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
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
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
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.”