I came to Hawaii to study at UH Hilo on a university exchange in 2012. Living in Hawaii for four months was an incomparable experience that is hard to put into words. But I’ve been trying to describe it since the day I set foot on the Big Island.
Being Ukrainian and growing up in the Czech Republic, I came to Hawaii with my head full of expectations and uneducated stereotypes. My home university, Anglo American, happened to have an exchange program at the University of Hawai’I at Hilo, and since coming to Hawaii has always been a dream of mine, I jumped at the opportunity to come here. I thought I would spend four months sitting on a white sand beach under a constantly blazing sun surrounded by hula dancers. And, that I’d have leis thrown over my head wherever I went by ukulele-playing locals.
Some of this did actually happen: August was really sunny, I saw a graceful hula dance at the talent show during orientation week, I bought a cheap lei in a souvenir store, and I do hear students strumming a ukulele on campus every once in a while. But, Hawaii turned out to be so much more.
Instead of white sand beaches, Hilo has many beautifully unique volcanic beaches to offer like Honoli’i and Richardson. Honoli’i has a river flowing into the ocean creating a calm area to swim in while the waves in the ocean offer a great surfing environment, and the small beach is surrounded by cliffs and palm trees. Richardson beach is completely different with lots of different enclosed areas to swim in and also lots of areas to just sit around and have picnics. It is even known as a place to spot turtles. The two beaches also showed me a lot about Hawaiian culture.
At both beaches I saw the strong bond between the Hawaiians and their natural surroundings; everyone was careful to clean up after themselves after eating and picked up every bit of litter that they dropped. There was also a great respect for the turtles, which are not to be touched, and the locals watched my friends and me carefully as we approached the turtles to photograph them, and would have probably jumped to their defense if we got too close or disturbed them
There was also a strong sense of family and community at the beaches as big families gather together and set up tents to have picnics and chill. Also, everyone would gather together and cheer whenever a child caught their first wave surfing. It was amazing to watch and the friendly locals would always make me feel included by randomly saying hello and interacting with me.
I also discovered that Hilo is far from being constantly sunny, but I have never seen a more mesmerizing rainfall. The rain here is warm and you can see it bringing life to the whole island as all sorts of critters crawl out from hiding and the plants just seem to dance as the drops hit their leaves. The rain here never seems to bring anyone’s moods down.
On Tuesday and Thursday at six P.M., the hula class at the Student Life Center continues no matter the weather, with friendly upbeat instructors for both beginners and the advanced classes. After seeing a hula dancer perform at the talent show during orientation week there were quite a few people wanting to learn this unique form of dancing.
All in all, Hawaii turned out to have much more to offer than I ever imagined possible, and UH Hilo is a big part of it. Being given weekly opportunities to travel around the Big Island and experience new activities is just one of the perks of the university. There is something here for everyone to participate in, from trying out your public speaking skills on the school radio station to volunteering to help with the beehive to pretty much any club, sport and activity that you can think of.
As an exchange student for one semester, I am truly amazed by UH Hilo. I will have many ideas to take back and suggest to Anglo American, my home university, to make it at least half as good a university as this one.
Originally published here: https://issuu.com/kekalahea/docs/issue4fall2012