UW Hawai‘i Club members Jamielenn Uehara (left) and Lacey Chun (right) dance hula in the club’s annual luau last May. • Photo by Kc Lee
UW Hawai‘i Club members Jamielenn Uehara (left) and Lacey Chun (right) dance hula in the club’s annual luau last May. • Photo by Kc Lee

While many Washingtonians may be dreaming of vacations to Hawai‘i, many Hawai‘i high school students are dreaming of chasing their ambitions beyond their island home. “Hui Hoaloha ‘Ulana (Hui), the Hawai‘i Club at the University of Washington, recently welcomed over 25 freshmen into their club in hopes of helping them transition into Seattle life.

“I left Hawai‘i for college because being born and raised in the islands, I never really got to experience living by myself,” said UW freshman Bradley Hoke of Honolulu, Hawai‘i. “Coming to the ‘mainland’ is a new adventure for me.”

Nick Luna, the club’s president, said that Hui strives to be a space to come together and build community. They put on a number of events throughout the year including a trip to Whistler, sporting events, and a luau that generally has over 400 attendees.

For Hawai‘i Club junior Erin Ichinotsubo, the hardest thing about leaving the islands was being thousands of miles away from her family.

UW Hawai‘i Club President Nick Luna dances hula with senior Ruby Lee in the club’s annual luau last May. • Photo by Kc Lee
UW Hawai‘i Club President Nick Luna dances hula with senior Ruby Lee in the club’s annual luau last May. • Photo by Kc Lee

“It was hard to get used to [my family] not being right there when I needed them,” she said. “But the club really provides that sense of ‘ohana, of unity … things like giving each other a hug when you come and go or taking off your shoes before you enter, it’s little things like that that make [Seattle] feel like home.”

Luau food coordinator Jeffery Yamashiro had similar sentiments.

“In Hawai‘i Club there’s always someone there for you,” Yamashiro said. “The idea of having a family up here even if you don’t is important to me and I’d like to be able to give that feeling to other people.”

Many Washingtonians come to UW already knowing other students, but freshmen from Hawai‘i often enter a 6,000 person class not knowing a single other person. This club opens its doors to those students and gives them a chance to build community.

Luna explained that the club is not only for students from Hawai‘i or of Native Hawaiian ancestry; it is open to everyone. UW junior and Tokyo native Rie Uyeno got involved with the club during her freshman year through friends she met in the dorms.

“At first UW seemed overwhelmingly large, but Hui made it like a community,” she said. “It made me feel like a part of UW.”

The club also offers resources and mentorship including an “‘Ohana Program” where younger members are grouped with older students who help them navigate the transition to Seattle.

“Hawai‘i Club has already made my time here better through participating in intramural sports and helping me find a job through talking with an older member,” Hoke said.

UW Hawai‘i Club members Leilani Roylo (left) and Kelli Kaneta (right) preform Tahitian dance in the club’s annual luau. • Photo by Kc Lee
UW Hawai‘i Club members Leilani Roylo (left) and Kelli Kaneta (right) preform Tahitian dance in the club’s annual luau. • Photo by Kc Lee

Beyond the ‘Ohana Program, luau ticketing coordinator Jason Cisneros discussed the network the club creates for students during their time at UW.

“First you’re being helped along by the older kids and the next day you realize you are the older kids and you get to help out the younger kids,” he said. “The upperclassmen helped me a lot and I’d like to give back because that really shaped my schooling and study habits.”

Cisneros said that beyond a system of academic support, the club provides an alumni network that can help students find employment after graduation.

Luna’s goal for the club is to continue to expand beyond only people from Hawai‘i, and to encourage freshmen to make the most of their college experience. He described the club as a “branching off point” that provides members with a steadfast support system but also offers resources to expand their communities beyond people from their home.

“The upperclassmen, the leaders of Hawai‘i Club are involved in so many other organizations and it says a lot about what they do with their time here,” Luna said. “They don’t just spend their time with people from Hawai‘i, they spend their time giving back to the community in one way or another.”

Hoke said in only a few weeks at UW the club has already helped him feel at home in Seattle.

“It has provided me with a sense of ‘Ohana because everyone has some of the aloha spirit,” Hoke said. “I hope to remain a part of this community throughout my time at UW.”

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