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Nine Kapiʻolani Community College students, accompanied by three faculty members, journeyed to Ireland last summer as part the first study-abroad cooperation between the Lunalilo Scholars Program—a one-year bridge program that builds a supportive community for underrepresented students throughout their first year at Kapiʻolani CC—and the Paul S. Honda International Center (HIC).

Person in a booth smiling over two servings of fish and chips
Kaleinani Ryan trying out fish and chips

For 10 days, the Kapiʻolani CC students learned about the history, culture, food and unique connections between Hawaiʻi and Ireland. The fixed, low cost of the trip opened the door for underserved students, some of whom had never left Oʻahu, to gain an invaluable experience halfway around the world.

“I’ve just been really immersed in some of the lessons that have been taught to us,” said student Niccalis Cruz.

Consisting of students from three cohorts of the Lunalilo Scholars (2019, 2020 and 2021), the group journeyed from Honolulu to Dublin to Donegal County in the northwestern corner of Ireland. There, they packed in days of learning and exploring, starting each morning with formal lectures by Niamh Hamill, director of the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland, before journeying out to a site visit.

“(I’m) So lucky to be here and to experience the excitement and the learning and the awe that the students are experiencing,” said LaVache Scanlan, director of the Lunalilo Scholars Program. “The smiles on their faces, the ‘aha’ moments, and all of that is just really cool to experience.”

Ireland, Hawaiʻi connections

A line of surfers headed out into the ocean
Surf lessons in the chilly North Atlantic Ocean of Ireland

Each day was focused on a unique topic; one lecture was given on Irish civil rights, social justice and conflict resolution before an afternoon guided visit to Derry City in Northern Ireland and a walk within the old historic walls dating back to the early 17th century. Another day focused on women’s rights, and another on sustainability and discussions on Irish welfare and healthcare systems all while tying them back to social, political, environmental and economic issues that Lunalilo Scholars have witnessed and experienced in Hawaiʻi. Students also got their toes wet with surf lessons in the chilly North Atlantic Ocean.

“They’re all at different stages of development, and this experience will help them learn about themselves and also the world and how they can maybe contribute as citizens to the world,” Scanlan said.

The lectures pointed out the parallels between Ireland and Hawaiʻi, from the treatment of Indigenous people there and Native Hawaiians here and the impacts of colonization.

“I thought it was interesting to learn about the similarities within the colonization of Hawaiʻi and how closely it’s connected to the colonization of the Irish people and also many other Indigenous peoples around the world,” said student Kaulanakealoha Aipa-Dolan. “So (I’m) just really grateful to expand on that topic and get to know more about what other people go through.”

Lunalilo, Queen Kapiʻolani scholarships combine

Group of smiling people
Kapiʻolani CC students, staff, and faculty in Ireland

The study-abroad opportunity was privately funded through the scholarships at Kapiʻolani CC. Lester and Marian Kaneta, founding donors of the Lunalilo Scholars Program, generously supported the travel opportunity to help expand the horizons of the students’ perspectives. The second source of funding came from the Queen Kapiʻolani International Travel Scholars Endowed Fund, established by a donation from Chancellor Louise Pagotto in 2019. She envisioned for students’ educational journeys to go beyond the books. This unique partnership across scholarships enabled the college to “flat-rate” the trip and cover the majority of the cost (program cost, airfare, hotels, meals) for awardees, with students only needing to pay $100 toward the cost of the program, $25 for mandatory health insurance and $130 for trip insurance.

“This is the first time a UH study abroad program has been ‘flat-rated,’ and it is our intention to continue to partner with our community and donors to make programs such as this a reality for underserved and underrepresented students at Kapiʻolani CC,” said Shawn Yacavone, an international educational specialist with HIC.

Lunalilo Scholars and HIC are planning a study-abroad trip to Ireland in summer 2023.

Scanlan said, “We’re hoping that this can inspire us to do something like this again and give other students the opportunity to experience another country, another culture, just to have a life-changing moment for them.”

—By Kim Baxter

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