UH Hilo students spend spring break in Okinawa to learn about sustainable development and leadership

The seven students’ studies for the eight-day immersion program focused on the theme “Engaging with a Sustainable Island Future: Nurturing Global Leadership for Sustainability of the Pacific Island Region.”

Seven people jumping in the air at the beach.
UH Hilo students (from left) Adelie del Rosario, Dustin Smith, Cayla Domnick, Kit Neikirk, Caleb Schafer, Anneliese Pollasky, and Yoko Tanaka “work on teamwork by coordinating a synchronized jump at a beach in Okinawa.” The students were on an eight-day intensive immersion trip to the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, over spring break to study sustainable development and leadership, March 2023. (Courtesy photo)

By Susan Enright.

Five students stand at a marine tank, one student holds a large sea creature.
A day spent transplanting coral and learning about Okinawa marine species. (Courtesy photo)

A group of students from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo spent their spring break in Okinawa, Japan, for an eight-day intensive immersion program. The seven students were selected by UH Hilo international partner, University of the Ryukyus (commonly called Ryūdai), to participate. Ryūdai is the largest public university in Okinawa Prefecture and each of the UH Hilo students participating in the program was afforded this experience through a heavily subsidized travel and program grant from the Japanese government.

“With the borders between countries opening up since Covid [has abated], it has brought back a true sense of international and intercultural exchange for students with an in-person component as well,” says Carolina Lam, director of global education at UH Hilo. “This intensive program in Okinawa provided our students an opportunity to meet with their peers from Rudai and see firsthand the beauty of the island nation.”

The UH Hilo students and their majors are:

      • Adelie del Rosario (Sociology)
      • Cayla Domnick (Business Administration) 
      • Kit Neikirk (Biology)
      • Anneliese Pollasky (Japanese Studies)
      • Caleb Schafer (Biology)
      • Dustin Smith (Biology)
      • Yoko Tanaka (Japanese Studies)
Students sitting eating at a long table in Japanese household.
UH Hilo students at traditional meal during homestay in Okinawa. (Courtesy photo)

The annual cultural exchange program is centered on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and includes lectures and collaborative learning venues to explore common issues faced by countries and territories in the Pacific island region. The purpose is to encourage multicultural understanding about SDGs and to nurture leadership in achieving the goals.

“Fostering and cultivating our relationships with our international partner universities provides more opportunities for our UH Hilo students to engage and learn to become global citizens,” says Lam.

The students’ studies for this particular eight-day program focused on the theme “Engaging with a Sustainable Island Future: Nurturing Global Leadership for Sustainability of the Pacific Island Region.” Also part of the cohort were Okinawan students from Ryūdai, and on March 18 the entire group did a live pitch challenge via Zoom to present their findings and original ideas for social betterment and achieving the SDGs.

Serinah Tan, a lecturer and project leader of the Inter-University Exchange Project at University of the Ryukyus, says the two universities share a deep history of ties that extend beyond the exchange of education and research.

“This is the first time in more than three years that the university has been able to invite students from Hawai’i to participate in our short-term study programs,” Tan says. “We are proud and honored to be able to renew our mutual commitment to expanding possibilities for the renewal and regeneration of our communities by allowing our students to collaborate on new narratives that fuse island wisdom with technology, as well as knowledge in sustainability.”

Story 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.

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