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By Emily Bjerner, JOUR 3000

 

Having traveled here from all over the world, many students at Hawai‘i Pacific University have interesting stories to tell about adapting to island life.

HPU has strived for an international image by attracting students from as many as 100 different nations, according to the University’s Web site. The diversity provides HPU with an exceptional cultural insight, and provides students the opportunity to make friends with people from completely different cultures and backgrounds.

And needless to say, the act of bringing together people from around the globe into one university, one school system, and one culture, is going to produce results that are naturally going to be interesting.

Nieburh, for example, found the getting-used-to part quite easy. “Even though everything was different, especially learning to use English as your first language everyday, I found it not too hard to get used to hanging out on beautiful beaches and having fun.”

“ And I would have to do the school part back home anyway,” Nieburh added.

However, for many of the students who have traveled far to get here, Hawai‘i’s culture and lifestyle are very different from home. Over lunch with her friends from Norway, Thailand, Sweden, and the United States, Karen Zhang from southern China said that for her the cultural clash was mostly positive.

“ I find people here easier to talk to, more social and outgoing than back home,” she said. “Since most students come here without knowing anyone, it’s easy to make friends.”

Zhang said that one thing that is better here than back in China is the bus system. “It’s amazing that they’re almost always on time, “she said.

The Norwegian girl next to her smiled and disagreed. “Here, you can’t even trust the bus to come,” said Linn Kleppe. “In Norway everything is always on time.”

Zhang laughed at their different viewpoints and ordered a bowl of fried rice with shrimp. They were eating in one of the many Asian food courts on Fort Street Mall just outside one of the University’s downtown classroom buildings.

“One thing you have to write about,” Zhang said, “is how Chinese food here is nothing like the real stuff in China.” “The quality is so much better back home, and it’s not at all this deep-fried greasy stuff.” She held up a deep-fried, unhappy- looking shrimp from her plate.

How about first impressions of Hawai‘i, someone asked. Surely there have to be other differences from China besides the disappointing Chinese food?

“ When I first came here, the best thing was, of course, the climate,” Zhang continued.

Kleppe nodded her head and smiled. “In Norway, you’re glad if you get one sunny day, like this, during the summer,” she said, pointing enthusiastically to her tanned arms.

When it comes to the school system, though, Kleppe found everything very different from most European ways of learning, a fact she applauds as she talked about the importance of an international education and the cultural benefits of learning how to interact and make friends with people who are totally different from you, people you probably wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the school.

“ I prefer this way of learning compared to Norway,” Kleppe said. “I feel the teachers here encourage you to try new things, and there are more possibilities for personal growth and for taking chances than we get back home.”

Hawai‘i and HPU have apparently been a good experience so far for these students, but is there anything the international students miss from back home?

“ I do miss having different seasons,” Kleppe said. “I miss buying nice winter jackets. And some things do work better back home, like the cell phone system.

“ I thought it was a joke,” Kleppe added, “when I heard you have to pay for incoming calls here. In Norway we even get extra credit on our pre-paid card for incoming calls.”

So maybe Hawai‘i isn’t Beverly Hills 90201, but it’s got plenty of its own perks, another girl remarked, a little defensively. The mile-long beaches of white sand, surf culture, and diverse population give Hawai‘i a culture of its own, unlike anything you could experience on the mainland of America, if you trust the tourist guides.

Aside from daily changes, it’s sometimes confusing and stressful to leave friends and family behind, go to a different country without really knowing what to expect, learn to communicate in a foreign language, and take in a whole new culture. HPU seems well prepared to integrate its international students, however.

The school has its own international center for homesick students, helping out with practical stuff like student loans, housing, and seminars on where to buy cheap groceries. With all these different nationalities, the school also has an extraordinary student life with clubs for every hobby and nation; more than 10 countries have their own clubs, all open to all HPU students and all arranging regular parties and celebrations of national holidays.

HPU formally invites new students to several welcoming activities to make them feel at home. In addition to basic information on registration and where to get books, the school arranges cultural seminars and has printed a handbook for international students new to some basic American codes of behavior. These “rules” include the way the society views women and religion, and how to interact and date in America, among other amusing topics.

Swedish student Evelina Andersson, here for one semester, feels that people here seemed friendlier and more open compared to Sweden.

“ Strangers come up and talk to you in the streets,” she said. “It’s very different from back home, where people barely look at each other,” she added, rolling her eyes. “When it comes to HPU, my first impression was that it didn’t really feel like a university or a school at all, since it’s placed in a business district. It was all just...well, different.”

Andersson was surprised by the diversity of the University. “It was a great thing to meet all these people from different countries,” she said, “all coming here for the same thing: a good education in great surroundings.”

As the school system in the United States differs a lot from what most European university students are used to, it took a while to adjust, said Swedish student Mikaela Norlander. “I was surprised that you have mandatory attendance. In Sweden we are used to more freedom and own responsibility over our studies, so that definitely took a while to get used to,” she said.

HPU was recently ranked No.122 in The Princeton Review’s 2006 edition of “The Best 361 Colleges.” Niebburh agrees: “I worked hard to get here, and I don’t regret a second of it.”

 

File Photo

The USO's Samoan dances regularly win the Intercultural Day "Best Performance" category.

 

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