Interested in studying abroad? Read Kaja's experience from studying in Hawaii!

Kaja in Hawaii: The study abroad semester paved the road for her future

Sometimes study abroad opens the door for your future career! The courses Kaja ended up taking at Hawaii Pacific University during her study abroad, led her to her current Master's degree in counseling. The icing on the cake was that the semester turned out to be an epic experience as well. Read more about that below! 

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Why did you want to study abroad in the first place, and why Hawaii?

Hawaii was all I really wanted, to be honest. It’s sunny, it’s all about beaches, there are mountains and it’s just pretty. I once did a study abroad semester in Oxford in England, but that was too similar to my home country, Norway. That’s why I wanted to do something completely new. Actually, I thought about Australia too, but once I compared them, I ended up choosing Hawaii.

 Kaja study abroad in Hawaii ISIC

Did Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) offer suitable programs based on your studies? 

I was actually finished with my Bachelor’s, so I took five different courses from social work and psychology to group counseling. I used the semester to try out different things and to pave the way for my Master’s degree, which I am studying now. I found counseling very interesting and this is now my major in my Master’s. It was kind of like a gap year but after my Bachelor’s.


Are you planning to take another study abroad during your Master's?

I would love to. It depends if my program allows for it, but if they do, I will definitely go. This time I would like to go to Australia since I feel I have done Hawaii now. 


What is your dream job once you're done studying? 

I wanna be a counselor in the sense I want to help students who are dreaming about traveling or studying outside of Norway. I would love to help them accomplish that and inspire them to see the great opportunity. I think more people should study outside of Norway, and would like to be the one who helps them. Honestly, my dream job would be to do exactly this at KILROY.


Did you choose to go to Hawaii by yourself? 

I traveled with a friend from Uni, it was nice for the long journey to travel with someone, the trip took like 40 hours or so. We traveled together and stayed together at the student apartments. Of course, I still met a lot of new people during my stay in Hawaii and we also didn’t travel back together, since she wanted to stay for longer than me.


When did you arrive in Hawaii? 

We both agreed that we wanted to leave Norway in the Winter, so we arrived on DEC28 so we could celebrate New Year’s in Hawaii, and  the semester started on JAN10. Unfortunately, it was raining during New Year’s so we couldn’t be on the beach to watch the fireworks, but all in all, it was really fun with a lot of partying and probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to celebrate New Year's in Hawaii.


So where exactly you lived in Hawaii? 

It was a student accommodation but in the form of a hotel. It wasn’t on campus exactly, but it was in Waikiki Beach and the hotel had 4 different floors for students only. It was quite expensive though, and my guess is that it was more expensive than renting a normal apartment. But we did pay everything up front before we went, so all the money I spent in Hawaii was on experiences, traveling, food, drinks etc.


Kaja in hawaii ISIC city life in Honolulu


How was the daily life living next to Waikiki Beach? 

Daily life was much different than being home. After school, you would often go to the beach or the pool, and we did some surfing or went on a hike. We did everything you can imagine in these surroundings, whereas there’s a bigger tendency to go home and watch Netflix when you are in your home country. There was nothing like that in Hawaii.

I had five courses at HPU, and I managed to schedule them so I had classes every weekday. So that was a little bit annoying. Some of my friends had classes only Monday and Wednesday, and I was a bit envious of their schedule. On top of that, I had submissions every week, so I had to hand in something quite frequent. That meant a lot of work, of course, despite the level being easier than when studying back home.


What kind of expectations you had and how was it in reality? 

I had really high expectations. I saw so many pictures on Instagram and everything looked so pretty and unreal. I made a list before I arrived there, to have a plan for all the things I wanted to experience while being in Hawaii. The list included all the hikes I wanted to do, beaches I wanted to visit, and so on. Once I finally got to Hawaii, I actually managed to tick off all the things I had planned, and to be honest, it exceeded all my expectations! I thought to myself that what you see on Instagram is not real, but it really was. It was exactly like Instagram.


Did you travel around the island? 

Yes, I did. I spend quite some time on the North shore of the island and also explored two other islands in the archipelago, while I was there. I went to Big Islands to check out the volcano landscape and visited Kawaii, mainly because I feel that Kawaii is what you really think of when you picture yourself in Hawaii. It’s so green and almost like living in a botanical garden. It’s probably the prettiest place I have ever seen in my life, and I really want to go back there.

Kaja trekking in stunning surroundings in Hawaii ISIC


With who did you hang out while in Hawaii? 

