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Culture Shock: Life in Honolulu

    By Rhema Kishida . December 3, 2016 - 1:34 pm

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Photo of Downtown Honolulu

In all directions across the vast Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is thought of as paradise, with its heart-melting beaches, crystal clear skies and lush coconut trees. Those who come to experience this culturally unique environment for more than just a vacation realize that the lifestyle in Hawaii is challenging. It takes just as much creativity as it does motivation to live in paradise.

Those who take that leap of uncertainty to immerse oneself in an unfamiliar culture will truly understand the experience of culture shock. For mainland and international students at Hawaii Pacific University, Hawaii is a stepping-stone into a larger cultural setting. For students from the Continental U.S., it’s “studying abroad” without actually studying abroad. For international students, Hawaii is a preview of what the United States is like.

HPU sophomore Vanessa Cortes, who double majors in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Business, came to Hawaii from Northern California three semesters ago. She recalled how excited she was when she first got here, but noticed a slower change of pace lifestyle.

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Buildings found in downtown Honolulu

“People are more than happy to take forever on anything,” said Cortes.

Such is the case when viewing time through the lens of intercultural communications. Time in Hawaii is not measured the same way as time in California, for instance.

After a year on the island and feeling like a visitor, she has adapted to the culture of Hawaii and now feels like she belongs.

“This is my home,” she said. “One-hundred percent of (my) life is on the island.”

Ryan Roberts, 20, a Biochemistry major, was able to adapt to life in Hawaii fairly easily after moving here from Birmingham, Mich.

“I tried to put myself in other’s shoes and understand people’s backgrounds by relating to them,” said Roberts. “I would take others traditions, morals, and dialect and just be a sponge and soak up all the diversity the islands have to offer me.”

Oliver Andree, 23, a Business major from Stockholm, Sweden, tells about not only having to adapt to the culture of Hawaii, but also the cultures of the many different international students at HPU.

“When I first arrived I met other international students at the hostel where I first lived,” said Andree. “I think we kind of coped with the change in culture together because it was new to all of us and not only me. If I would have dealt with it all alone I think it would have been much harder. Since I mostly met international students in the beginning there was not only the Hawaiian culture that was different, but also how to interact with these international students.”

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King Kamehameha statue in front if the Aliiolani Hale, home of the Hawaii State Supreme Court

Andree said that it was frustrating dealing with the slower pace of things as compared with the fast pace of life in Stockholm at first, but it wasn’t too hard to adjust. One cultural misunderstanding that left Andree puzzled involved shaking hands, or a lack thereof.

“There was this one time where I, together with my friend, had a meeting with a guy from Hawaii. After talking for a while, when we were going to leave, me and my friend both expected a handshake because that is what we do in my culture when we say goodbye. The strange part was that the guy left and did not shake our hands and I found it really strange, almost disrespectful, because shaking someone’s hand when you leave is an act of respect in my culture and it is something we always do.”

Austin Anderson, 21, a Business Management major from Pennsylvania, was surprised by the diversity of Hawaii.

“First off, there is a way bigger variety of people out here,” said Anderson. “They have different manners and culture in general. Learning how to interact with them was definitely a culture shock.”

Anderson was attracted to HPU for the outdoor activities that Hawaii has to offer.
“The ability to do something outdoors every day like hiking, surfing, or simply laying around on the beach is what made me want to move out here.”

HPU advertises Hawaii as a culturally unique and diverse melting pot filled with opportunities for growth. For Tequala Konico, 18, a Biology major from New Mexico, it was the humidity of Hawaii that made one of the first impressions upon her, calling it “something else.” Before coming to Hawaii, Konico had never been to the beach before, but now the beach is a place of relaxation and restoration for her.

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Sunset on Waikiki beach

What Konico and Cortes want HPU to do to help create an easier transition to living in Hawaii would be to warn upcoming students about some of the negative aspects of Hawaii such as the traffic, homelessness, and things to expect when riding the city bus.

“The video on YouTube is way different than what things actually were.” said Konico.

Those courageous pioneers that have experienced culture shock took a leap of uncertainty and accepted the challenge of being in a new environment and made the best of it. Culture shock is an opportunity to exercise the experimental and inventive sides of one’s self, giving new aspects of life and personal growth unparalleled to those who have not experienced it. Hawaii, with its many layers of intercultural similarities and differences, is an ideal candidate to experience such a valuable change in lifestyle.

Interviews by Rhema Kishida, Leah Vaughn, Anna Vandgaard, and Herman Martinsen.

Photos by Marc Peraino/Kalamalama News Editor.

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