Dispatch #3 from Hawaii, Beyond Tourism

The January Interim Experience class brings students beyond the typical tourism-centered Hawaii, focusing on day-to-day life on the islands.
Posted on February 11th, 2019 by

Enjoying the view at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Marie Osuna is a sophomore English and psychological science major from Forest Lake, Minn. This month, she is traveling with a group of classmates as part of the January Interim Experience course “Hawaii, Beyond Tourism” with professor Kate Knutson.


As I write this, I am enjoying my final hours on the big island before taking a red-eye flight back to Minnesota. I am so sad to be leaving, but I’ve gotten so much out of this trip that I want to talk about.

Our last few days have been beyond my wildest expectations. We attended a high school basketball game, visited two national parks (Hawai’i Volcanoes and Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau), visited the southernmost point in the United States, and went on a snorkeling cruise.

The class attended a basketball game at St. Joseph High School, professor Kate Knutson’s alma mater.

But what matters more than each individual activity we did is what I am taking away from this experience. And for me, the takeaway is massive. I learned to become more aware of how demanding culture as a form of entertainment (hula dancing at luaus, for example) is damaging to the native people of the place you are visiting. I am also more conscious of the environmental, financial, and political effects of tourism. Tourism means money, of course, but who does that money go to? Because, according to the U.S Census, one in six Hawaii residents live in poverty. Additionally, tourism is extremely taxing on the environment, leading to increased pollution, waste, water use, and land erosion.

Of course, this doesn’t mean people should stop traveling. It does mean, however, that people should travel differently. What professor Kate Knutson really showed us with this class was how to get beyond tourism and genuinely experience a place for what it is. Hawaii is so much more than big resorts and oceanfront views and cultural performances for tourists. When you get beyond those things, you find the heart of Hawaii in the people, the religion, and the sacred landscape.

I have learned and grown more in these last two weeks than I ever thought possible, and it was all thanks to having the opportunity to travel this January, and to Kate Knutson for making this trip possible. I am so grateful for every experience I had on this trip, and I feel refreshed and ready to go into spring semester feeling strong.

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One Comment

  1. Kate Knutson says:

    Thanks for sharing your reflections with us all, Marie! You did a great job documenting our experiences and all the lessons we learned together.

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