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KS Hawaiʻi haumāna and staff embarked on a memorable trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Student voices: traveling with Kamehameha Schools - a journey of discovery and friendship

Sept. 18, 2023

At Kamehameha Schools, the world is not just a topic of study; it's a classroom. For KS Hawaiʻi high school seniors Amy Gushiken and Kalena Launiu, the unique travel opportunity to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands (an archipelago that's considered a province of Ecuador) has transformed their lives and perspectives in profound ways. These experiences not only enriched their education but opened doors to personal growth and global awareness.

Gushiken, a member of the class of 2024, vividly recalls her trip to Ecuador. In her eyes, the journey was more than just sightseeing; it was about immersing herself in culture, forming lasting bonds, and gaining insights into eco-tourism. As she reminisces, one particular evening stands out—the final night in Ecuador, when her room turned into a hub of creativity as students gathered to create thank-you cards for their tour guide and bus driver. It was a bittersweet moment, a blend of happiness to return home and sadness at leaving. Those two weeks in Ecuador had stretched into eternity, and they yearned for more. As she puts it, "We were so happy to be going home but so sad to be leaving."

Gushiken’s experiences in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands challenged her perceptions. She saw firsthand how eco-tourism could genuinely benefit communities, not just their economies. This realization sparked her passion for bringing such sustainable practices back to her own community. As she eloquently puts it, "This trip showed me that eco-tourism for the community was real rather than for the economy." The trip provided her with a hands-on education, replacing textbooks with living experiences that deepened her understanding of Ecuador's culture and history. She talked about the bus rides, filled with laughter and games like charades, "The shared experience allowed us to bond with each other in ways we had not before; that strengthened our friendships," she said.

Reflecting on her journey, Gushiken said, "Now, I feel eager to travel and seek knowledge around the world. I feel prepared to leave home and trust myself to be independent and strong in my decisions. I hope to continue traveling beyond high school to learn from other communities to bring it back home.”

Senior Launiu shared that despite the challenging 23-hour flights and layovers, the experience with his classmates was unforgettable. Walking to local restaurants allowed him to witness sea lions freely roaming the streets—an incredible sight that displayed the unique connection between the Galapagos' wildlife and its inhabitants. As he vividly recalls, "Traveling with my classmates around the continent was very fun. One of the most memorable was when we would have to walk to go to the restaurant instead of driving because it was all within walking distance. But to see how the sea lions would just be everywhere."

For Launiu, the trips were humbling, revealing the hardships faced by people in other countries. It reinforced the idea of gratitude and the awareness that many children worldwide may never experience simple joys like visiting the ocean. These experiences instilled in him the importance of arduous work and its role in shaping one's life. "It showed me how blessed I am and how fortunate I am," she said.

In addition to these life lessons, the travel experiences at KS Hawaiʻi provided a unique perspective on education. Traditional classrooms teach the "what" of the world, but these journeys delve into the "why." Launiu discovered the practical applications of languages and the necessity of effective communication when visiting foreign places, enriching his education in a way that textbooks alone cannot. As he aptly puts it, "In a traditional classroom, they tell you the shell or the 'what' of the real world. But with these trips, you get to see the 'why' or the core of the real world."

Both Gushiken and Launiu emphasize that these travel opportunities are unmatched in their ability to broaden horizons and change perspectives. They believe that Kamehameha Schools are an exceptional choice for K-12 education because it offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences that shape students into well-rounded, globally aware individuals. These experiences, Launiu says, should be available from grade 7 onwards, providing maturity and responsibility to those who partake.

The travel opportunities offered by Kamehameha Schools have left an indelible mark on Gushiken and Launiu. They describe it as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that not only enriched their education but also prepared them for a future filled with academic success and a deeper understanding of the world.

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