PUBLISHED: Home Away from Hawaii
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Aloha ʻoe, aloha ʻoe Farewell to you, farewell to you
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo The charming one who dwells in bowers
One fond embrace, One fond embrace,
A hoʻi aʻe au ‘Ere I depart
Until we meet again Until we meet again
ʻO ka haliʻa aloha i hiki mai Sweet memories come back to me
Ke hone aʻe nei i kuʻu Manawa Bringing fresh remembrances of the past
ʻO ʻoe nō kaʻu ipo aloha Dearest one, yes, you are mine own
A loko e hana nei From you true love shall never depart.
-“Aloha ‘Oe” by Queen Liliʻuokalani, 1878
Hawai’i high school graduates are notorious for leaving to attend universities in the Continental U.S. Despite Hawaii being a stereotypical paradise, 29% of families will shell out thousands more dollars annually to send their kids off to out-of-state colleges.
According to Hawaii News Now, local enrollment to University of Hawaii is down 14% in the last four years. Why would a Hawaiian choose a place like PLNU: 2,700 miles away from home where over half the school population is California natives and over 66% of those are Caucasion?
Freshman Ben Kapule from Nanakuli, Hawaii is the first in his family to go out of state for college.
“Going to school in Hawaii wasnʻt even an option for me,” he says. Kapule admits to feeling like an odd man out most of the time, and there have been some negative experiences alongside the culture shock of moving away from home, but “going to college on the mainland is something Iʻve always dreamed of. I feel like I would be missing out on so much if I were to stop…Iʻve experienced the good and the bad and thatʻs just how it goes sometimes.” He mentions how proud his parents are that he chose to discover a new place, and reflects on how differently he thinks of home now that heʻs gone. “Once you go away, you appreciate it so much more…when I first left I was like, ʻI canʻt do this, I miss home, I miss my family…can I do this?ʻ But once I went home I was like, ʻitʻs still here, it never left.ʻ”
Junior education major Kaʻena Kekoa claims that although the initial culture shock was hard, she benefitted from the transition.
“It’s a good thing for me, because if I stayed at home I wouldn’t get these experiences.”
Such experience include being the first to attend her parents’ alumna mater and discovering new people and cultures that aren’t prevalent in Hawaii. “Hawaii will always be there, itʻs not going anywhere.” She says, not knowing Kapule said the same thing a few days earlier. She adds that her calling to college away from home has enabled her to grow.
“Itʻs definitely taken me out of my own little world…I love Hawaii, that is where my heart is and Iʻm going back right after I graduate,” she says. “But I think it might have been good for me if I left, and Iʻm glad I did if just for the experience.”
According to freshman RT Serikawa, going away to college was born out of his passion to travel.
“You kind of know, living on an island, that youʻre only secluded to one small portion of the world,” he recalls. “I felt like I needed to get out and explore…I chose not to [stay] because it opens up my perspective.”
He also shares Kekoa and Kapule’s sentiments on looking back. “It means a lot more than it did before…I think about home every day,” hinting that “Hawaii” is synonomous with “home.”
Psychologist Thomas Plante writes that the further from home students move, the more disadvantages arise from the culture shock. He says without the ready social support network most young students are used to, mental health disorders and drug and acohol abuse can become prevalent.
Something about the way Kekoa and Serikawa carry themselves makes them stand out in a crowd. Thereʻs no obvious similarities in their dress or personalities, but the way they talk and sit gives off a very peculiar air of quiet pride and composure—unperturbed by the bustling tension surrounding them in the cafeteria. The same can also be seen from other Hawaii students like Kapule; whether heʻs talking to his friends and classmates or singing for his a capella group, he provides comfort to the people around him in an environment thatʻs typically uncomfortable for fellow students.
These students contradtict Plante. Whether this is a learned trait or something instilled in them from living in Hawaii is debatable, but whatʻs clear is the tangible bond that Hawaiians have for home and how they carry that through their present life away from it as if they never left.
Transitioning to new people and a new home has been a catalyst for emotional growth. Serikawa recounts, “Itʻs when you realize if someone is truly important…where even if theyʻre halfway across the world youʻll still find a way to be friends or love each other.”
Kekoa adds, “Get the experience, travel, do what you can…and when you want to go back home—if youʻre ever ready to go back home—it will always be there.”
As each interview unfolds, talks of the pressures of college and culture shock diminish while the dialogue becomes more playful and reminiscent, and the language shifts from English to Pidgin. Kapule, Kekoa, and Serikawa seem to have no residual qualms about leaving Hawaii, however temporarily, and instead focus on small things in Hawaii which they seem to miss the most; like snacks and surf spots.
Maybe itʻs from all the practice of surfing and playing in the waves, but these Hawaii students seem to have mastered handling changes in conversation, life choices, and plans for the future. Serikawa, originally admitted as a visual arts student at Brooks Institute before its closing in summer 2016, had a late acceptance to PLNU where he enrolled as a film studies major. He recently became undeclared in favor of an environmental science major.
“I realized the second day that this wasnʻt the kind of film I wanted to get into,” he says. “Thatʻs where I [thought] ʻwhere am I going?ʻ” A recipe for a midlife crisis for most people, Serikawa doesn’t count his circumstances as setbacks. “I donʻt know, that the thing…’what if’ this, ‘what’ if that? Iʻm here now, Iʻm where Iʻm supposed to be so that’s all I can know.”
To which Kekoa says, “that’s such a Hawaiian thing to say!”
“I think it should be heard…people should know,” says Kekoa about what it’s like to move so far from home. “I can only explain to people in so many words how it feels to grow up in Hawaiʻi.” Still, she strives to do well and finish her schooling at PLNU. Serikawa explains that he’s in no rush to settle down in Hawaii, opting for a future where he travels the coast in a VW Bus. Kapule doesn’t speak much on his plans, instead focusing on adapting to living in San Diego and finishing his studies first. Amazingly, through different experiences, plans, and lifestyles, every Hawaiian remains content in taking solace that home will never leave, and it’s only a matter of time before they see Hawaii again.