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This week’s blog is written by student Lilly Murphey in Hawaii. She shares about her life in Hawaii and her observations on traveling like a local instead of a tourist. 

*** This is an example of a student’s experience from Spring 2021. Specific programming and activities are subject to change semester by semester.


Aloha from Kona! We are almost halfway done through the semester! If I am being honest, it has felt like only a week ago since I had landed in Hawaii.

I love getting to sit by the water every day to do my homework in Kona because it is always sunny. My favorite part about Kona though is having to race from dinner to catch the beautiful sunset. It has become a tradition in Kona to watch the sun go down every night.

I feel like this semester has gotten me a lot closer on the journey to finding my true self. At the beginning of the semester, I felt super sheltered, and I didn’t really branch out to new people. But ever since we have been in Kona, I have made a lot of new friends. I love going on walks along the water getting to know people better, and just doing homework on the balcony with the nice sea salt breeze from the ocean.

verto students on a boat

By land, by sea… Students learn about Hawaii from every perspective!

Before applying to Verto, I had to make the decision on where I wanted to go for my destination. It was between Fiji and Hawaii. I ended up choosing Hawaii. I was so stoked to do the environmental science course in Hawaii. Hawaii is also just such a special and sacred place. The people here really preach community and to keep their “Kuleana” safe. Their Kuleana is their land. Their water, air, ocean, sky, and ground. They preach this word to respect the land and take care of it because of the benefits it gives the people. After being in Hawaii for a little over a month, you can really tell how much culture is here. It is absolutely amazing, and I am so grateful I chose Hawaii as my destination because it has been an honor learning about the Hawaiian culture.

Nightly beach sunsets are the best way to end the day.

This semester abroad is way different than traveling here to stay in Hawaii for vacation. I say this because I know what it feels like to be a tourist. Only at the destination to get tan, post cool Instagram pictures, try new foods, and swim with dolphins. I feel like actually “living” here, I am starting to get mad at tourists. They do benefit the economy but ruin the environment. I have seen so many tourists dump trash in the ocean, and not care about the locals here. In Kona, there are these stores located everywhere called “ABC stores”, and these stores sell stuff tourists would be interested in. They sell Hawaiian shirts, shirts that say “Hawaii”, leis, coconut bras, and grass skirts, and much more. It is so weird seeing this because I feel like I have gotten a much deeper meaning of the Hawaiian culture, and seeing how advertised this place is, is crazy. You can really tell the distinction between a local and a tourist here in Hawaii.

We have gone on so many beach trips here in Kona. My favorite excursion we have done here is definitely the Captain Cook hike. It is apparently one of the hardest hikes in Kona. Only about 10 Verto students went on this hike, but it was even more fun because we became a lot closer as a small group. The hike down was pretty easy. It was a 2 mile, rocky hike with an insane view of the horizon. When we finally got to the water, it was crystal clear blue. I brought my snorkel gear, so I immediately went in. I swam with a white reef tip shark and saw so many colorful fish. It was definitely a life-changing experience.