A Semester in Paradise

  • 1

A Semester in Paradise

North Shore Skydive

If you asked me a year ago, as I was patiently waiting for the mounds of Rhode Island snow to melt, if I could imagine going to school in paradise for a semester, I would have most likely laughed and trudged away.  Little did I know what the second half of my junior year would turn into.  I’ve never truly believed that I belong in the area I was born and raised in; for someone who lives for the four months out of the year when I can walk to the beach from my house, snow and frigid temperatures have never appealed to me.

I live for the beach, surfing and the sand.  I am an active musician who enjoys playing mellow, acoustic music for visiting tourists on the seawall in Watch Hill, Rhode Island; what was I doing buried in snow?  The beautiful, lush environment of Hawaii has always been my calling, and it is where I have always belonged.

North Shore Sunset

In the weeks before enrolling at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I had literally no idea what to expect.  I had never been to Hawaii, and I really had not heard much about the school.  Luckily, a few friends from my home university of Roger Williams in Bristol, Rhode Island had attended the previous semester.  They aided me with the many questions I had about the application process and the school in general, ultimately finalizing my decision to study “almost” abroad in paradise.

I have already accomplished many experiences during my short time here in Honolulu, but a few have drastically stood out among others.  One of the most prominent was my skydiving experience over the coast of the North Shore.  It was definitely one of the most surreal moments of my life, and a day that I will remember always.  My tandem partner told me how amazing the drop zones in Hawaii were; in fact, that was the reason he moved to Hawaii from the mainland.  I know how luck I am that my first skydiving experience was over one of the world’s most beautiful shorelines.

Flying with Aloha

The reality of jumping out of a plane 14,000 feet above the Pacific did not truly hit until I was hanging out of the tiny airplane, waiting for the three second countdown to end.  Gliding through the warm Hawaiian sky and clouds was simply amazing; accomplishing a feet humans really aren’t meant to accomplish is truly an indescribable experience.  Following the release of the parachute was a relaxing, astonishing glide down to land.  Floating safely over the water to the airfield just past the shoreline was a “flight” I won’t soon forget.  My mother understands my appetite for adventure, however my father just could not fathom why I wanted to jump out of a plane thousands of feet above land.  That experience is why.

One professor in particular made my experience at the University of Hawaii at Manoa a much more memorable experience.  Professor Jon Osorio, professor of Hawaiian Studies, is one of the most caring and passionate individuals I have ever met.  He is an expert on true Hawaiian history and genealogy, and he is also very politically involved Hawaiian politics.  Osorio cares deeply about his Hawaiian ancestry, and this is one of the many emotions you leave his class feeling deep inside.

Osorio has taught many original and loving ideas of the Hawaiian people, including the concepts of  ‘ohana, the lolli’, and ‘aina.  ‘Ohana is the concept of how important family is to the Hawaiian culture.  The principal organizing unit in ancient Hawaiian society was the family, and the more family a person had, the better their life was to live.  As someone whose family is the number one priority in their life, I can personally relate to this Hawaiian ideology.  In this class we also visited the lolli’ which is located right next to campus.  The lolli’ is an area of fishponds and taro cultivation.  Because Hawaiians once had a limited amount of resources on their island, the natives would care for the island like it was their child.  If Hawaiians did not go out and clean their lolli’s taros, then they did not have clean water to drink.  One quote stood out to me; “the land itself is the backbone of the people.”  If more people brought back this type of ideology today, as the Hawaiians are attempting to do, this world would be a much happier place.  The final concept is the ‘aina, which goes hand in hand with the lolli’.  The concept of ‘aina is caring for the land, and reimbursing the nourishment that it has provided to you.  Replant the trees that are cut down, clean the water that is drank, respect the land and it will keep on providing.  In a world where our most beautiful rainforests are being demolished and our majestic animals are being killed for profit, individuals need to recognize the importance of the ‘aina.

Manoa Falls... Part of the 'Aina


Just recently, my roommate and I took an island-wide road trip after renting a brand new 2012 Ford Mustang convertible.  We made many stops throughout the day, including Waikiki, Sandy’s Beach, the Dole Plantation, and the North Shore.  Driving through the North Shore pineapple fields with the wind blowing through my hair will be an experience I will always remember.  This trip was a ton of fun, and I felt feelings that I am sure are only felt on these islands.

Oahu Roadtrip

To conclude, my experience at UH will be a four-month experience I can safely say I will never forget.  Another safe bet is that I will come back to this island, whether it be in a month, a year or a decade, I’ll be back.  Pieces of the Hawaiian culture will forever be apart of me now, and I am thrilled to spread that love to my friends and family back on the east coast.  Even though Rhode Island will always truly be home for me, Oahu has become my home away from home.

Home Away From Home


  • 0

Student Spotlight VI: Destiny Magee and Jordan Serra

What’s the best thing about Hawai‘i?  Diversity!  With new roommates and friends from Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, and Hawai‘i, Destiny Magee and Jordan Serra agree that diversity in culture and people make Hawai‘i an interesting destination for study away.  Both are enjoying meeting new people, seeing new things, and studying for their degrees in an island paradise through A Semester in Hawai‘i at UH .

