SIMONE KARUGA | APIA, SAMOA | POST 1
Featured image: Double Rainbow beaming down on the city of Honolulu. This was taken on my sunset cruise!
Currently, I am cruising through week 6 of my study abroad program with SIT Samoa: Social and Environmental Change in Oceania. However, since I am terribly late to this Far and Away game, I think it’s still important for me to talk about what’s happened to me thus far. So I’m backtracking and taking y’all all the way to week one with my orientation in Hawai’i.
If I could sum it all up I’d say this: Best. Orientation. Ever. Seriously, Hawai’i is gorgeous. The activities we did, coupled with the fact that I’d never been there before, made the whole week feel like one long vacation. I even forgot about the fact that we still had a whole ‘nother country to go to because we did so much.
Some of the highlights include visiting the Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum. Before Hawai’i became a state of the USA, it was an internationally respected kingdom with its own monarchy. At the Iolani Palace we got an in depth look into that unique past by completing an hour long audio tour. The next day we toured the Bishop Museum, which was absolutely massive. It contained several exhibits, including a recent one on Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island. The endless displays of history, natural science and art were both exciting and dizzying for me as I’m the type of person who needs to absorb every single fact and figure in a museum. Of course this isn’t possible, and I probably would’ve been there for several days if my program mates hadn’t pulled me out. I definitely plan to check it out again the next time I visit Honolulu (which is hopefully soon if my funds agree).
On Sunday, we also attended one of the best church services I’ve ever been to, which is pretty amazing considering that it wasn’t in English (probably why it was one of the best). The service was entirely in Samoan because it’s an American offshoot of EFKS, a prominent denomination in Samoa. The congregation was extremely welcoming. They even gave us handmade necklaces and introduced us as honored guests. However, the thing that struck me most was the amazing choir that lead praise and worship. Samoan churches are known for having good choirs already but this felt like Heaven was shining down upon us. With every song I felt slightly sad that I didn’t know what was being said but I also felt content to just let the melody wash over me.
The rest of the week we had classes, unfortunately, but they ended up being some of the best classes I’ve taken in a while. Our lectures and our dorms were located at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and they were about a five minute walk away from each other (this made it real easy to roll out of bed 10 minutes before like I usually do back at Vassar). Our classes were taught by lecturers from the East-West center, and each one of them was extremely knowledgeable about climate change, development, indigenous Pacific Islander struggles and human rights. Also, our Samoan class was honestly the best language class I’ve ever had. Usually I hate language classes with a passion, but this one was so fun and engaging that the two hours flew by each time. Besides that, my favorite lecture had to be the one on human rights, because despite it being a pretty depressing topic, our professor was so animated and engaging that it made me consider getting into the field.
All in all, my week at the university made me really fall in love with it, and the staff there made sure we knew about the dozens of scholarships and opportunities for their graduate schools. However, I’m still a little bit unsure if I’m that into Asian Pacific studies to get a degree in it, but living in Hawai’i for two years on scholarship seems like it’s worth it.
Finally, the best day I had there definitely had to be the Tuesday before I left. The jetlag I got from travelling from Dallas to Hawai’i was some of the most productive I’ve ever experienced, just because it made me wake up at 5 am every day. If you know me, you know that I am absolutely not a morning person, but that jetlag really had me waking up on Tuesday morning to go on a sunrise hike to the top of Diamond Head. Yes, I became that person. Next thing you know I’ll be chugging protein shakes and only eating Cliff bars. I’m really proud of myself for completing this hike because not only did I do it by myself, I also did it without passing out or throwing up violently at the end (listen… that last part had a hundred steep steps straight to the top).
I went to class after the hike, and at the end of the day I hopped on a snorkeling boat to go on a sunset cruise with my classmates. While we didn’t snorkel, we did get to witness a double rainbow (featured above), spot a whale’s tail and, of course, view the sun taking a dive into the waves below. My favorite days are always my longest ones, the kind that are absolutely filled to the brim with adventure, and luckily my abroad experience has given me no shortage of those.