looked at them from now on, they would be more than just tiny objects made by the sea. They were symbols of friendship and kindness.

“So… what’d you find anyway?” Jana inquired. “Oh nothing…just some shells,” I answered, smiling, “Just some seashells.”

My favorite picture from that day.

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My ASAA Story

So… how did I end up in Hawaii you ask?

Trudging to class in unplowed snow 2 feet high is highly overrated.

I remember so many days at Penn State last year when I honestly thought to myself, “This is college?” and looked outside at the dismal grey sky and feet of snow. Besides singing in my a cappella group, None of the Above, I knew I was missing some kind of experience… some kind of meaning. At that point, I made a decision. I was going to have something to “tell my grandkids about.”

Luckily, I was (and still am) dating a rather adventurous guy named Josh who goes to school here at UH Manoa. When he showed me the website for ASAA, I was really excited.

Arguments used on my Dad to persuade him about ASAA:

  1. “It’s cheaper than a semester at Penn State. And I can actually go outside without unintentionally ice skating in the winter.”
  2. “Dating Josh from 5,000 miles away is pretty agonizing.”
  3. “ALL my friends are going abroad in the spring. Do you want me to be alone at school in the cold snow? (sad face here)
  4. “I talked to my guidance counselor, and she said I didn’t have any classes left to take in Europe. So can I go to Hawaii now?”
  5. “I just got 5 classes approved through Penn State. Here’s the proof.”
  6. “So I talked to grandma, and she said I can go. Can I go now?”
  7. “Have you made a decision yet?”
  8. “Dad… I have everything set up. Can I go now?”
  9. “OK so I can go right?”

After a while of that kind of badgering, my Dad finally agreed to let my adventures in Hawaii begin. Reactions were mixed… especially from my guidance counselor who memorably and sarcastically stated, “So let me get this straight… you want to spend a semester in HAWAII….? Um…”

So what does this mean to you, Mr. (or Ms.) blog reader?

If you’re reading this blog, you’re either considering applying for the program or already in it (or running it). If you’re that first person thinking about coming here, do it. You can even use some of my lines for parents mentioned above. Oh, and don’t worry about people that give you funny looks when you tell them you’re studying abroad in Hawaii. They’re just bitter that they won’t be able to shovel their car out of the snow while you lay on the beach.

If you’re that second person, hopefully I amused you with my anecdote enough that you’ll want to read more of my posts.

Either way, I’m enjoying Hawaiian life. Stay tuned 😉

Truly happy. Photo by Whitney Grathwohl (also in ASAA)

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Student Spotlight V: Whitney Grathwohl and Brittany Klein

Brittany Klein and Whitney Grathwohl

Meet 2 students who have become fast friends since connecting on Facebook and becoming a part of the program, A Semester in Hawai‘i at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.  Whitney Grathwohl from Missouri and Brittany Klein from Long Island, New York are sharing a semester in Hawai‘i and enjoying classes at UH and the sites in Honolulu. Already tan and acclimated in 3 short weeks, the girls have been to beaches and the zoo, gone hiking in Manoa and surfing in Waikiki. They’ve even hit the books, studying for their many classes at UH.

Brittany’s home school is Penn State, which is much larger than UH.  “People (at Penn State) are more stressed, looking for internships and jobs, and they are very involved with organizations on campus.”   At Penn state she is part of the “No Refund Theatre” group and an a cappella singing club called, “NOTA” (None of the Above).   She describes people here at UH as more laid back and friendly and “doing their own thing.”  A Human Development and Family Studies major, Brittany decided to attend the ASH program months ago and has a boyfriend who attends the Shidler College of Business at UH.  She is organized and active and has already found a job on campus.  Furthermore, Brittany is enjoying classes, thinking of becoming a career or relationship counselor, and is most looking forward to swimming with the turtles in the beautiful waters here in the islands.

Whitney’s path to UH is a quite a bit different from Brittany’s.  Whitney, who is a sports science and psychology major, applied at the last minute, finding the program through a search on line.  Looking for a change of pace from going to school in the small college town of Moberly, Missouri, Whitney acted spontaneously after discovering the ASH program and quickly made her decision to spend some time in Hawai‘i.  She was also a college athlete, running middle distance track, until an injury cut her running career short.  The road to recovery has been difficult, and the adjustment to life without running and competing is on going.  She is using this semester in Hawai‘i to stir things up and reevaluate her life.  With plans to do more surfing, visit the North Shore, snorkel at Hanauma Bay, and hike Stairway to Heaven, Whitney will have lots to do to keep things exciting.

Seeing life through these young women’s eyes is wonderful.  Every day is filled with hard work, discovery, and lots of fun.  The future is bright, wide open with possibility, and, at least for a semester, full of sunshine and warm breezes.