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Finally landing in Kauai was quite a surreal experience. For one reason or another, its been a journey of over a year to finally reach the beautiful island of Kauai under the DukeEngage program and, for a lot of reasons, I was nervous for what the next eight weeks held for me. During the plane’s descent into Kauai, I saw an island of natural beauty that I could have never prepared for. Magnificent mountains, striking green, white beaches, and 300-foot waterfalls filled the plane window and my mind with wonder I haven’t experienced in a very long time. In every respect, it was paradise. Yet sitting and looking outside that plane window, I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in my gut that this was not my paradise to see. I was concerned about my role as a visitor in Kauai, especially considering the long and crushing effect that colonization has had on the state of Hawaii as a whole and the over-tourism that the island today faces. Getting off the airplane and walking around the tourist-packed Lihue airport, I wondered whether in my next eight weeks if it was truly possible to contribute to the Kauai community as an outsider.

One of the greatest opportunities I was looking forward to in DukeEngage was to spend time and work with students who are intensely motivated to help the community/world around them, and this opportunity has not disappointed in any way. Over the last three days, I have worked and lived with a group of students who are simply better than I am. They are motivated, respectful of the culture around them, highly intelligent, hard-working, insanely qualified, and above all already great friends of mine. The amazing amount of fun we have here together is equally matched by our collective motivation to discern and implement the best strategies and practices to help this community as much as outsiders can. As the program progresses, I cannot wait to learn from the experiences and impressive collective knowledge that this amazing group of people have.

My first work-day was in lack for a better word interesting. My boss at Hanalei Watershed Hui, Makaa’ala, is one of the more energetic and admirable women I have ever met. In a tiny little office in the middle of a field, she fields requests and favors for the people of Hanalei every day simply because she has a dedication and commitment to the community. She is never afraid to speak directly to people or the government when they are not doing their jobs, and strangely is an adamant defender of Mark Zuckerberg. She also detailed that she must “have a talk with my girlfriend” due to my ineptitude during some of the tasks, but that just shows her larger than life personalty every day. I cannot wait to spend more time with her and detail more stories about her as the summer progresses!