With many different people. But in my first week, we had an 'International Bonfire Day' with all the international students. I think we were with around 50-100 people, and I went all by myself because my friend didn’t want to go. I saw that as an opportunity to meet new people, so I made a lot of friends already during that evening. But I have to say, there were a lot of Norwegians when I started. I guess it was because the Australian border was still shut down, so everybody chose Hawaii instead. But it’s obviously quite easy to find people to hang out with when there’s a record number of Norwegians at the uni. Aside from the Norwegians, I was hanging out with German, Spanish, and loads of others.


Out of curiosity, how did it feel going to the Bonfire party by yourself? 

Awww. I was terrified and almost jumped off the bus before the destination. I reached the party and saw how many people were there and I was completely alone. I felt everybody were looking at me because I arrived alone. But I did it, and I really don’t regret going since many of my relations were built that night.


How did you overcome that fear? 

I just sat with literally the first person I saw. I had an urge to just sit down immediately so I didn’t look lonely, and it turned out that I was sitting next to a Norwegian, a German, and a Danish person, so it was really easy to get the conversation going in English. I had heard before going, that especially the Norwegians have a tendency to just speak Norwegian while being there, and I didn’t go to Hawaii to speak Norwegian.


What was a specific rule you lived by in Hawaii? 

Say yes to everything. If you want to live your best life while you’re there, then say yes. If you don’t, you’re going to miss out on a lot of experiences and you’re not going to meet any people. And if you don’t have anyone to hang out with, it’s not very fun to be studying in Hawaii. Also, always remember, you’re not the only one going by yourself. There are so many people going by themselves, so everyone is in the same boat, so to speak.


Kaja at study abroad hiking in Hawaii ISIC


Did HPU arrange events so the students get their social relations going? 

Yes, I think they had student activities almost every week which you could sign up for through your phone. There were for instance surfing lessons through HPU, which was more or less free. They also visited to some funky cat cafés and arranged hikes and drawing classes. Personally, I signed up for the surfing lessons, because I really wanted to learn how to surf and it was much more fun to do it in big groups rather than renting a board by yourself. The group I was in was with around 20-25 people and everyone had the same level of experience.


So now when you have returned home, would you say a different Kaja returned from Hawaii? 

Yeah, I would say so. I have learned to appreciate doing stuff during the day and I do much more now than before going to Hawaii. I guess I got used to the lifestyle where you go to school and then do something fun afterward. If I don’t do that now, I feel it’s a bit of a waste of time. I also do more hikes now. Actually, I am embarrassed to say it, but I have never hiked before even though I have a ton of opportunities back home. But now I really enjoy it, and I don’t mind going on a hike on a Saturday. I have never seen the point in going up, just to go down again, but that has changed completely and I really enjoy the view along the hikes. My first hike in Hawaii was the Wiliwilinui, and it’s around 3-4 hours. At first, I thought 'OMG that is so far', but once you have experienced the hike and the view you realize that it’s so pretty and worth it! From that point, I decided I needed to do one more hike, and then another one, and by the end of the semester, I had done at least 15 hikes.


Isn't it expensive to keep exploring? 

It can be, but you can also do it on a budget. For instance, all the hikes are free. If you have your own gear, you can go snorkeling for free. I skydived once, and that was of course pretty expensive, but it was a dream of mine, so I decided to prioritize that experience. So it’s a bit mixed with this question. You definitely can make it cheap if you want to, but it can also become very expensive. In general living costs are pretty high, so try to be realistic with your budget.


Kaja in Hawaii enjoying bech life ISIC


If you must pinpoint one experience, what would it be? 

There are just so many! But if I have to choose one, there was a really, really fun booze cruise. Essentially it’s a party on a boat where you rent a boat together with 40 people, and we did quite a lot. There’s a DJ onboard as well as a shark diver, who jumps in the water to secure if there are any sharks around before you go swimming. The boat ride is usually 2-4 hours, and it’s just you with all your friends in the sun. 


Which three advices would you give for someone who is planning to go abroad for the first time? 

Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, I think you should say yes to everything. This way you meet new people which will lead to much more experiences during your time there.

The second one would be, that you need a car in Hawaii. I think that’s what I regret the most that I never got a car. You almost can’t travel anywhere without a car, and you’re pretty much stuck with Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Of course, you can take the bus to the North Shore, but it will take you perhaps 3 hours instead of less than an hour by car. Cars are in general much cheaper in the US compared to back home, so if you have the possibility, get one. The alternative is to rent a car, but it’s not cheap either. I rented a car with some of my friends that visited me and we managed to see everything on the island during those 3 weeks we rented a car.

My third piece of advice is to explore as much as you can while you’re there. I did a lot of things, and in comparison, I have a friend who studied at HPU for 4 whole years, and I got to experience much more than her during my stay. I’ve also heard that students that apply for full degrees don’t get as excited to do stuff in the weekends, because they have so much time and in the end, they just end up by not doing anything. So yeah, explore while you’re there – otherwise you will regret it in the end.