When deciding where to study during winter break, most people wouldn’t consider going somewhere else in the United States, but two students made a cross-country trip to Hawaii with Live Your Aloha to earn credit while they vacationed.  

University of Rhode Island senior Leah Wheaton did not have the opportunity to study abroad somewhere during the school year because she’s a nursing major. When she heard about the opportunity to study in Hawaii, not only did surfing in Hawaii seem appealing, she was intrigued after seeing that the class advertised working with disabled kids and veterans.

Although she had never traveled so far by herself before, Wheaton endured the 12 hour plane ride across the country. She said that immediately, she saw how beautiful her surroundings were.

“Everything is green,” Wheaton said. “The airport is open when you walk through it, which is really cool. When you’re walking to your terminal, you’re outside.”

Wheaton said 27 URI students attended the trip and stayed in the international/graduate student dorm, Halle Manoa, at The University of Hawaii in Honolulu. She said some students from the university traveled with them, and everyday the group went on a new adventure – whether it was hiking, climbing mountains or hitting the beach.

URI sophomore Victoria Tonno decided to take the trip because the class went with her exercise science major. Tonno explained that originally she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to study kinesiology in Australia, but ultimately decided against it. She did not think she would like being away from home that long, and her vigorous class schedule would set her back. Since the plane ride took 12 hours, Tonno figured that Hawaii was “far enough” away to almost resemble studying abroad.

“The sky and nature looked beautiful,” Tonno said. “I mean there were flowers everywhere and everything was so bright. Everywhere I went I felt like I was looking at a postcard.”

The three credit class revolved around a service program which helped handicapped people learn to surf. Wheaton said she was originally expecting to be outdoors a lot while she wasn’t in class, but thought the course would be more “classroom” oriented. However, the class mostly took place outside, which she enjoyed. Tonno explained that about half the class was outside doing water sports such as surfing, stand up paddle boarding, swimming and essentially using the ocean as therapy. Out of the 14 days, there were only five in-class lectures, but Tonno enjoyed those.

Tonno said the class did a service project with AccesSurf, a Hawaiian non-profit creating community based programs for anyone with a disability to enjoy the water. Then a few days later, the coordinator of the program came in to speak to the class. The coordinator brought a paraplegic friend who had been attending the events with AccesSurf. This friend talked about how his experience with AccesSurf changed his life and the students were able to see firsthand how the ocean can affect people in such a positive way.

Wheaton’s favorite part of the trip was visiting the Banzai Pipeline, a surf reef break in Pupukae, where she said the waves were “crazy.” Tonno said that she thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself into the Hawaiian culture, which was “radically different.” She said that the mindset people had was very inspiring, since everyone acted laid back and carefree.

“In general, I’m a very high-strung and stressed kind of person,” Tonno said. “Going to Hawaii kind of helped me realize that being calm is a form of therapy, and when you surround yourself with a calm environment, you tend to be more calm more freely.”

Being a Boston native, Wheaton found Hawaiian locals to have a lot less stress than people on the East Coast. She said people were very mellow and happy, and each local she talked to was very nice. One interesting thing locals told her was that she was from “the mainland,” which she said she never would have considered before.

“I feel like two weeks is such a short amount of time that I didn’t really get that [special feeling,]” Wheaton said. “It’s so ‘vacation-y’ that coming home was nice. But if it was a different country and they spoke a different language, I think longer would be needed.”

Wheaton said she definitely recommends visiting Hawaii while on J-Term because the class is so rewarding. Similarly, Tonno said that she had an amazing trip and thinks everyone should get the chance to experience ocean as therapy. She would also recommend it to people who love exercise, since students had the chance to do a lot of hiking and exploring.

“During this trip I had a lot of firsts; my first time surfboarding, my first time paddle boarding, my first time being in Hawaii, my first time riding a plane and my first time being out in the sun for so long,” Tonno said.

For more information about studying abroad or taking a J-Term class, visit http://web.uri.edu/international/.