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Advice for new international students - from one who has been there, done it

by Tugce Soysalturk, staff writer

When we make one of the biggest decisions in our lives, to leave our hometown to pursue our college education, we are almost ready for a new beginning. It is not only about adapting to a new culture, new life-style, new people and places, but it is also about facing all the responsibilities of life-not just our education-and dealing with them alone and without help from others.

When we were first accepted at HPU, and we purchased our plane ticket to Hawai‘i, people envied us. They said they would die to be in our place. They were sure that we would do little studying on a tropical island. We would basically be vacationing for four years, collecting free fruit from the trees, having the most fun in the world, and coming home for summer vacation with a great, dark tan.
None of these things happened to me, but one great thing did—finally I grew up.
Life in Hawai‘i didn’t start so easily for me. When I arrived at Honolulu Airport-after a 38-hour-flight-I was exhausted and nearly broke. My luggage was missing, and there was no one to pick me up. My feeling of extreme loneliness came from being literally isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The lost luggage turned out to be good luck. TheBus doesn’t allow passengers to carry luggage, so I could take advantage of the cheap transportation to look for the cheapest hotel in town. Someone said the Ala Moana Hotel was cheap. Right! Maybe for Bill Gates. Fortunately, right across the street was the YMCA, which is about $25 a night. Even this was expensive for me, especially compared to long-term rent, and it wasn’t that comfortable either.
So the next day, my first goal was to find a place with a roommate, and I started looking at my options. As students do, I checked the listings at the HPU Housing Office. There were many different choices. Depending on one’s budget, one could share a room, a studio, a one- or two-bedroom apartment, or a home. Or get any one of these alone, without roommates, or get multiple roommates. If you want more control, you can check out the Honolulu Advertiser’s Sunday’s classifieds, rent the place first, and then pick your own roommate. Put an ad on the student board or give the listing to the Housing Office, or go on-line to and place a free e-ad. Or do all three. However, remember that if you rent the place first, you have to pay both the full deposit and the first month’s rent, and sometimes the last month’s rent too.
When looking for a roommate, either as landlord or tenant, you should be as picky as if you were choosing a spouse. Find someone who is dependable, and who complements your lifestyle. Discuss expectations and responsibilities and set up some informal rules to avoid future argument. Otherwise, neither you nor your roommate will feel comfortable sharing a place. Do this even if you are moving in with your best friend; living together and sharing all the responsibilities is not like having a coffee on the Mall or going to see a movie.
At the time, in my situation, I didn’t really care if I would get along with my roommate, or if I would have a private room, or an ocean view from my room, or a pool and barbecue, or if utilities were included in the rent. I just wanted to rent something before I wasted more money on hotels, so that’s what I did. However, these needs, which seemed too luxurious at the time, started to be important later on when I realized that I would like some privacy, and that if I hadn’t rushed I could be living in a better place for the same price. However, I couldn’t move out since, like almost every place, mine required a six-months-lease.
So if you are new- to Honolulu, I recommend you stay in a hotel for a couple of more days and find a place and roommates you like, because you will be living with them for the next six months, and your comfort and happiness is more important than the $50 you will spend in the YMCA for a couple of more days.
After moving into your new place, eventually you will want to fill up your fridge. The grocery store prices here might shock you at first, especially if you choose to live in Waikiki andyou want to stick to your mother’s cooking. First, you should find one of the big grocery stores near you and get the discount card from that store. Then learn to shop not for what you would like to eat, but for what is on sale. Don’t refuse to try American-style food. For example, if your traditional breakfast is cheese, tomatoes, and bread, which will cost more than $5 here, you can save money by trying some of the endless variety of American cereals. They are all nutritious, tasty, and cheaper.
So, all you new international students, do not get depressed because nobody put a nice-smelling lei on your neck the day you arrived; and do not be shocked when you go grocery shopping for the first time, and you realize there is not a single vegetable or fruit less than $3 a pound. Remember, there are always discounts, always ways to survive, and all these great people you will meet, from all around the world, who will become your friends, and will give you those nice leis on your birthday.
Not only will you meet many new interesting people from all around the world, you will come to feel very comfortable living here in this culturally diverse place, and you will stop feeling homesick. This happens to all of us sooner or later, depending on how adjustable we are to a new culture and life-style. As long as you are easygoing, responsible, and open-minded, you will have the best time of your life, an exceptional experience in this tropical paradise about which the rest of the world can only dream.


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