By Avery Dunn and Marcus Watabu, Kapi‘o Staff Writers
Two years ago, Hamu Alualu left Hawai‘i with a dream of studying aviation management technology at Arizona State University.
Despite occasional bouts of homesickness, Alualu was happy with his decision to pursue higher education outside of Hawai‘i.
Then came a call from home.
Alualu’s parents were facing financial difficulty and they could no longer afford to keep paying for Alualu’s ASU tuition.
“It sucked,” Alualu recalled. “Hearing the new from my mom saying that I needed to transfer from Arizona, it was a really depressing call. I felt like arguing about staying up there because I was obviously surprised and a bit frustrated, but she and my father put in all the work to send me up there, so I really couldn’t say no to them.”
The call was no less distressing for Alualu’s mother, Amanda.
“To be honest, I thought a bigger fight was going to break out between us,” she said. “But he was really understanding of it all.”
Though disappointed, Alualu acted quickly to ease the financial burden on his family. Too late to apply for admission to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Alualu made arrangements to attend Kapi‘olani Community College.
Alualu is part of an often overlooked population of students at KCC — those who have returned to Hawai‘i after attending but not finishing colleges or universities on the Mainland.
Like Alualu, many of these students face unique challenges in adapting their goals and completing their education.
“It’s a surprisingly nice campus, but it’s definitely much, much smaller,” Alualu said. “It’s kind of vexing when I come here at times because I have that sort of old-man feeling of ‘what could have been.’ It’s does beat that homesick feeling, though. I would take being a bit grumpy over that for sure.”
Alualu has benefitted from solid support from his family and his old high school friends.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “There are so many other situations that are a hundred times worse than mine. I could be homeless or struggling for food. Really, it could be so much worse.”
Tim Oishi graduated from ‘Iolani School and attended the University of California Santa Monica. For him, returning home was a matter of choice.
According to Oishi, the decision to come back to Hawai‘i and attend KCC was “uneasy but relieving.”
The transition hasn’t gone exactly as Oishi expected. Despite having to take care of himself in California, Oishi said he faces more responsibilities now, particularly as he has picked up two jobs to help pay for his schooling.
Nonetheless, Oishi remains dedicated to his original goal of continuing his family tradition of practicing medicine.
He intends on remaining at KCC for two more years before transferring to UHM to complete his pre-med requirements and prepare to apply for medical school.
Like Oishi, Scott Byun attended school on the Mainland but opted to return to Hawai‘i to complete his studies.
Byun attended the University of Northern Colorado, where he lived in a dormitory and enjoyed making trips to Denver with his newfound friends.
Ultimately, however, the pull of home and the desire to be with his old friends prompted Byun to come back to Hawai‘i.
While the return brought Byun back to comfortable surroundings, he found that the demands of college life still had to be met with serious effort.
Byun said that attending classes at KCC, working full-time at a restaurant and maintaining a social life forced him to confront “the real world” in a way that his time in Colorado did not.
Rather than shy from the challenge, Byun said he is motivated to raise his studies “into another gear.”
Byun said that KCC counselors have eased his transition and that smaller classes and greater attention from his teachers have allowed him to succeed.
“I love the fact that I am able to gain a response from a professor within the same day that I’ve emailed them,” he said. “I didn’t get that back on the Mainland.”