How Hawaii Happened

Studying abroad, third stage international student. 

When having lived in the UK for four years, the time when going abroad to study as part of my degree programme had come. What motivated me to keep my grades up through the first and the second year was that I had set my mind to applying for the exchange programme as part of my university course.

On my very first week at University of Stirling, back in September 2013, I went to an information session about studying abroad. It seemed to be an attractive deal to go across the globe “for free” and there seemed to be a high demand for the places available so I made sure I kept my average decent. Nothing below 65 per cent was acceptable to me.

At British universities this is quite a good mark as it is an upper second class grade; the second best class. It is the equivalent to a B in America, despite the sound of it being quite a low percentage. On some tasks, you simply cannot get anything above 70-72. For my English studies essays, this was particularly the case. One of my professors in my first semester argued that if they were to give any student anything above a 1C (70-73 per cent), it meant that the essay was better than any other paper written in the whole of UK. This sounded logical to me as she explained it, but I still don’t know how it actually makes sense.

Anyway, the criteria for applying to the exchange programme (and having your application considered) was, back when I did my second year, a 2E – this was nothing more than 50 per cent. A pass in the UK is only 40 so some consider 50 to be a decent mark.

I initially set my mind to Australia, where I’ve always wanted to go, but throughout my first year I decided I’d rather go to Canada for my exchange semester. Australia, I wanted to be another stop than yet another ‘university stop’. However, as I researched the options I had with my joint honours’ degree, no universities UoS partner with in Canada appealed to me.

Instead I set my mind to Australia again.

As the time for handing in our application drew near, I could only think of four universities I could see myself going to. Three of them were Australian universities: University of Sydney, La Trobe University and Flinders (located near Adelaide). The fourth was San Diego State University, as I had lived in SD a few years earlier, and I thought it’d be cool to go back for a few months, just for the hell of it. But as we had to pick five options, I randomly picked yet another one.

The random option came to be Hawaii.

As I had suspected, it was exactly this, my number four, that I got.

I had previously been told that only one person through all the many years the exchange manager had worked at our university had gotten anything below their three first options. I was therefore pretty confident I would finally get to go to Australia, through uni or not.

This was, however, only true until the year when it was my turn to go abroad: 287 students applied that year and only 160 were offered places. Hardly anyone got any of their three options. Apart from my friend who went to the same university as me, and a few of the 16 students who were lucky to be picked for any of the three Australian universities.

16 out of the almost 300 students got to go to Australia. 16. If I would have been one of them, I would definetely have felt quite pressured to do well. Under pressure is hardly ever nearly as fun as otherwise, so I was quite glad, after all, that I didn’t end up in Aussie. At least not this time.

Hawaii really was random.

Right before departure I also almost backed down and stayed in Scotland. Hawaii never appealed to me. Of all the many places I have always dreamed of visiting, the exotic islands in the Pacific were never on the list. In fact, I knew nothing about them. Nothing at all. I hadn’t even internalised the global mainstream way of seeing Hawaii. They were never paradise islands to me – they still aren’t.

My experience in Hawaii reflects nothing but yet another place in this world, where people live daily lives and have daily struggles. In fact, their societal and social problems were obvious even to the clueless foreigners and short-term visitors, not to mention the poverty. Yet, their willingness to help and share, their humanity and their gratefulness was greater than I have seen in most places I’ve ever been to. And that is quite a few, I have lived in six countries and traveled to over thirty.


An old man’s house in Kona, Big Island


These are luxurious resorts (this one in particular is a Hilton complex) and no reflections of the islands in general.






Although there were nice parts too


This was just a short stroll from where I lived in Hilo

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