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Aloha Aina - it means Love of the Land

By Mia Tarantini, Bachelor of Health Sciences

My exchange experience has been on an island. An island that takes two hours to drive around. I’m in Hawai’i. Honolulu, Oahu, to be precise, the state’s capital. To get to California takes five hours by plane and 10 hours to get home on the Tweed Coast. I’m well and truly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! 

Lots of people ask me why I chose to come to Hawai’i Pacific University on exchange and I don’t have a long-winded philosophical answer about dreaming of living here. I honestly looked through the options listed and thought, “Huh, that would be kind of wild!” And here I am.

Well, it has been wild. Maybe not in the way that you’d expect, but wild in the way that on this tiny island, you’re able to see and do so much that you wouldn’t normally do and to step outside your comfort zone and confront your fears and insecurities. To celebrate my 21st birthday, I went swimming with sharks…without a cage! I hike almost every weekend. I go to the beach and find tide pools and waterfalls to swim in. I’ve tried surfing (which to those who know me is a huge deal!). I was in a BIKINI photoshoot! I have said yes to almost every opportunity that has been presented to me and I don’t regret a thing.

I explored Maui one weekend with two girls I met here. We slept in a car on top of a volcano and ate tinned corn for three days. Our phones didn’t work because we had no reception, but watching the sunset above the clouds, completely cut off from the rest of the world, was one of those “pinch me” moments in life where all you can do is smile. That’s one thing I’ve done a lot of here – smile. It sounds corny but when everywhere you look is obnoxiously picturesque, you can’t help yourself.

“What about school!?” you might ask. Well, don’t worry, I do that too. I was lucky enough to get a pretty lenient timetable, which means that I start classes at 3 pm Monday and finish at 1 pm on Thursday. I spend most of the week trying to get my schoolwork done so that I have time for adventuring on weekends. I take some pretty mellow classes because I saved up my electives to come here. 

People say that the hardest thing about going on exchange is being away from home. I disagree. The hardest thing about going on exchange is the public transport. It took me six weeks of catching wrong buses to start to finally understand how they work. Four times I’ve had to change buses because they’ve broken down or the driver has just walked off. FOUR TIMES. I’ve missed three buses in one sitting and then once waited two hours for a bus that never came. I’ve boarded buses where the driver has told me it’s the right one…only to be told later, “oh, actually, I’m so sorry but I don’t go there anymore.” It started becoming so frequent that my friends wouldn’t catch the bus with me. They decided I was bad luck. In my 10th week I successfully caught the right bus, no dramas. I’m now a professional at the buses and if you ask me, I can tell you which bus goes where and how often (please ask me, I have so much useless bus knowledge I need to share it). 

Being here in Hawai’i, battling the buses and the drinking age (21…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) has made me happier than I’ve ever been. I’m so much more resilient and adventurous than before I came. I say yes more than I say no and I’ve learned to listen to my body and what she needs. In December, after my final exams, I’m moving to Japan for no other reason than because the opportunity presented itself. Say yes. It’s the only advice I can give. I’ve met the most amazing and inspiring people since I’ve been here and it’s all because I said yes.

If you’re thinking about going on Exchange but aren’t sure, do it. If you’re waiting for a sign to go, this is it. Go. Learn. GROW. And if it doesn’t go your way? Don’t worry. It’ll make for a really funny story later on. 

Destination: Hawaii

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