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Ramos in the kitchen
Dave Ramos (second from left) was an intern at the Grand Wailea Maui.

Immediately following the deadly Maui wildfires in August, Leeward Community College student and Maui native Dave Ramos diverted from his plans to study abroad in Japan this semester and headed home to help his community.

“Dave, at that time, was actually going through his visa process to get to Japan, dealing with the Japanese consulate in Honolulu,” said Aya Hara-Joesting, interim manager for Leeward CC’s Office of International Programs. “I can’t even imagine what that was like, going through that while seeing what was happening on Maui.”

Ramos felt compelled to assist in the aftermath and volunteered at the Baldwin High School gym shelter.

“It was heartbreaking to see all of the displaced families,” he said. “It was eye opening and hits a little bit close to home knowing that this kind of tragedy happened to Maui, of all places.”

Hospitality industry perspective

Ramos in military uniform
Dave Ramos

A native of Wailuku, Ramos’ experience as a catering and conference services intern and restaurant busser at the Grand Wailea Maui sparked his interest in the hospitality industry. After earning an associate’s degree in hospitality and tourism from UH Maui College, he decided he wanted a career in mid-level management at a luxury hotel. Leeward CC’s one-year international study/abroad program was the best next step for him. It would send him to Leeward CC’s partner, the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.

“I lived in Okinawa from 2017 to 2019 while I was in the military. I always wanted to return and experience living abroad as a civilian.” Ramos said. “I also had a personal interest in learning Japanese, because, in Hawaiʻi, Okinawan and Japanese culture is intertwined with Hawaiʻi’s cultural identity. I want to relate to Japanese and Okinawan visitors on a personal basis by getting to know their culture and speaking to them in their own native tongue.”

Ramos at Halfway to Hana sign
Dave Ramos on Maui.

The aftereffects of the fires also reinforced Ramos’ ultimate career goal.

“Tourism in Hawaiʻi is essential to its economy,” he said. “Most of my friends’ and family’s jobs were reduced or cut because of the lack of tourists (after the fires). The Maui fires made international news and have made people want to visit Maui in order to support the local economy. The following years are essential in order to keep Maui’s economy thriving.”

Future hospitality leader

Ramos military service
Lance Corporal Dave Ramos salutes his commander at Camp Lejeune.

Ramos is currently thriving in Japan—learning the language and immersing himself in the culture.

“All the education I’m getting and experiences I’ve been having will benefit me in the future,” he said. “The most impactful thing I’ve experienced so far is becoming friends with both local Japanese and international students. All come from different countries and vary in age, ethnicity, and education. This has inspired me to continue my education, as most of my international classmates have either completed their master’s program or started their PhDs at such a young age. Everyone at the university has a personal and educational goal, yet we are all connected with experiencing Okinawan culture as well as learning Japanese.”

After completing his study abroad program with Leeward CC and earning his bachelor’s degree from UH West Oʻahu, Ramos intends to embark on a management career at one of Oʻahu’s many luxury hotels. Wherever he lands, Ramos is equipped with a great education, Maui’s resilience and sense of responsibility to the community.

Learn more about Leeward CC’s study abroad program.

By Bonnie Friedman

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