Alan Suemori

Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Jenna Ishii’s “Worldwide Voyage” began in 1993 in the third grade classroom of Mrs. Noreen Varney at Hanahau‘oli School. “She dedicated an entire quarter of the school year to Höküle‘a and Polynesian voyaging. We built our own canoe, researched the plants and animals that the ancient Hawaiians brought with them and studied how they used the stars to navigate across the ocean. The culmination of the unit was the voyage, where our parents towed us across a kickball field in the middle of the night for two hours to simulate being out in the open ocean. I still remember how it felt. It was magical. It sparked in me the capacity to dream and imagine a life beyond the classroom.”

For Ishii, a yonsei who had grown up in Honolulu with little appreciation for Hawaiian culture, the experience made her realize, finally, what it felt like to be Hawaiian and a child of Hawai‘i. However, like many young people her age, she was soon swept up in the tide of making a living and becoming successful in a bigger world beyond Hawai‘i. “When I graduated from high school, my plan was to go to college and never return home. I thought success meant to go into business and make money.”

After graduating from the University of California – San Diego in 2006, however, she decided to travel before settling down to a more prosaic life. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do quite yet, except I knew I wanted to see more of the world, and that’s when I learned about JET.” Created by the Japanese government in 1987, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme was an attempt to bridge the cultural gaps between East and West by bringing in young people from abroad to teach English in Japan. Ishii, who was an avid surfer and ocean lover, listed Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa among her top three choices for placement.

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