Two UH Hilo students take a trip around the world

Kaiulani Kamau and Raelyn Eckert share their stories about spending the spring semester abroad with the Semester at Sea program.

By Susan Enright.

Student stands with family. Very colorful attire, reds and yellows..
“My tuk tuk driver’s beautiful family in India who gave us tea and beautiful henna tattoos,” says Kaiulani Kamau (tallest).
Raelyn Eckert (left) and Kaiulani Kamau hold up Vulcan t-shirts.
Kaiulani Kamau (seated) and Raelyn Eckert show their Vulcan pride shortly before embarking on their Semester at Sea adventure. Courtesy photo.

Two University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo students recently returned after a trip around the world with the Semester at Sea program. The students were each awarded scholarships for the trip in the amount of $14,370.

Kaiulani Kamau, a kinesiology and exercise sciences major, and Raelyn Eckert, double majoring in marine science and geology, experienced a 112-day educational visit to 15 cities in 12 countries during the spring semester.

The trip launched from San Diego, California, in January, and ended in Southampton, England, last month. In between the students explored Yokohama and Kobe, Japan; Shanghai and Hong Kong, China; Ho Chi Minh City, Việt Nam; Singapore, Singapore; Rangoon, Burma; Cochin, India; Port Louis, Mauritius 2; Cape Town, South Africa; Walvis Bay, Namibia; and Casablanca, Morocco.

Students line up to board the MV Explorer in January on the first day of the voyage in San Diego, CA.
Students line up to board the MV Explorer in January on the first day of the voyage in San Diego, CA. Courtesy photo from Semester at Sea. Click to enlarge.

Eckert says the experience changed her outlook on the world.

“I have interacted with so many people, listening to so many types of music, eaten food that I didn’t even know existed, seen sights that blew my mind,” she explains. “This changes a person’s ideas and thoughts, and I am so glad for it.”

Kamau echos the sentiment.

“Not to sound cliché, but this has been a life changing experience that has broadened my perspective on life, culture, and people,” she says. “I am truly grateful for Semester At Sea and for University of Hawai‘i at Hilo for allowing me to make my dreams a reality.”

Kaiulani Kamau’s story: “I am forever grateful”

Kaiulani with a group of children.
“My tuk tuk driver’s kids and neighborhood kids who stopped and posed for pictures while laughing and singing all night with us,” says Kamau (center back). “They were adorable.” Click to enlarge.

Kamau hails from Hilo and was a graduate of Kamehameha Schools-Hawai‘i Island in 2012. She started at UH Hilo in the summer of 2012 and expects to graduate in May 2016.

One of the first ports visited on the trip was Hilo. See Kamau’s blog post about sharing her hometown on the Semester at Sea Voyage Blog, Feb. 2, 2015: A journey through my hometown of Hilo.

And then it was off to exotic lands.

She says the Semester at Sea voyage allowed her to meet and talk with locals from all over the world allowing her to gain insightful perspectives about each country and its people.

“This voyage around the world made me realize how fortunate I am to have simple things like clean water and food,” she says.

Kaiulani showing group of children how to hula.
Kamau teaches hula to Burmese children at a Christian orphanage in Myanmar. Click to enlarge.

Kamau says the most meaningful thing that happened on the worldwide trip was being able to teach a group of Burmese children hula at a Christian orphanage in Myanmar. “It was a beautiful experience,” she says.

She also enjoyed the “unique learning community” on board ship.

“We all were a close knit community especially because we lived near each other for four months and we were all disconnected from social media and our phones while on the ship,” she says. “It was a great environment for social interactions and meaningful conversations at meals and in the halls.”

Kaiulani on a camel. Sje's wearing a purple headdress and colrful striped pants. Sand dunes in background.
Riding a camel through the Sahara Desert to a nomad camp. Click to enlarge.

The biggest challenge for her was readjusting her gears from traveling in a country to getting back on the ship and having a test or paper due the next day.

“In normal universities, assignments aren’t typically due or tests aren’t normally given the day after you get back from Christmas or spring break, so changing gears from traveling to focusing on school with minimal time in between was a little challenging but it allowed me to grow on this voyage,” she says.

 Kaiulani playfully constructs photo to look like she is holding up The Great Buddha of Kamakura in Japan.
At the Great Buddha of Kamakura in Japan.

Kamau has plans to share her global experience with students at UH Hilo. “I also plan on sharing my experiences with high schools to expose (students) to an amazing opportunity.”

She has her sights on a Fulbright program after she graduates.

“I just want people to know how wonderful UH Hilo has been and how they have helped me get the funding to study abroad around the world,” she says. “I am forever grateful.”

More photos, click to enlarge:


Raelyn Eckert’s story: “Dreams really can come true”

Raelyn in Morocco. Background is vast area of dwellings on the side of a large hill.
Raelyn Eckert in Morocco. Courtesy photo. Click to enlarge.

Eckert grew up in Olympia, WA, and graduated from the Tacoma School of the Arts in the spring of 2013. She started at UH in the fall of 2013 and is expected to graduate in 2017. She is double majoring in marine science and geology.

Her biggest thrill on the sea voyage was visiting the Great Wall of China.

“I had wanted to hike the wall since I was young, (but) in the back of my mind I always felt I would probably not actually do it,” she explains. “Semester at Sea made it possible for me to hike about 15 miles on the Great Wall.”

“The first part of the section we hiked, you have to hike up the side of a very steep mountain for about 45 minutes. By the time I reached the top and actually got to the wall part, you really feel like you earned it and the view was even more breathtaking than I had imagined. For as far as you could see on either side of you was the winding wall. It is an experience I will cherish forever.”

Eckert says learning on board the ship, the MV Explorer, was very different from any campus setting. She did most of her studying in the Garden Lounge, one of the dining rooms. She says the view of the ocean kept her and her friends motivated and inspired while studying.

“Classes were a lot more interactive as we would draw on country experiences and field labs in lectures,” she says. “That really helped put everything in perspective and aided in my learning.”

The biggest challenge she faced was keeping up with her work load during the time in Asia.

“We had a few ports back to back with only two days of travel time on the ship, which means two days of class, one class each. It was hard to come back from a country full of wonder and new experiences and go to class for only one lesson, as I found myself distracted by my plans for the next country. I pulled through, though, and after mid-term madness got back on track quickly.”

Eckert says her future started the day she disembarked the ship in England. She backpacked through Europe (another dream come true), making her way to Italy where she met up with a friend from her home state of Washington.

“Semester at Sea is an incredible program and I encourage anyone with a desire to see the world to take advantage of it,” she says, adding that UH Hilo offers scholarships and “there is tons of aid through the Institute for Shipboard Education as well.”

“As cheesy as it sounds, dreams really can come true,” she says. “I had dreamed of Semester at Sea for years, I have wanted to backpack through Europe for even longer. I climbed the Great Wall of China and Table Mountain in South Africa, I rode in a helicopter, I marveled at the Shwedegon pagoda in Myanmar as bells chimed magically in my ears.”

“Your dreams can become a reality, and Semester at Sea can be the vehicle for those dreams.”

About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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