Monday, February 1, 2016

MBA student finds Japan study tour worthwhile

Hawai‘i Pacific University MBA student Pomaikai Kalakau is no stranger to travelling. As a former HPU softball player, she's gone on many road trips. Yet she felt anticipation before flying to Japan in November, on her first visit to the country.

"I didn't know what to expect," said Kalakau, originally from Waimanalo.

Hawai‘i Pacific University MBA student Pomaikai Kalakau (center) met new people and learned about Japan during a special study tour. She was among 23 students who represented HPU in the Kakehashi Project (Friendship Ties Program).

She was among 23 HPU students selected for a special, fully-funded study tour. Thanks to the recommendation of the Consulate General of Japan in Honolulu, HPU was awarded a grant by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. The students served as HPU's representatives in the Kakehashi Project (Friendship Ties Program).

The trip itinerary — organized by the Japan International Cooperation Center — included lectures in U.S. and Japan relations, government and economics, and visits with college students.

"It was really organized. It flowed very well," she said of the nine-day study tour, with stops in Tokyo, Nagano and Chiba. "I didn't expect it to be so eye-opening. I wish I could have stayed longer."

She enjoyed the lectures and said the students were "really nice. They spoke English. We didn't have a communication barrier. They were open and understanding."

"A lot of them were planning to visit Hawaii within the year," she said. So the Hawaii students shared about favorite places to check out back home. "They all wanted to take pictures. We exchanged our social media accounts."

HPU students also visited historic and cultural sites, including Matsumoto Castle and Zenkoji Temple. Kalakau found the temple "memorable … very relaxing and calm."

It also presented a challenge. The historic temple includes a lower level that is dark, where visitors cross in order find the key to enlightenment.

"You walk downstairs and walk a straight line and feel against the wall," she said. She crossed the room, overcoming a sense of trepidation of being in the dark.

Students also stayed with host families, in Japan. "I was nervous," she said of the home stay portion.

"It turned out to be the best part of the trip. Our home stay family was nice and funny. They were outgoing. Their daughter was a senior in high school and spoke the most English."

Even though they couldn't completely understand each other, both hosts and guests enjoyed each other's company. Kalakau even learned how to make okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake).

"It makes you realize no matter the cultural difference or language, everyone has something in common. Everyone is relatable to each other," she said. "Don't be afraid to associate with people you don't know."

For Kalakau, the study tour was a chance to be adventurous — from meeting new people to crossing a dark passage to experiencing a different country. "It's a once of lifetime opportunity, in this kind of sense."

She stayed home for college because of softball, but said that it didn't leave her time to study abroad as an undergraduate. Even so, she's fortunate to have made friends from other countries at HPU.

"I met a lot more diverse people than I expected to meet, in classes and in sports. Staying home opened a lot more opportunities."

But the study tour was a truly special experience.

"This trip was about being out of the comfort zone," she said. "I felt blessed to have been chosen."

If students have a chance to study abroad to have this kind of experience, she heartily recommends it.

"Don't hesitate," she said. "College is about putting yourself out there. You don't have anything to lose, you got everything to gain."

Read the student blogs from the Japan study tour at HPU's International Exchange and Study Abroad Programs are online at

Hawai‘i Pacific University students Matthew Gunter and Pomaikai Kalakau visit the top of the 1998 Winter Olympics Ski Jumping Stadium in Nagano, Japan.

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