Working on the beautiful Garden Isle of Kauai was such a wonderful blessing for me. The people I had the privilege of working with, the folks we served, the volunteers and board members who helped us accomplish our work: fabulous!
One of our biggest challenges: folks who hopped on a plane and moved to Hawaii, certain they could succeed anywhere. Many brought their Mainland values and attitude, thinking they arrived knowing, if not everything, a lot.
These folks, some single, some with families, often struggled and many started (and ended) their time in Hawaii houseless/homeless. Their days involved seeking basics we often take for granted: food, shelter, bathrooms, companions. Some paid for their homelessness with their lives. Others struggled every day, even after they found work, to make ends meet.
Here’s what folks need to realize:
You cannot move to a new place (like Hawaii) and become a local/find immediate acceptance. At best you can become a resident (kamaaina) and grow to admire the local culture that is a mashup of several cultures.
The cost of living in Hawaii is much higher than average (count on things like food and utilities costing 150% of Mainland prices and rent costing 200% of Mainland averages). The wages, however, are equivalent. In other words, unlike some metro areas where wages are higher to meet the higher costs, in Hawaii wages are NOT higher but living costs are MUCH higher.
Paying to have your car shipped may be a good investment since vehicles are expensive. However, paying to have your household goods shipped isn’t a great idea. First, it’s unlikely you’ll find an affordable spacious rental in advance (or quickly), and finding a storage unit will be difficult and expensive. For some folks, the cost of storage eats away so much of their budget that they cannot ever afford housing. A lot of folks come and go, so it can be easier to sell your items on the Mainland or give them to family to store. When you arrive, chances are you can find a furnished unit and pick up any other items you need at yard sales or online.
PLEASE don’t take any job offer that doesn’t include something in writing. Many folks arrive certain they have jobs that, it turns out, don’t exist. Also understand that Hawaii is an at-will state for employment, so you can arrive Tuesday and be told your job has ended on Thursday. It happens. If you’re not wealthy, you may be stuck with no employment options and 2200 miles of ocean between you and your family/friends.
The ocean is beautiful, but it’s dangerous as well. Do your research, speak with lifeguards at any beach before you go in the water, and watch for emergencies like tsunami, floods, and storms.
Many areas have no mail delivery, particularly with less-expensive rentals. There’s typically a waiting list for post office boxes, so have a contingency plan for getting mail since it may present challenges.
The weather can get very hot and storms come/go, including hurricanes. Hurricane season starts June 1st and ends in November, but can happen any time. Plan and prepare!
Almost everyone I knew had multiple wage earners in the household and most folks have multiple jobs. If you’re imagining a laid-back lifestyle, think again. The local folks I had the privilege of getting to know worked harder than any folks I’ve ever met. Not a slacker among them. When I returned to the Mainland on vacation, folks would ask me why I wasn’t tan. REALLY?! I worked 10 to 12 hours a day, like most folks, and often weekends, to afford the privilege of living in Paradise.
So, first, do your research. Understand the cost of living. Consider how many jobs or how many roommates you’re willing to juggle in order to survive.
Many newcomers never feel they fit in because there’s no dominant culture. Whining about it – particularly if you’re a white male who recognizes the loss of privileges you may have enjoyed elsewhere – will not gain you any sympathy.
Long before I moved, a friend who grew up on the island of Niihau told me this: Wait until a clear opportunity to work and live is offered to you. Before you go, be sure you can go with the spirit of a student, open to learning the new culture. Treat everyone with respect. Treat the culture with respect. Find a church or ethnic club you can join to get to know people. And when a time comes when you find the islands aren’t welcoming you, it’s time to leave and return to your people.
She was a gentle soul, but she was spot-on with her advice.