- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2005

HONOLULU (AP) — Ari Wong was miserable after moving from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., several years ago for college.

“I was very homesick, and it was very hard adjusting,” said Mr. Wong, now a federal law-enforcement officer. “I couldn’t get used to the food, so I lost a lot of weight. I kept getting sick. I missed my family, Hawaii’s climate and the people.”

It could have been worse. One reason Mr. Wong chose George Washington University was because it has a Hawaii club to help ease the transition for students leaving their home state.

Hawaii clubs are fixtures at more than 50 colleges nationwide and on many campuses are the only state-themed clubs. Membership ranges from fewer than 20 at schools with few island students to 200 at schools such as the University of Washington and Stanford University.

The clubs can be havens from what many students from Hawaii see as a more fast-paced lifestyle and sometimes unfriendly encounters, especially in large East Coast cities.

“We tell the freshmen, ‘It’s going to be cold, a little bit more high-paced and people generally are going to be a little more in-your-face,’” said Matt Tsai, a University of Pennsylvania senior. “You have to learn to become more ‘East Coast’ and deal with it.”

Even in a more laid-back place such as Oregon, Hawaii clubs can help students adjust.

“We all miss the food and the beach,” said Jennifer Slaton, a senior at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. “And the sun, because Portland is so rainy.”

In frigid climates, upperclassmen in some Hawaii clubs organize shopping expeditions each fall, helping freshmen accustomed to tank tops and shorts shop for heavy coats, wool sweaters and long underwear.

For almost all Hawaii clubs, the annual spring luau is the premier event of the year. Generally held in April, guests are treated to authentic hula performances and spreads of traditional Hawaiian food, such as kalua pig and a gelatinous coconut dessert called haupia. Parents and friends in the islands often donate hundreds of dollars worth of colorful flowers and tropical plants — ti leaves, red ginger, ferns and birds of paradise.

Students perform the sacred traditional hula, or kahiko, as well as the flowing modern auana style. Many clubs also perform dances from other Polynesian cultures, such as hip-shaking Tahitian tamure, the Maori hakka and poiball dances, and even Samoan fire-knife dancing.

The clubs, open to all students, also help students from Hawaii clear up misconceptions that classmates may have about the islands.

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