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Out West student blog

Reflections on a summer in Hawaii

Stephanie Unur, back to the camera, sits looking out at the ocean.
Stephanie Unur on the island of Oahu.

Stephanie Unur, '24
Hometown: Roanoke, Virginia

Area of Study: Earth Systems and International Relations

Intern, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

It never truly hit me that I was going to be on an island for the summer until I actually landed in Honolulu. Going in, I was most worried about finding friends to make memories with. I didn’t want to waste time in paradise being cooped up in my room or doing things mostly on my own - companionship and forming new relationships has always been a key driver of happiness for me, and a great aid in getting familiar with new places. Living alone and navigating a new city, on the other hand, was the least of my concerns - I’d been living independently for the past 2 years in college and was also used to the city life in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a place I grew up in for a few years during my childhood.

Because I had no expectations for Hawaii, I unintentionally set myself up for success. When you have no expectations, you are offering the world a blank slate to paint its colors on. You are not disappointed nor satisfied, you are just free-flowing, and you let new life experiences enter and exit your present being.

So here are a few things that surprised me in a good way:

The island of Oahu is in fact really small. The longest you can drive for is a little over an hour, from one side of the island to the opposite.

Hawaii reminds me a lot of Asia. Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not in Japan or South Korea. The culture here is heavily influenced by those of East and Southeast Asian islands, whether it be in the food and drinks, language/dialects, or general customs.

The food and drinks are amazing. I’ve been indulging heavily in local offerings like fresh poke bowls, acai bowls, and native fruit like lilikoi and lychee. They have great boba tea and udon, too.

I've embraced island time, and the value of taking things slowly.

As for work-  I’ve been working with the Communications team at the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. I’ve gotten familiar with their social media channels and marketing strategies to aid in the goal of catering towards all audiences, such as younger generations, through adopting a more relatable, entertaining, and engaging online presence. Another one of my main projects is the curation of blog sites and websites that intentionally and unintentionally promote and share information on illegal and off-limits hikes in the state of Hawaii. DLNR then reaches out to these individuals or organizations to either modify or take down certain information that could aid in illegal activity. Such an emphasis is placed on this because of the dangers that come with attempting certain trails, especially with tourists and visitors who are unaware of the difficulty of some hikes.

The first five weeks of the internship, I went to work in person. The office is located in downtown Honolulu, which is nice because of the proximity to cafes and food places I go to during lunch break. Since I’ve begun the research portion of the internship, I’ve been doing all my work on my personal laptop, which allows me to work remotely. I’ve enjoyed doing work in the atmosphere of a Honolulu Coffee near my place, or sometimes the lanai of my apartment.

In my free time, I’ve been chilling at beaches, trying new hikes, or just walking around Waikiki. My favorite spots to swim are on the West side, and I love getting acai bowls at North Shore. I haven’t learned to surf yet but it’s on the list. I’ve learned to not rush myself here and do things for the sole purpose of crossing it off of a bucket list. Instead, I’ve embraced island time, and the value of taking things slowly.


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