Jordan Serra and Destiny Magee in front of Sinclair Library

Jordan Serra is a legal studies and psychology major at Roger Williams University with hobbies in music, sports, and surfing.  He grew up surfing in the Atlantic Ocean with his father and brothers, and he is looking forward to renting a board this spring and trying out the Pacific waves.  He also sings and plays guitar, ukulele, bongos, and lap steel guitar, and has an affinity for folk, acoustic, classic rock, classic country and other types of music “not on the radio.”  Jordan just bought a guitar to use while here in Honolulu and has been practicing some new pieces.  After hearing some Hawaiian music he especially liked, Jordan emailed the performer and composer, Jon Osorio.  Osorio is both an award winning musician and a professor in the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at UHM.  Professor Osorio wrote back and recommended a list of Hawaiian music, and Jordan has been learning to play some of it on his guitar.  His friends back in Rhode Island are sure to get a great concert when he returns this summer.

Jordan’s other spare time is spent hiking, going to the beach, hanging out with new friends, and Skyping with his girlfriend who’s in Berlin on a study abroad of her own.  They will be reunited at the end of the semester, but in the mean time, both are having memorable college experiences, half way around the world from each other!

Destiny Magee is also separated from her boyfriend this semester, but the distance between the two is not so far.  He’s on the island of Maui and she’s on Oahu.  Both are from the University of Northern Iowa where the snow is pretty deep right about now.  Destiny has been enjoying a different college lifestyle while here in Honolulu.  In Iowa, she commutes to school from home and does not spend much time on campus.  Here in Honolulu, she is living in the dorms and taking advantage of campus activities.  Destiny is studying biology and enjoys reading, writing, math and computers.  But she is also getting outdoors to hike and snorkel at famous attractions close-by the UH campus.  Last July, Destiny became certified in scuba diving in Iowa and hopes to take some ocean dives in the blue waters off her new island home.  She’s already made the trip to Maui 3 times to visit her boyfriend, which is surely an ASH student record for repeat island trips!  While there she’s snorkeled and explored the famous Haleakala National Park on the summit of the Haleakala volcano.

It’s easy to list the number of activities one does while here in Hawai‘i, but to describe the experience of being in a multi-cultural environment and sharing your life with others from all over the world is another story. It’s an experience about which both Destiny and Jordan would say,  “You have to be here and see for yourself.”

  • 1

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Keith Doucot, Kenny Ermann, and Daren Swenson

This entry marks the first in ASH’s “Student Spotlight” series, a set of interviews with current students in our program. One of the pleasures of meeting the students is appreciating the differences and similarities in their backgrounds and getting a glimpse of their life here in Honolulu.

Student Spotlight I

Daren Swenson, Kenny Ermann, Keith Doucot

Pristine campus, 3rd best college dining experience in the country, picturesque ocean front town, really nice dorms: University of Hawaii? Actually that’s how Keith Doucot, Kenny Ermann, and Daren Swenson describe their home college, Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Yet they left all that behind to come to UH for a semester. Kenny found out about the ASH program on Facebook and invited his cohorts to come along. When asked how he persuaded them to apply, Daren and Keith agreed it didn’t take too much to convince them.

Kenny said the ASH program is a great way to experience one of the many diverse regions in the United States and a chance to enjoy a tropical climate. Last year he ventured to the deep south, to Valdosta, Georgia, with Habitat for Humanity, building homes and experiencing firsthand that famed Southern hospitality and cooking. Hawai‘i adds another dimension to his “See America” endeavor. French speaker and marketing major Daren has traveled more broadly, visiting France, Belgium, Austria, and the Caribbean. When asked why he decided to come to UH in the ASH program he replied, “Well…it’s Hawai‘i,” a statement that’s simple, but loaded with meaning. This semester is Keith’s very first foray out of New England (excluding a Disney World trip), and his eyes brightened up when asked about being away. His expression at that moment spoke more than his words.

These three guys have been in school at UH for 3 weeks, but their list of completed outings is already impressive:  picturesque Waimea Bay, secluded Halona Beach Cove, refreshing Wa‘ahila Ridge Trail, snorkeling at nearby Magic Island, the popular Honolulu Flea Market, a weekend trip to the island of Kauai, to name a few. Keith has already finished his scuba diving certification, and Daren and Kenny plan to get certified later in the semester. They’ve also purchased season tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center and are planning a trip to the Big Island in December.

But a semester in Hawai‘i is more than beaches and sunsets. These students do all the adventures, and they have part time jobs and take full class loads (or overloads). Keith explained that it was overwhelming to sift through the huge UH course catalog and decide what to take, but his diligence paid off. One of his classes, “The Ocean Economy”, a course not offered at Roger Williams, is specific and specialized, but satisfies requirements for both of his minors, sustainability and economics. Keith’s major is construction management. Kenny has loaded up with 18 credits (6 more than a full load), and his schedule of 6 classes also includes “The Ocean Economy”. Kenny explained how he’s learned about isolationism in an environment like Hawai‘i and its potential for sustainability. His major is also construction management with an interest in environmental sciences. Daren is cruising through senior year with classes in French, anthropology and photography. He’s also an RA at one of the residence halls and maintains a very high GPA. Whoever said young people are not what they used to be hasn’t met these guys. They are polite and motivated. They work hard, get out there, and crave to do more. “It’s all what you make it,” Kenny says, which seems pretty wise for someone just 19 years old.