Hawaii J-Term 2020 [Pre-COVID] — My Favorite College “Class”

YouTube video created by Hannah McCoy documenting Hawaii adventures.

My Trip to Kauai, Hawaii – January 2020

Being cooped up in my house for what seems like an eternity has me constantly reminiscing about the past. Hanging out with friends everyday, cram studying at the library during finals, going outside without having to wear a mask. Just being normal college kids. And since I’m graduating in a mere few weeks, a time I’ll probably never get back. Nonetheless, I’ll remember those memories forever. One specific memory comes to mind. It happened just a month or so before COVID locked everything down, and it’s one of the fondest memories I have of pre-COVID.

In January 2020, I had the opportunity to travel to the island of Kauai, Hawaii for a travel “J-Term” through Drake University. I essentially took a class for three weeks during the month of January, along with traveling to Hawaii. My class was called Understanding Diverse Populations. The class itself was incredibly interesting and eye opening. While on the island we not only learned about the history and culture of Kauai. We also participated in an experiential learning experience working with members at the Friendship House in Kauai and Passageway in Iowa.

“Friendship House is a psychiatric rehabilitation program for about 70 adult Kauai residents with both serious mental illness and a desire to improve their quality of life. The mission of Friendship House is to provide a safe, accepting environment reflective of the Clubhouse Model in which individuals with mental illness are offered empowering opportunities to reach their full potential.”


Outside the Classroom

Sea turtles on the beach in Kauai at nighttime.

Outside of class, my time in Kauai was absolutely incredible! From ziplining through the mountains and snorkeling with sea turtles, to interacting with members at the Friendship House and meeting locals like Alisha (Drake alumni) and her family, it was truly an amazing, adventurous, and eye opening experience! I learned a lot about Hawaii’s culture and history while I was there, but I also learned a lot about myself and the way I interact with the world around me. It taught me more than any other class could ever teach me.

One of the biggest differences in culture that I noticed while in Kauai was the culture clashes of polychronic time versus monochronic time, as well as high context versus low context culture. Growing up in Iowa and coming to Kauai, this difference is pretty drastic. Kauai fits into the polychronic, high context culture centered around collectivism or “ohana,” as everyone knows from Lilo & Stitch.

Hawaii Culture

Drake students in the Hawaii J-Term 2020 class

In high context culture, value is found within the group and tradition is incredibly important. Kauai is the epitome of this. A simple way that I saw this on the island was when we went out to eat as a group nearly every night. We typically all went together, having over 10 people almost everywhere we went. When we asked for our checks, every single restaurant we went to either was incredibly annoyed or straight up refused to split checks. And this even happened when we had 6 people. Splitting checks is just not a thing in Kauai. They assume that you’re all together. But us coming from a low context culture, it was a bit of a culture shock

Back home in Iowa, we are on monochronic time in a low context culture. In regard to time, Kauai is very relaxed and laid back. No one is in a rush to get anywhere. At the Friendship House specifically, we had scheduled meetings, but we’d go off on tangents and constantly get distracted. And it was okay! Now back in Iowa, it’s the exact opposite. Especially here at Drake, everything is on a strict schedule and you cannot deviate from it. Heck, I schedule my homework time and my relaxing time just to make sure it happens. Everything here is very strict, and punctuality is important. In Kauai, that doesn’t matter as much. It took so getting used to, but I personally like being on “island time” more than home time.

Hawaiian History & Mythology

Drake students going ziplining in Kauai

One of the biggest things from the trip to Kaui that I resonated with, was meeting our tour guide, Bruce, when we went ziplining. Bruce told us a lot of stories about Hawaii’s history and the mythology that surrounds it. The first was about one of the Sleeping Giants in the mountains that we actually drove by on our way to the zip lining course. He told us about King Kaumuali’i and how he was the last ruler of Kauai. Kamehameha tried multiple times to overthrow him but failed. Bruce told us about one of his failed attempts, the mythology tale and the actual story. Kamehameha came from the other islands, but it was a clear day and on a clear day you can see all the way to Maui from Kauai. The Sleeping Giant saw Kamehameha’s ships about to start heading towards Kauai. He woke up, and threw rocks of fire at the ships, stopping them in their tracks.

The Real Story

Now this is a mythology based story, but Bruce told us the interesting part of this story is that you can actually find gigantic lava rocks surrounding the island facing Kauai.
The actual story is still pretty cool! Bruce told us that when Kamehameha tried invading the island, it indeed was a clear day. King Kaumuali’i was watching from the mountains and could see Kamehameha’s ships heading towards Kauai to invade it. Kaumuali’i knew that Kamehameha’s military was much stronger than his, and that all of his people would surely be killed if a battle broke out. So he decided to be tricky. He recruited some of his war chiefs to help him. When Kamehameha landed on the shores of Kauai, Kaumuali’i popped up on top of one of the mountains and began yelling at Kamehameha to come get him.

The troops saw this and went into the mountains to find him. But Kaumuali’i had hid away. Then one of his war chiefs popped up on another mountain top taunting the soldiers, looking exactly like Kaumuali’i. Kamehameha’s troops saw this and, again, chased after what they thought was Kaumuali’i. This happened a few times until the troops were completely confused. When this happened, Kaumuali’i men surged the beach and killed all of Kamehameha’s troops. And Kauai was saved! Bruce told us all kinds of stories about Hawaii, and Kauai specifically. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I love learning about history, but Bruce made the stories come alive. He made the history we learned about become real!

Learning about Mental Health and Illness

Drake students on BBQ night with locals.

As this class is technically a counseling class as well, we also learned a lot about mental illness! I learned a lot throughout this coursework and from our time in Kauai. This was a very experiential based learning class, we learned about mental illness from interacting with people who have it. We first went to Passageway here in Iowa and worked with the members there.

To be honest, I was expecting it to be a little weird, and it kind of was at first. I was a little uncomfortable and wasn’t sure what to say. Some of the members were very loud and asked blunt questions, others would just stare at you and not say anything. Not having experienced anything like this before was a bit of a culture shock and a little unsettling at first.

The big thing that I learned from Passageway though was putting my first impressions aside and getting to know the members for who they are. Seeing the person and not their illness! This new mindset allowed me to meet people like Joe in office services, who told me all about his brother and how he hopes what he learns at Passageway can help him get a job later. I also talked a lot with David in culinary services. He told me how his favorite meal to cook and eat is tacos, and how he just moved into his new apartment on Ingersol. Most of the members at Passageway are really great people, you just have to take the time to get to know them and see them first.

I was able to put this practice into good use at Friendship House in Kauai! While in Kauai, I talked with a lot of members there, just like back in Iowa. While we were there, we actually spent most of the week building the members there a new shed from scratch. I’ve never really built anything before, but I actually had a lot of fun with this! It felt good to help out the Friendship House and work side by side with the members.


Throughout my time in this class and in Kauai, I learned so much about not only Hawaii, but myself. I made amazing friends, went on exciting adventures, and got to interact with people that I never would have met otherwise. In Hawaii, I got to learn firsthand how mental illness impacts people’s lives, but also that they’re really not much different than those without mental illness! We learned a lot about stigma and how even proper rhetoric (people first, ex: person with mental illness), can help change that. I also learned all about Hawaiian history and culture through text, and then was able to apply this knowledge and learn more through the museum, cultural sites, and talking with locals like Bruce! This trip was beyond what I could have imagined and I’m so glad that I chose to be a part of something so incredible.

Me (Hannah) getting picked up from the airport after the trip.

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