‘Humans of Oahu’

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed. 

I traveled independently to Oahu, Hawaii to experience a different culture and environment far outside of my comfort zone. I interviewed strangers in Hawaii that included transplants, native islanders, tourists, businesspeople, college students, etc. to document their stories and pictures into an online collection entitled, ‘Humans of Oahu,’ modeled after ‘Humans of New York.’ Cultural activities also aided my experience—I participated in Hawaiian cultural experiences including museums, snorkeling, and traditional luau that coupled with interviewing developed my photography, writing, and interpersonal skills.

One of my favorite pictures from the project. It captures all the homes of Hawaii’s people

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place. 

The largest transformation that I experienced during my STEP project was the ability to empathize with other cultures while putting aside my own assumptions. Since I have never been out of the country or had a chance to experience a different culture, I expected it to be a challenge to shed my ethnocentric notions—meaning judgments of another person’s culture according to the preconceptions of my own culture. In my anthropology class from the previous semester, my professor challenged us to engage in cultural relativism, the idea that a person’s beliefs and traditions should be judged on the basis of their own culture, rather than the culture of the person doing the judging (in this case, me). This trip not only allowed me to engage in cultural relativism, but enabled me to move a step beyond that into empathy. The people I spoke with in Hawaii, though they are separated from us by thousands of miles, face similar issues that the people in the continental United States encounter. There is one example that sticks out as the most profound. More than once I had the chance to speak with Native Islanders in Hawaii. It was apparent to us both that most tourists arrive at the island starry eyed with the idea of luxury and sunshine. While these things aren’t hard to find if you’re looking, it’s also very hard to ignore the widespread poverty that lines the beaches and mountains. The difference between Waikiki—a tourist capital of the country, and Waianae—the home of our Airbnb and a hot spot of Hawaiian ancestry, is day and night. Waikiki lines their streets with billboards for massages, while Waianae lines their streets with tents and foreclosed properties. Hawaii might be unique in their mountains and beaches, but sadly they are not alone in handling a large homeless population.

Another transformation of equal importance that occurred was in myself: I became comfortable with the uncomfortable. Upon arrival, I was very worried about approaching strangers. What if they told us to go away? What if they were mean? Or if we couldn’t connect with the people we met—simply because of language barriers or a lack of cultural understanding. As it turns out, this is exactly what happened. The first time, the second time, the third time, and then, finally: someone was willing to speak with us! Then this cycle would repeat itself. I guess repetition makes perfect. When we were looking for people to interview, we were denied more times than I can count on my two hands. Sometimes it would take hours to find someone willing to speak with us. Other times people would agree to speak, but wouldn’t want to sign the non-disclosure agreement. Becoming comfortable with speaking to strangers has no doubt aided my degree in marketing. This summer, I am a Sales intern. There were times when I was hesitant to take the position because I was worried that my demeanor was too shy. This project has helped me learn how to have confidence in speaking out for myself and communicating effectively with anyone that I meet. I feel more confident than ever of my place in a room. Empathizing with the Hawaiian people has made me increasingly culturally aware, and I think this understanding and respect for other cultures is crucial in a business setting. In addition, this project helped me to craft a sense of independence. Upon coming to Ohio State, it was comforting to know that I had the safety net of my home in Cincinnati a mere hour and a half away. Due to this, orchestrating my own project will be a type of independence that I have yet to experience in my life. I know this STEP project has allowed me to transform into someone who is able to stand firmly with her own decisions and succeed in any environment that comes my way.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

If I were to divide my STEP project into two components aiding my transformation into a more empathetic, confident, and independent person, it is clear what those two things would be. The first would be the foundation of my STEP project, meaning the cultural activities that I engaged in. The second, and most important, would be the people that I spoke with. The people themselves were at the core of my understanding of Polynesian culture.

I’ll start with the foundation—some of the most important activities that we engaged in include visiting the Pearl Harbor monument, touring Iolani palace, hearing about the history of the island in a snorkeling outing, and participating in a traditional Hawaiian luau. All of these activities together helped to form the larger picture of Hawaiian culture and enabled my transformation into a more confident, independent, and understanding individual. It was helpful to learn about Hawaiian culture while also understanding the history of the island, such as Pearl Harbor, that continues to affect Oahu today.

Snorkeling was the most impactful experience for many reasons. Throughout the trip, Natives we spoke with kept telling us about the importance of water in Hawaiian culture. I didn’t get it at first…, everyone has water, right? It’s not till you experience it for yourself that you realize how truly engulfed by water Oahu really is. On my plane ride to Oahu, a woman from the island told me not to worry about rainy weather while I was there, because ‘rain is a blessing to the Hawaiian people.’ This sentiment was echoed on our snorkeling expedition. The expedition tour guide really helped ease my nerves as she explained the importance of water to the islanders and told us that long-ago Hawaiian gods had brought water to the island to support all of its living creatures. Hearing her admiration for the water helped to ease my nerves. This brings me to the second reason that this experience was so impactful–and definitely the most challenging for me. I am terrified of anything having to do with the ocean—sharks, rip currents, and anything else that could be lurking out there. Before we got in the water, she told us of Ka’ena Point, which we could see from off of the boat. This point overlooks the Eastern coast of Oahu and is where the soul leaves the body over the water when someone dies. Hearing the Hawaiian people’s tremendous adoration for the water made me more comfortable and confident in my decision to enter. Beyond this experience, it was obvious that surfing is a way of life in Hawaii. It was helpful to juxtapose the importance of Hawaiian culture with the other people who would call the island home. The Pearl Harbor Monument was very helpful in understanding the racial diversity on the island today and the challengers faced by mainlanders.

