A Self-Reflection

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“Ahuwale ka po’okela i kāu hana iā ha’i. (It is through the way you serve others that your greatness will be felt.)”

“The Hawaiian Adventure” offers “aspiring photographers” the chance to immerse themselves in the culturally rich environment of O’ahu, Hawai’i. Students who experience the program will learn the craft of digital photography under the supervision of Professor John Mark Lawler at the Hawai’i Pacific University, which is located in downtown Honolulu. Participants will also reside in a waterfront residence hall to have easier access to program excursions, Waikiki Beach, and restaurants. The courses that the students will take have an emphasis on developing each student’s understanding of the digital camera as well as their artistic vision for both beginner and experienced photographers. Instruction will be in the form of daily excursions around Honolulu beaches and rainforests; tours of museums, galleries, and historical landmarks; and independent assignments. Those who complete the coursework with passing grades will be awarded six (6) semester hours of ART credit.

I have chosen this program because I feel that by placing myself in the Pacific Islander community, I will have a better grasp of the depth and severity of Anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander sentiments. While traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic is not advised, I have taken precautions (e.g. becoming fully vaccinated) and will continue to follow guidelines and mandates so that I may respect both the people and the sacred land of Hawai’i. While participating in the course titled, “Capturing the Hawaiian Experience through Digital Photography,” I would like to educate myself about the history of the land and its annexation, so that I can understand the long-enduring frustration of those who are indigenous and local. I would like to capture their point of view and tell the stories of the people artistically—straying away from the concept that Hawai’i is a “photo opportunity” with a “paradise aesthetic.”

I know the opportunity to study at the Hawai’i Pacific University will be a humbling experience, and I am especially grateful considering that many indigenous people are unable to return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand that history cannot be reversed, but I do know that the future can be altered. Through my photography, I would like to preserve the rich and beautiful culture as I would hope for the land to be preserved as time progresses. Also, through my platform, I would like to shed light on topics that extend beyond the Stop AAPI Hate movement and educate others on the difference between visiting (and respecting) Hawai’i and moving to stay.

While I am an Asian American, I am not a Pacific Islander, and learning within a culture I am unfamiliar of will push my boundaries and challenge me to step out of my comfort zone. Not to mention, I will have a better understanding of how to capture the thoughts, ideas, and emotions of those who are not like me. Personally, photography helps me see and remember the people, senses, and connections that I embrace throughout my lifetime. Thus, I hope to build on my creative ability and learn about the Hawai’ian culture for its rewarding returns, intellectual challenge, rich history, and profound influence on numerous societies. Ultimately, I hope to study photography and Hawai’i to show others why it should be valued.

During my college experience thus far, I have been narrow in my path—taking Biology courses one after another. In an interview with Dr. Ellen Weinauer, Dean of USM’s Honors College, on 02 February 2020, she advised me to pursue my passions and explore all the different parts of who I am and who I might become. Because I am similar to Dean Weinauer in that I am a very work-driven person, she also relayed to me that I need to nurture my gifts and be comfortable with diversions in my path. One of the things that she would like to think that the staff has built into the Honors College curriculum is the notion that, “Life’s not a series of checkboxes,” and this study abroad program is my effort to look elsewhere and beyond, to explore things outside of my narrow path of pre-medicine, medicine, and even more medicine.

Participating in this opportunity to study abroad will not only increase my competence in the arts but will also expose me to a different way of life. Understanding the culture, history, literature, music, and folklore of the location I will be traveling to will assist me in becoming more aware of varying cultural perspectives. Specifically, I will gain knowledge of culturally specific behavior, customs, and values of the citizens of Hawai’i. It will also help me become more sensitive to cultural issues that are present today. Adjusting to a new environment will not be without complications, but by doing so, I can build onto my cultural awareness and appreciation for diversity.

Currently, my future goals include becoming a physician, which is why I am majoring in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Biomedical Sciences. However, through informed activism, I have learned that there are marginalized communities that fall victim to the negative effects of health disparity. By learning about a community that I am not in, I will be able to, now and into the future, look through a lens of intersectionality with a better understanding of the vast facets of identities. Only then will I have the power to make future patients of mine truly comfortable in an environment where they may feel uneasiness. Learning how to cooperate with patients from different cultures will be important as I become a medical professional, for by serving the greater good, I am, in turn, serving a population who each come from different backgrounds.

*The image attached is one of a sunrise that I captured on July 14th, 2021. As I took the picture, I remembered words suggesting that we can see our reflection not in running water but rather in still water. Thus, I chose to complement my self-reflection with a photograph I deem appropriate.