Our first port was HAWAII and after the first week at sea, I was eager to get on steady land again. Semester at Sea has class everyday on the ship so our only “weekends” or breaks is our time at land. Hawaii was the first test to see how I would respond to the idea of experiential learning and getting to explore a new culture first hand. We had prepared with many readings, discussions and lectures but nothing could even begin to describe the beauty of Hawaii in person.
For my field class, I was participated in a Catamarans Sail and Snorkel trip that included a lecture on the cultural background of Hawaii. My Global Studies class had been studying the culture of Hawaii and learning about how Hawaii is a collectivist culture, with strong spiritual bonds of aloha – loosely defined as “love”, but encompassing many values like respect as well – between extended families (‘ohana), the land, and respected strangers. Our lecture took place under the palm trees where we learned more about the “Aloha Spirit,” or the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.
Eager to get in the water, my class piled on the boat and we sailed to the best snorkeling spot in Wakiki for an afternoon of exploring. We spent hours at sea with free time to explore the open waters – I was inches away from sea turtles, eels, and so many fish! As the sun went down we started heading back to shore but saw a whale in the distance so our instructor for the day changed the route of the boat to follow the whales. We were surrounded by dolphins and watched as a whole family of four to five whales swam in the open waters just a few feet away from us!
Although I didn’t think that the Hawaiian culture would be much different than my own American upbringing, I was proved wrong. The land is so rich in culture and history of their own native roots. A Hawaiian renaissance in the 1970s saw the resurgence of traditional practices (Hawaii is the only state with a holiday to honor royalty!) and the official recognition of the Hawaiian language. And while cash-crops and development have threatened native species, the Papahãnaumokuãkêa Marine National Monument was expanded by Hawaii-born President Obama in 2016 to cover an area larger than all the other national parks combined, while the #WeAreMaunakea movement has halted the construction of an observatory atop a sacred volcano.
Before this day, the most I knew about Hawaii came from Lilo and Stitch famous quote, “Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind.” Now I can confirm that the natives of Hawaii showed me the true meaning of “ohana” by welcoming me into their home and proudly showing me their little nook of the world. One day wasn’t enough; I’ll be back Hawaii! Next stop: Japan!