Though cultural activities helped us to immerse ourselves into Hawaiian culture and to appreciate it, nothing could compare the benefit reaped in speaking with the people. It was truly a ‘people project.’ The most important part of this project that contributed toward my development into a more empathetic person were my conversations with native islanders, tourists, businesspeople, and college students alike. I was only able to gain so much from these conversations by applying what I had learned in my anthropology class from the previous semester. In anthropology, we learned of three question types to help produce meaningful questions:

1) Seeing Big’ Seeing big requires a holistic perspective. This means taking into account the world view, social structure, and economics behind a culture that form its structure. It is important to acknowledge how these three components work together.

2)‘Seeing Small’This means realizing not only what is being said, but also who is saying it, who it is being said to, how they are saying it, and also why they are saying it. The goal with seeing small is to understand another persons culture through THEIR worldview, hence engaging with the mindset of cultural relativism.

3) ‘Seeing it all’This last step requires us to cut ourselves some slack, since we can never fully see through the lease of someone else. ‘Seeing it all’ requires practicing a cycle of communication, thoughtfulness, and empathy. Wesch’s belief is that communication with others allows us to feel empathy toward another culture. When we feel empathy, we then feel encouraged to revise our previous conceptions, hence, thoughtfulness.

Although everyone had interesting and moving stories to tell, ‘Uncle Ben’ was the one I found to be most impactful. By the end of our hour-long conversation, he had his greatest struggles and his fears for future generations. He had invited me and Katie to come stay at his ranch the next time we were in Hawaii and welcomed our project with open arms. He did this all in the setting of a McDonalds. Ben told authentic, heart-wrenching, and eye-opening stories of his 70 years in Hawaii. I think this really allowed Katie and I to shed any ethnocentric perspectives we were carrying about what we thought Hawaii was. From the start of this project, I pictured Hawaii being full of happy citizens engaging in what Uncle Ben calls the ‘aloha spirit.’ Media shows you the glamour of beach homes and 5-star resorts. They don’t tell you about the homeless community on the beach that was cropped out of the photo. They fail again and again to mention the crippling poverty; cities of tents that line the beaches, homes shackled with locks and ‘beware of dog’ signs, and home prices in what’s considered the ‘poor’ part of town that still manage to soar past $600,000. Ben’s story is alarming, certainly. But unique? Not so much. He tells us that Hawaiian homes wrongfully evicted him from his home and sold it to someone he thought was a friend of his. He says that this is happening to Hawaiians all over the island, and that the younger generation is now having to move to the mainland because wealthy outsiders are buying up all the land and making housing unattainable to people with ancestral roots in Hawaii. I think Ben’s situation was a good example of us being able to engage in cultural relativism. Ben’s story made me feel for the Hawaiian people and their struggles. It wasn’t difficult to acknowledge his point of view, however, as his situation seems like something that is repeated all over the world. Areas that used to be have affordable housing and were cultural hubs are now being gentrified to make room for the wealthy and push out the lower class. Although Ben’s story isn’t joyful, it almost feels like deja vu. I’ve heard this before—much closer to home.

‘Uncle Ben’ is the first stranger we spoke with in Oahu

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

My STEP project, ‘Humans of Oahu,’ taught me to identify a level of empathy and confidence in myself that I wasn’t aware existed. I was helped tremendously with my skills as a marketing major with an intended career path in sales; many times, I approached stranger after stranger only to be shot down. More importantly, I had some very deep conversations, and gained a greater respect for other cultures that will no doubt help me in my understanding of business ethics. When I think about my future in Marketing and sales, I feel very encouraged to be socially aware in my marketing. If there’s one thing I realized in Hawaii, it’s that the signs advertising luxury spas often come at the cost of buying up the land of native islanders. When I spoke with different individuals in Hawaii, it helped me to cue in on my greatest strengths as well as my greatest insecurities. I was very timid with the first person we spoke to. I can see now in my Sales internship that the way I have approached people has changed and I am much less shy. This project was deeply satisfying to my persona as a whole. When I think of college and work, I sometimes imagine myself running around in a scramble trying to get everything done. With grades and deadlines approaching, there is little time to think about that person caught in the rain without an umbrella, or the woman sleeping on the side of the sidewalk. Of course, anyone would notice these things. But most often subliminally—any thoughts you have don’t come to fruition. This project encouraged me to engage with different types of people that included tourists, native Islanders, transplants, and college students alike. More than anything it brought the realization that these are people with problems just like us.

Link to Website:https://kienzlere.wixsite.com/humansofoahu