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A Slice of Hawaiian Life

Written by Ellen Kusano

One of the very special benefits of traveling and living, even for a short time, in a different place, is the opportunity to learn about a variety of cultures and lifestyles.

In addition to the academic learning you've signed up for, there will be many activities, planned as well as spontaneous, that will add to your overall experience here at UH Hilo. We'd like to share a few things with you this morning to help you through any culture shock

Cockroaches, Geckoes, Termites, and Mosquitoes

Not only people like the Hawaiian environment. An assortment of critters, none larger than you, also thrive here.



Cockroaches tend to be just a little bigger than you might be used to. We affectionately call some of them "747's" since they also fly. Just remember that they are trying to get out of your way, not trying to bomb you. Check with your hall staff if the problem is more than you can live with; they have bug spray that's safe and effective.

Your best protection against an invasion of these guys is to keep all food covered and sealed. Throw away food boxes, pizza is a favorite of our roaches, and other containers as soon as you're done. Throw out your trash regularly, or at least tie up the trash bags.

How big roaches can seem to newcomers
Size comparison of real dead roach next to a $20 bill



Geckoes are either loved or cringed at. They are lizards who love to hang out on window sills, room corners, and sometimes even in the shower. They are very gentle critters that do more good than harm; they keep the insect population in line. They do tend to jump when threatened, so if you don't want them near you slowly shoo them away with a magazine or stick. None of them will "attack" you. The local geckoes also occasionally make a chirping noise, most often at night.

Gecko 2

Flying Termites

Flying Termites are a phenomenon that appear at about 7:30pm on most warm summer evenings. They are especially numerous if the day has been very hot. While a nuisance, you can count on them to be gone within a half-hour or so. Local folks can tell time by their appearance and disappearance. You may notice piles of what looks like dirt or sand around your room, usually in corners. These piles are termite droppings; contact your RA or the person you're renting from to let them know!

A good defense against them invading your room is to leave as many lights off as you can; lights are like magnets for them. This is a good time to go to the library for some studying!

Termite swarm

Adult termite

Termite pellets



Mosquitoes are pesky critters for all of us, residents and visitors alike. Mosquitoes seem to be attracted to some folks more than others. If you find that you're one of those they love, get some insect repellent and some Bactine or other antiseptic/anesthetic cream for any bites. While mosquito bites are bothersome, Hawaiian mosquitoes don't carry diseases so bites aren't a health hazard. However, if you have allergies to insect bites, please be sure to have appropriate medication available.

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Rain, Rain, Go Away

As you may have already noticed, our vegetation is lush, green, and our flowers can't be matched. It takes a lot of rain to keep it that way. There are many tales told of how much it can rain in Hilo. Since we can't control the weather, those of us who live here have learned to enjoy it. Get an umbrella, take a stroll in our liquid sunshine, find someone who will take you grass sliding; swimming in the rain is also great. Look for the world's most awesome rainbows after a shower.

If you'll be doing any driving, be sure to put on your headlights in the rain. It is difficult for others to see you if the rain is heavy and the lights could prevent an accident. Slow down and watch out for water along the sidewalks and intersections.

When walking in the rain, either around campus or elsewhere, watch out for slippery patches. Resist the temptation to walk around barefooted or in slippers. Sneakers or other non-leather soled shoes will provide better footing.

Always keep in mind, contrary to popular belief, it really doesn't rain here all the time!

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Where's the Beach?

Since we're the newest Hawaiian island, Mother Nature hasn't had enough time yet to erode many beaches on our shores. While there are some beaches here in Hilo, the more commonly expected white sand wonders are on the west side of the island. That doesn't mean we have a lack of ocean recreation though, during your weeks here you'll find that there are surfing spots, snorkeling treasures, and lying-around-to-catch-some-rays places.

Find out from your professors and fellow students where the best places are to find what you want. Check which ones have lifeguards, which ones have restrooms, which ones can be treacherous, and always follow the buddy system - no exceptions!

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The Local Style

Our local style is quite low-key and laid-back. Sometimes this can be frustrating for those who are used to a faster pace.This cultural difference can cause problems when each side doesn't recognize the "style" of the other. For example, may times those coming from larger continental-US cities are seen as demanding and aggressive when they see themselves doing no more than just asking. In the hectic pace of the big city, sometimes it takes being aggressive to get what you need - the same aggressiveness here is likely to be met with great resistance. You'll get more results making your request in a way that makes it a request for help, not a command. Saying "please" and "thank you" also add to the probability of having the request met.

Another major aspect of our local cultures that you need to be aware of is also a facet of many continental-US cultures. It is considered very impolite to look and stare directly at anyone. Such looks and staring are called stink eye and can be interpreted as an aggressive act. Fights have occurred due to misinterpretations of lingering looks as stink eye.

Use common body language to prevent misinterpretations: smile, have a relaxed stance, look away if the other person responds with a frown.

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As You Begin Your Adventure, Remember

It's our sincere desire that you have a fantastic experience. We are proud of our campus, our faculty and staff, and our island. We're pleased to be able to share it all with you.

The best way to ensure that our local lifestyle and your lifestyle get along is to observe the golden rule that cuts across all cultural differences. We should treat others the way we'd like to be treated; with respect, goodwill, and caring.

We're confident that your time here will be full of learning, fun, and terrific new experiences!

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