Monday, December 14, 2015

From Minnesota to Hawaii, via the Marshall Islands

The journey toward a college degree can take unexpected turns. Just ask the student flag bearer at this Thursday's commencement ceremonies, Kevin Huggins, originally from a small town in Minnesota.

He will lead his fellow Hawai‘i Pacific University students and receive a Master of Education in Secondary Education — ending a journey that took him from the Midwest to the Marshall Islands to Hawaii.

Huggins earned a sociology degree before moving to Chicago, where he was a youth care worker. However, he felt restricted in "the concrete jungle" and wanted to do more with his life.

In college, he was interested in international volunteer programs. He decided to leave his life in Chicago, after being accepted into the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, in 2007.

"I was uncomfortable about going to the Marshall Islands, coming from Minnesota," he admitted. But he remembered a piece of advice from his father.

Kevin Huggins taught at Laura High School, Majuro, Marshall Islands, in 2010.
"My dad taught to say 'yes' more. There will be a lot of opportunities thrown at you. Some of them may be uncomfortable for you but one might change your life," he said. "It may be a once in a lifetime opportunity."

"So began my teaching career."

He sailed to Ailuk, a small coral atoll in the Marshall Islands with no electricity and limited resources, to teach for a year. He recalls "bucket showers and meals cooked over an open fire." But he also remembers working hard to reach out to his students.

"I was very unprepared to teach and had very few resources and supplies but I was resourceful and was determined. That first year, I modified many of the lessons to make them relevant to students."

Huggins signed up for another year teaching in Ailuk. He then taught on the main island of the Marshall Islands for two years — a more comfortable experience with electricity and running water. He knew that teaching was his calling but he needed more preparation and training.

"I decided to journey back to the Mainland, but I only made it as far as Hawaii," he said. "The climate was more appealing than Minnesota, especially in the winter."

In Hawaii, he worked with the Marimed Foundation in Kaneohe as a youth counselor, working with at-risk youth. He also became a substitute teacher at King Intermediate School, where he now teaches Social Studies and English.

Huggins began graduate studies at HPU, where he appreciated the "small class sizes and the flexibility of the education program that let me continue working in schools and achieve a license in education in little over two years."

He's also thankful for the caring faculty. "My teachers would check on me to see how I'm doing, even after I had finished with their classes."

"It taught me the value of treating each student as an individual who deserves respect and to be understanding of their circumstances, just like my teachers with mine." It's an example he hopes to follow with his own students.

He said he's happy he took his dad's advice, saying "yes" to the Marshall Islands, which has led him his career as a teacher.

"I'm excited to graduate and continue my path in education."

Huggins teaches Social Studies and English at King Intermediate School, Kaneohe.

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