Kāwili Kine Culture: International and resident students travel the island each week to learn about diverse cultures

Kāwili Kine Culture, an inter-departmental program that gets students out into the community and environment to physically work and play, highlights the indigenous culture and diverse ethnic heritage of Hawai’i Island.

A group of students walk at the park, ocean in background, waving at the camera.
As part of the Kāwili Kine Culture program, UH Hilo international and on-campus resident students walk in Lili‘uokalani Park on Aug. 28, 2021. (UH Hilo Center for Global Education and Exchange)

By Susan Enright

Last year when the pandemic hit, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus was destitute of in-person activities for students residing on campus, and many were left isolated and starved to engage with others. This prompted the UH Hilo Center for Global Education and Exchange to collaborate with the University Housing Office to create a program to engage on-campus residents.

Carolina Lam, director of Global Education at UH Hilo, consulted with Professor of Sociology Alton Okinaka who was instrumental in advising the center during the initial planning of the new program. “He was a huge advocate for helping to provide more engagement opportunities for students,” says Lam.

The result is Kāwili Kine Culture, a program designed to share island culture with international and domestic exchange students along with other students living in on-campus housing. An interdepartmental program, Kāwili places students out into the community and environment to physically work and play while highlighting the indigenous culture and diverse ethnic heritage of Hawai’i Island.  

Carolina Lam pictured
Carolina Lam

“Basically every week we offer a lecture followed by a huaka‘i or outing,” says Lam. “We have invited faculty, alumni, and community members to come to campus and speak to our students sharing with them something about our island culture.”

“The term kāwili in Hawaiian means to mix,” adds Lam. “So those of you who did not know this about our university’s street name, now do.” She says Landon Ballesteros, resident hall manager at on-campus housing, helped create the name. “Landon is a Native Hawaiian speaker and was able to marry the thoughts I had in my head with a Hawaiian word to unify the intention of the program. He was key in helping us come up with kāwili in the name of the program.”

Funded through the Division of Student Affairs, weekly Kāwili Kine Culture events for students both on and off campus have been held since the start of this semester. Many of the resident students do not have their own transportation and rely on the program to explore the island and surrounding community beyond the campus.

Other partners in the program are Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center along with the UH Hilo biology department.

“Kāwili Kine Culture is an opportunity for students to engage with different academic departments on campus and possibly build their interest to take a class in a different discipline from their major coursework,” says Lam. “It also connects students with various community groups on the island to expand their network. Hopefully, this will also encourage students to consider a study away opportunity in the future and participate in completing the Global Engagement Certificate.”

The adventures

At the top of this semester, students went on an orientation excursion on Aug. 28 that included a driving and then walking tour of Hilo town with lunch and transportation all provided. In photos on the Global Education Instagram page, students are seen touring Lili‘uokalani Park, the Lyman Museum, Kalākaua Park, and Wailuku River Park.

“I learned that King David Kalākaua is the inspiration for the Merrie Monarch [Hula Festival] and that he was an important factor in revitalizing Hawaiian culture and hula,” says a student who was on the excursion.

The outing also included some hard work, when students collaborated with the local volunteer group, Friends of Lili‘uokalani, to help clean the park’s gardens. The group says on their Instagram post that the work was to help “preserve the natural beauty of our Hilo town.”

Students working hard at cleaning up bramble in the park.
For this Kāwili Kine Culture event held on Aug. 28, 2021, students took a walking tour of Lili‘uokalani Park, but also collaborated with the local volunteer group, Friends of Lili‘uokalani, to help clean the gardens. (UH Hilo Center for Global Education and Exchange)

In October, students visited Volcanoes National Park with Darcy Bevens, an education specialist with the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, and on another day took part in a Keaukaha reforestation project led by Becky Ostertag, a biology professor who specializes in rain forests.

“[I learned] the island has become dominated by foreign and invasive plants,” says a student who helped plant seedlings in the forest.

Woman with backpack bends down to plant seedling in the forest.
For this Kāwili Kine Culture excursion held on Oct. 15, 2021, students participated in the Keaukaha reforestation effort led by the Liko Nā Pilina Hybrid Ecosystems Project. Professor of Biology Becky Ostertag, founder of Liko Nā Pilina, led the excursion, explaining that the goal of the reforestation project is to restore degraded Hawaiian lowland wet forests using both native and non-invasive species. The students spent their time contributing to the project by planting trees. (Photo credit: Dom Walczuk via Instagram)

This past week, retired geography professors Sonia Juvik and Jim Juvik took a group of students on a cultural road trip to the land and people of Ka‘u. The explorers visited Mountain View Bakery, Volcano Golf Course, Pahala Coffee Mill, Ka‘uhoku National Park for lunch, South Point, and Punalu‘u Black Sands Beach.

“Along with the beautiful sightseeing we were able to peak [sic] into the history of these places thanks to the knowledge shared by Drs. Sonia and Jim,” the group says on the Global Exchange Instagram page. “Mahalo!”

There are also film nights, cultural celebrations, travel photo contests, and more. See the schedule on the Kāwili Kine Culture calendar.

For more information, contact the Center for Global Education and Exchange and Study Abroad at uhhglobe@hawaii.edu.

By Susan Enright, 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.

Share this story