Reflections on teaching in Hawaii

I was a lecturer in International Relations at UHH in Spring of 2014 on a one semester contract.

What I liked about teaching at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH)?

I loved sharing ideas and information, and hopefully inspiring some students.

The most rewarding part of the experience?

It was definitely having some students tell me at the end of the semester that I influenced the way they thought about the world. I really cared about inspiring and informing my students. The small administrative staff in my division was helpful and friendly. I appreciated that. The secretary, if that is the right title (it might not be), was always friendly and it was nice to go check my office box and say hello.

The most enraging moment of my experience?

There is only one moment that I can say really got me angry, and that would be when I asked mid-semester if the department had any faculty meetings and was told that I “wasn’t part of the faculty,” even though I had a faculty card and was officially full time. The previous school I worked at and many other colleges and universities invite adjuncts to faculty meetings, however this department, although it is small, did not. I couldn’t believe it, with all the work I was putting in to do my job, to actually be told that I wasn’t part of the faculty. Also, when I went to the new faculty and staff orientation, I was completely ignored or forgotten when they called new employees to be recognized– as if lecturers are just hired wage slaves not deserving of courtesy. I was annoyed. I think this should be discussed in a wider post about the poor conditions for adjuncts or in a post just on bad manners.

The worst part?

Hilo is a boring place to live unless you are a surfer (and the beaches are not very nice there) or studying volcanoes. Everything (and that’s not much) shuts down at around 9p.m., which leaves you with the only option of 7-11, a very sub-par out of the way diner, or McDonald’s– which I never eat. There is a lot of nature in the surrounding areas, but when you are working really hard and long hours, it’s nice to have something open at night. I was grateful for the manager of my apartment for welcoming me with Aloha spirit and taking me to see the volcanoes and for someone taking me to see Kona before I left the island, but as far as campus community for a lecturer or faculty events– there was absolutely nothing. Given how small a community it is– I would have thought it would be a little more open than just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum, if anything at all. I appreciated the few hallway conversations I had with a couple of the more outgoing or friendlier of my colleagues and the cup of tea with one. The United Nations Association of America Hilo Branch welcomed me with open arms as a member of their board and gave me a great farewell dinner, which was very nice of them. But as far as any structural cohesion or communication from my department, there was none, and I wished that there had been. I remember passing a dinner event and asking the security guard what was happening, and he told me it was a faculty dinner, and I laughed and responded, “I guess I didn’t get the memo.” I didn’t get an invitation.

My personal worst moment in Hilo?

I had food poisoning or a norovirus that hit me one Saturday. I’ll spare you the details, but in dedicated fashion I dragged myself into work on Monday and showed my students an interesting film. I didn’t eat for almost a week. I thought it might have been the crab cakes that I had eaten.

What I took away?

I had good experiences teaching, but I was quite isolated and bored in Hilo. During the summer, I attended the World Congress of Political Science in Montreal (a great city), and at the end of my trip I found myself mentally fatigued– part of that was probably due to the stress of my experience in Hilo, which could actually be any little podunk town in the middle of nowhere USA, except it has a coastline. A few weeks ago, I found out that I was hypothyroid with a TSH level of 9.24 and then 8.35, and this also may have greatly contributed to my feeling tired– in addition to a lot of work, travel, and that experience in the middle of the ocean.

I will write more about my experiences in Hawaii later…to be continued.

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