More Than Just a Project
How the Ke Kula Ni’ihau O Kekaha Experience Changed My Life
Mr. Matthew Schaak, Junior, Communication and Journalism Major
I admit that I was skeptical when I saw that we would be doing a service-learning project in “Hawai’i: Multi-Cultural Communication In Diverse Organizations.” I wondered how three days could make a significant difference to the students at the Ke Kula Ni’ihau O Kekaha Learning Center and also how this experience could enrich my life.
When I was interviewed for this class, I said that I wanted a cultural experience unlike any that I had experienced as a way of learning about my culture. I had never given much thought to my own culture; I was very parochial. I also had never spent much time thinking about others or their cultures. I guess that I assumed that my culture was the “right way” of doing things.
I knew that to be able to understand the importance of what we were doing at Kekaha, I would have to immerse myself in the experience. From our first moment at the Learning Center it wasn’t difficult to immerse myself because we were warmly welcomed. I’ll never forget the beautiful conch shell greeting, the chants, and the hugs. I quickly felt that I was part of a larger community when the students could name every UST student in group photos from previous years. I knew that I would be remembered in future years, which was an indescribable feeling.
The authors of the service-learning chapter that we read in our class asserted that we could become better citizens through our service-learning project. I now agree that this experience could make us become better citizens, but I feel that it’s much more than that—we became better people because the Kekaha students opened our eyes to how important it is to learn about your own culture and to maintain cultural values.
One of the Ni’ihau core values that I experienced and admired was that of the importance of ohana (family). Many of the students, teachers and staff at Kekaha are related. The students introduced their siblings and cousins to us with great pride and they watched over each other throughout the day. They also made me feel part of their family. We had heard about the concept of ohana throughout our time in Hawai’i, and although I had felt welcomed by Hawaiians throughout our time in Hawai’i, this is where this concept became real to me.
While it would have been great to stay in Hawai’i, I had to return home and now I want to put the cultural values that I admired into action. In the past, I have let the effects of living a busy college life keep me from connecting from my family. I took family members for granted. Now I will prioritize spending time with family members because they are the ones who will always be there for me. I will try to spend more time with my family, and I don’t intend to let the effects of living a busy life and being away at college slow me down.
I will also attempt to learn more about my culture and how it shapes who I am today. I am now interested in learning about my family heritage and culture and also the Minnesota culture that I was raised in and continue to live in. I will also continue to learn about other cultures and to incorporate aspects of these cultures that I admire into my life.
When I signed up for this course, I said that I wanted it to be life changing. Luckily for me, it was that and then some.