As I’ve explained in previous posts, traveling and conducting in-person site visits are integral to my work as a gap year advisor. I put my major travels on hiatus in 2016 as I welcomed my second daughter, so when 2017 rolled around, I wanted to do something big! With my kids still young and my husband, Tom, able to telecommute, we decided as a family to do some extended travel far from home.
When considering the factors for this year’s site visit location, I took three points into account:
1. It had to be a high-demand travel destination with excellent gap year opportunities.
2. It had to be a new place that I’ve never been.
3. It had to be kid-friendly.
After some debate, Hawaii emerged as the clear winner, and Oahu as the island of choice. Oahu is the most populous island on the Hawaiian chain, which means it offers more volunteer/intern opportunities and a good public transport system (important for students). And it doesn’t lack for beauty either!
One of the critical take-aways from this trip was a reminder about the mental and physical preparation required for extended travel. It has been a while since I’ve experience pre-trip jitters, but it is invaluable to remind myself that this is what all my students feel in the lead-up to their trips. This first-hand experience helps me be a better, more empathetic counselor for them.
Tom and I rented an apartment on the North Shore of Oahu as our base of operations. The North Shore is renown for its beautiful beaches, lively food culture and big wave surfing in the winter. We were awestruck at the opportunity to fall asleep to the lapping of ocean waves and wake up to the sun hitting the palm trees along the shore.
Over the course of the month, I visited over a dozen projects and also had productive meetings with in-country directors and local experts to learn more about the history and culture of Oahu and what to think about for gap year students who travel there. I was delighted to visit the Hawaii Public Radio studios for a conversation on the aptly named show, The Conversation.
A potential gapper is spoiled for choice if they are considering a visit to Hawaii during their gap time. One might imagine there are excellent environmental opportunities and there are! I visited programs that focus on marine science education and research, botanical gardens and natural resource management. Another related opportunity is working on organic farms, which can be a great learning experience IF you find a good farm. I was warned several times that Hawaii is somewhat of a Wild West when it comes to WWOOFing and that young people need to be careful where they choose to visit. Luckily, the five farms I visited all offer a genuine experience for their workers in settings that are simply stunning.
I also visited several cultural and social justice organizations. One organization uses surf lessons to mentor at-risk youth. Another just opened a community center to offer services to the substantial homeless population in their town. There are countless museums and cultural centers who welcome volunteers in various capacities to help with their mission.
On a day trip to the Big Island, I had great meetings at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a wilderness therapy program and a retreat center. Sadly for me, it was pouring rain all day. This is not surprising since it is the rainy side of the island during the rainy season, but having come from the sunny North Shore I was ill-prepared!
In-between research visits, I was on mini adventures with my family. Every day we’d pile into the car and head to a new beach or museum or hiking spot. My daughters jumped up at the phrase,”Time to go on an adventure!” We ate a lot of fresh fruit and even more shave ice. It was extremely fun and extremely exhausting in equal measure!
On the returning end of the trip, I felt the familiar mix of emotions that accompany leaving a place you’ve come to love. There is the heavy melancholy of an experience ending and the comfort of knowing you have a familiar bed to sink into.
I’ve always found travel refreshing and reinvigorating. After this thrilling break from normal life, my whole family is relieved to return to our routine. Thank you to my current client families for your patience last month – I’m looking forward to hearing all about your fall adventures in the coming weeks!