Studying in Hawaii aka Visiting on the Cheap

Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

With summer just around the corner, I thought I would switch gears for a moment to touch on the topic of How I spent a summer in college in Hawaii and you can too, regardless of age or educational pursuits.

I never studied abroad in college. While I wish I had, as an Interior Design major, I essentially needed to take a semester off from my studies. The only program I really wanted to pursue for design was in Denmark through a private university and out of my budget. But lucky for me, I had a really kickass college roommate and friend who introduced me to University of Hawaii’s Summer Outreach Program. During the summer, Hawaii gives in-state tuition to all students in the program. You apply, are essentially guaranteed acceptance, and then can enroll in courses and apply to live on campus. In fact, you don’t have to be pursuing a degree to apply. We met a lesbian couple in their 50’s in our apartment building who were taking yoga and weightlifting. They found out about the program because their son had done it the year prior. My college roommate was graduating, but she decided to go as well. I took a religious studies class and she took a dance class.

Waimea Canyon on Kauai, also known as The Grand Canyon of the Pacific

While it will take me many posts to write about my time hiking and snorkeling around Oahu, our tales on public transit, and our jaunts to Kauai and the Big Island, it was one of the best summers of my life. Though my parents saw through my ‘educational pursuits’ pretty quickly, I did in fact attend almost every class and my professor was quite a character. His name was Sakashita, but he told us on the first day not to forget the ‘a’ on the end when spelling it, as it took on a whole new meaning. This anecdote was an introduction to his humorous approach to teaching.

My class was a three credit class while my friend’s was only one. Our schedule went something like this:
6:00am: Wake up to the sun shining, throw on our running shoes, and head out the door.
7:30am: Come back from a nice run in Honolulu, shower, and try to make slow movements as to not start sweating before getting dressed (we had no A/C or even a fan).
9:00am: Attend class.
11:00am: Return home, and see my friend off to class. Put on my swimsuit, pack my beach bag and make some lunch.
1:00pm: Spend the afternoon on the beach.

Swimming at a waterfall on Kauai

I can’t tell you how great it was. I didn’t have class on Fridays, and we often spent the weekends exploring other parts of the island since the bus took us almost anywhere we wanted to go. We snorkeled in Hanauma Bay, visited Pearl Harbor, hit up the beaches on the North Shore, went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, hiked Diamond Head, Manoa Falls, and several of the other trails along the center of the island. We had a couple of friends come to visit which meant we revisited our favorite places.

It was also the summer of irresponsibility for me. I misplaced my phone on several occasions, the worst of which was in a taxi driver’s car who didn’t speak much English! After about five phone calls to him, he didn’t understand anything I said except ‘Pearl Harbor’. So, I paid him to meet me at Pearl Harbor to retrieve my phone, and though we nearly missed each other, I did get it back. We also quit carrying keys with us pretty early on. Yes, it does sound terrible considering we had computers in our apartment, but the four of us just climbed through the window if no one else was home.

Hiking on Oahu

It was also one of the best cultural experiences I’ve had in the United States. I was a minority in my class, as most students were of Chinese or Japanese descent. With it being a religious studies class, people discussed their personal experiences, and I was happy to be in class with Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish students. I wasn’t familiar with many of the teachings outside of Christianity, and it quickly captured my interest. I made friends with students from East Timor, a country that I had never even heard of and found out it had only been independent for a few years. They invited us over to their apartment and cooked us their traditional food. We went on a school-sponsored trip, and I met a Muslim Wisconsin girl originally from Pakistan, guys from Oklahoma, and a German that abhorred the fact that he should share a bed with another male in a hotel room in order to cut costs (he slept on the floor the entire trip). Of course I expected the beach in Hawaii, I just never realized all of the cultures that converged on the island and in this academic setting.

The days were numbered (and my bank account was taking a beating) and we returned home in mid-August.  I discussed doing this again with another friend in the future, but after reviewing the current information on their website, in just five years, the tuition has doubled since I attended! This might not be the cheapest way to visit Hawaii any longer, however if you’re still in school and paying tuition regardless, it’s definitely a consideration. With my student I.D. card, I also received the kama’aina (local) rate which meant I snorkeled free at Hanauma Bay and paid cheaper hotel and rental car fees when I went over to the Big Island. If you have any questions about the program, just ask. It’s a fabulous way to spend a summer (though I assume you need little convincing)!

Have you been to Hawaii or taken part in UH’s Summer Outreach Program?

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