On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
USA Schools Student life Anna Paskova

Hawaii: My Year in Paradise. Contrasting Realities and Changed Perspectives

Hawaii is a place where nature thrives in its purest form, possessing majestic volcanic landscapes embellished with lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and pristine beaches with crystal-clear waters. For some, Hawaii is the ideal place to spend a vacation, however, for me, it was an unparalleled opportunity to immerse myself in another culture, many adventures, a community, and an educational experience that surpassed any classroom settings that I had experienced in Prague, Czech Republic, where I had been studying until then. In this article, I will highlight some of the most significant differences between my life before studying in Hawaii, at the Hawai'i Preparatory Academy, and after.
Undoubtedly, the biggest change I experienced throughout this journey was the cultural shift. Mainly, the language aspect; although I did have previous experience with speaking in English constantly over a given period, studying in English and living with roommates in the boarding house who did not share the same mother tongue as me was certainly challenging, nonetheless, it was manageable.
Oftentimes, when speaking to students who are hesitant to study abroad due to the language barrier, I reassure them that once they find themselves in the situation, they will have no other choice but to speak, even if it is uncomfortable at first.
"Throw someone in at the deep end, and they'll learn how to swim" is a saying that not only relates to the language barrier but also the other aspects of the cultural shift. Considering that Hawaii and the Czech Republic are such different worlds, it will undeniably have an impact on their social norms. Generally, people in the Czech Republic tend to be more reserved, whilst Hawaii embodies a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. Not only the students but also the faculty of the Hawai'i Preparatory Academy, have warmly welcomed every student and the community of the school emphasised inclusivity and interconnectedness, which was reflected through a variety of school events, such as the Class Olympics.
Apart from events such as the Class Olympics, my time in Hawaii was filled with other adventures that were not only offered by the school itself but also by building relationships with fellow students. To fully immerse myself in the experience, I was highly engaged in the community to make the most out of my time abroad.
By being in my comfort zone, in the city I grew up in, I did not feel the need to engage with my community to such an extent, however, since knowing what building relationships and a community can bring, I have been keen on putting much more effort into it in every new environment I find myself in.
Although it is necessary to highlight the fact that I attended a boarding school, which offers a larger variety of activities than day schools, making it easier for students to meet, it is nevertheless crucial for one to get out of their comfort zone and try to connect with others even whilst attending day school.
The education system was certainly an area in which the two countries differed. In the Czech Republic, studying in a gymnasium was difficult, as it required a lot of memorisation. Although the system does give students broad knowledge in many different areas, it is also rather overwhelming and does not apply the concepts to real-life examples, making it difficult for students to understand the material properly.
In the United States, the system is rather different, perhaps even the other way around, as it does not cover as many areas, however, the concepts are presented in a way that makes students more prone to understanding.
For instance, a majority of our sessions in physics class at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy consisted of experiments; once our task was to build a prototype of a house from a shoe box and to install lights and electricity. It was these types of tasks that allowed us to understand the theory better. However, it is necessary to state that both systems have their advantages and disadvantages and by experiencing both systems, I was better prepared not only for the IB Programme but also for my university studies.
Nonetheless, my experience of studying in Hawaii's boarding school has been enriching and transformative in ways beyond academics. Having lived in Prague my whole life before deciding to study abroad led me to have restricted views on certain aspects of life. By studying in Hawaii, I was able to foster an appreciation for culture, cooperation, and adaptability. My sense of community was also heightened throughout this journey. Living away from home is always difficult, however, it also leads to immense personal growth, as it encourages independence, and resilience and shapes one into a self-reliant individual.
The sense of home also shifted throughout this journey, as I developed close friendships with students from all over the world. After a few months, I felt as though I was home with them too, which was initially difficult to understand, as I had never thought that I could feel so comfortable outside of my home country. Although it may seem like a small detail, I believe that many students studying abroad experience the feeling of not fitting in or missing their home, therefore, the satisfaction of settling down and making a home or a comfort zone in a new environment is highly gratifying.
I will never forget the time spent on the island and would not hesitate to do it again, given the opportunity. However, it did present me with multiple challenges, one of those being the aforementioned language barrier. Another challenge was simply being away from home, not being able to see my family or friends as often as I would have liked, and missing the comfort of the place I had grown up in. Moreover, building relationships is important, but was not always easy for me, as all new students had to navigate through the pre-existing system and relationships between students. Luckily, I was able to overcome all the challenges presented to me and was able to form friendships that have lasted to this day.
To finalise, my time in Hawaii was certainly a transformative experience, which has left an enduring mark on my life. Before attending boarding school abroad, my life was immersed in an environment of stability yet limited perspective on certain areas, such as the importance of building relationships. During my time in Hawaii, I developed a greater appreciation for interconnectedness and community. Because of this experience, I am now a more adaptable individual with an understanding of different cultures, which has been more than useful on multiple occasions and allowed me to have the confidence to live in multiple different cities after living in Hawaii.