An Overseas Experience to Hawaii through the National Student Exchange Program Past Review

By (BA: English, University of New Mexico) for

National Student Exchange: Honolulu - University of Hawaii, Hilo

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Immersing myself in the Hawaiian experience exceeded all expectations. Hawaii is more raw, exciting and challenging than I would have ever imagined. The beauty of the landscape, combined with the rich culture and history, made me feel like I was on an exchange to a foreign country. I am much more sensitive to different cultures now. Mentioning the NSE exchange to UH Hilo also makes me stand out on my resume! It is at least partially responsible for getting me a highly desired internship. I continue to reap the benefits of my exchange, and think I always will.

Review Photos

National Student Exchange: Honolulu - University of Hawaii, Hilo Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

School life is very relaxed at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. It's a small school - only about 3,000 students (UNM has over 30,000). The class sizes are all quite small with a not-so-ambitious curriculum for most majors. Some classes were easier than expected. But the courses unique to this school, such as Hawaiian Studies, Geology, and Marine Biology, are both challenging and fun.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Small school makes it easy to work with the administration. Our NSE coordinators were FANTASTIC. Weekly excursions to various sites around the island are available to all exchange students.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived in a house near the University (Puainako and Kahili st) with three other female students: two other NSE students, and one student from Hong Kong.

* Food:

All food that's shipped from the mainland (milk, pasta, peanut butter, etc. is VERY expensive. I recommend that students buy some staples, but buy their food at the Hilo Farmer's Market -- the food there is delicious and much cheaper. Try the local fare as well. Poke (sashimi) was one of our favorites!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Hilo is a small town on the windward side of the Big Island of Hawaii. These islands may be a part of the US, but I learned very quickly that Hawaii is a far cry from "mainland" America. The experience here felt more like an exchange to a foreign country. The island is very isolated, and is a mix of Polynesian, Japanese, Filipino, and Portuguese cultures. I wound up picking up some Japanese while there. The beaches and snorkeling, of course, were fantastic experiences. All NSE students and our coordinator developed a tight support-network. I am still very close friends with many of them, even three years later!

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Healthcare isn't an issue here at all, but the Big Island has many hazards that aren't present on the mainland. The ocean is rougher: one girl had a rib cracked by a wave breaking on her. Sea urchins and coral can cause injury. The river flowing through Hilo is a serious drowning hazard (one previous NSE student nearly died there several years ago). Diseases such as leptospirosis and staph can be dangerous if not treated. Students need to prove negative to tuburculosis in order to attend UHH.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)


If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The language and culture
  • The great and unique classes
  • The island itself
* What could be improved?
  • Nothing! Fantastic Experience
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Some quick tips: 1) Hilo is a RAINforest. It rains 130-200 inches a year, most of it between January and April. 2)Hawaii has a way of being different from what you expect. Even if you've been there before. 3) Being a "haole" (white) can be difficult. Hawaii does not have a pleasent history with the US and is now experienceing problems caused by heavy tourism. Some local anger may be misdirected at you. It is, however, easy to avoid. 4) It seems chiche to say, but island life IS slower! Take your time and relish in the experience!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Astronomy 101

Course Department:
Instruction Language:
Comments: My astronomy class was held in the state-of-the-art 3D Imiloa Planetarium, linked to the world-class observatories on Mauna Kea. It was difficult but very interesting, and involved learning the ancient Hawaiian names for stars and constellations -- including the ones used for navigating the Pacific Ocean.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Hawaiian History

Course Department:
Instruction Language:
Comments: I highly recommend this class to exchange students. As a part of the curriculum, students carve out 'umeke's (Hawaiian gourds) and take field trips to care for the land -- I planted endemic trees on Kiluea near the Volcanoes National Park.
Credit Transfer Issues: This class transfered as an elective, rather than History.
Course Name/Rating:

Hawaiian Ethnozoology

Course Department:
Instruction Language: English -- but all names, uses, and associated proverbs of the animals are in Hawaiian
Comments: This class is also highly recommended. Very challenging if you are unfamiliar with the Hawaiian language, but a rich, cultural experience. We learned Hawaiian chants, hula, and even went on a couple field trips, including the beach and a sailtrip on an authentic traditional double-hulled Hawaiian canoe!
Credit Transfer Issues: This class also tranfered as an elective.