Understanding Hawaiian Ohana and the American Culture: Looking in between

written by Exan Sharief from the Philippines

The Hawaii community is an interesting place to unlearn in order to learn things in another perspective. While my first week exposure on the American culture started in Washington DC where I had the opportunity to talk to the ordinary people I met on the streets regarding their views and practices as part of the continental US, I could not deny my excitement as I listened to the stories of diversity by the people of this Hawaii island territory. It is a blessing that I was placed for work at EPIC Ohana where family is given a prime importance. In the same fashion, I am lucky to be hosted by Uncle Roger, my parent from a Chinese descent.

Both of these fateful coincidence have taught me new erudition and continue to open my understanding on how the US and its American practices have truly influenced their ways of life. I came to realize then that our Professional Fellowship Program wasn’t just about the concepts, practices and strategies on economic empowerment. Sure it did provide a leverage on my intent to get a good grasp on how to raise the economic capacity of the community through getting involved in the planning and assessment of the existing programs of EPIC Ohana, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet brilliant individuals who have seen themselves how communities are empowered and how their potentials are directed.

During the first Friday of this month of May, our office did a lunch potluck with a mother’s day theme. Right there, everyone prepared a delicacy and shared its relevance with their family bond. I have been sitting to discuss with program managers on youth circle, ohana conference, ohana connections, HI HOPES and youth leadership board, but at that quick one-hour lunch period, I acquired knowledge that are more than what is written on reports and proposals. I had the first-hand experience of behavioral uplift translated into an informal cultural exchange but institutionalized as a working office policy. Birthdays and graduations were announced, exemplary works were complemented and because I was new to the family, I had the privilege to start the informal sharing before the meal. What I brought was a “palapa,” a Meranao homemade spices, put in bread appetizers while others brought “Poke,” Spanish delicacies, French salads and many other mom’s recipes. I saw the assortment of food palate but one was a common favorite to everyone – the American dessert, Ice Cream. More than that, I had chit chats with my officemates on their admiration for the Filipinos in Hawaii who have ventured in making good businesses either in food, service or accessory items. Not far from the Filipino culture, the Hawaiian community, while diverse in composition, truly values family bonds especially with that of a mother to a child. So, I took advantage of the moment to share to them how a typical Filipino family looks like in the Philippines aside from those they came across here in the US.

On a separate occasion, I was able to share the concept of the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit in one of the program conceptualization for Princess Lili’oukalani Trust for the native Hawaiian children. I was in full admiration on how the Federal government manages to respect the multi-ethnicity composition of its population. I then attended this International Trade Seminar through the invitation of the International Hospitality Center, where I was able to connect the interrelation of the economic activities of the general American Hawaiian population with those from other countries. I understood how income and business unites the different cultures existing in Hawaii into exporting a single brand that represents them all.

The past two weeks in Hawaii gave a learning experience within and outside my work placement. I usually make the most of my stay here, so immediately after work, I visit different areas in downtown Honolulu. Several times, I got the casual talk with both the locals and the visitors who come from continental US. From them, I learned the importance of tourism as part of the State’s economic activities. Very significantly, I learned from them the power of referral between family members and circle of friends. This is nothing new to what I hear almost every single day from Uncle Roger, who happened to be a restaurant owner in Oahu. He shared how he had his education in the mainland before coming here in Hawaii. So, I had a bunch of comparative notes on the economic behavioral pattern from the mainland to the pacific. More than what I hear from him and the theoretical discussion, I was fortunate to be introduced to his American Chinese family as well as made part of the family workforce as each one contributes something to the family business. Luckily, my share was to simply help in the purchasing while I enjoy being treated with a tasty meal which I would take as more than just a compensation. Hearing all these stories on startup capitals that turned into successful businesses and the sacrifices of moving from Southern China to mainland US before going to Hawaii, I have seen the transitional progress into the American standard of living and kindness extended by the American culture in embracing newcomers from a variety of lineage.

Like that of a tree where branches grow in different directions yet united by a single trunk, the different backgrounds and origins of the families or Ohana living in the US, more particularly in Hawaii, are united by the common adherence to the American family values.


My Fellowship in the Aloha State is Like A Puzzle

written by Cristina Berlinschii from Moldova

Puzzles are a good way to encourage critical thinking and up to this point, I would compare my experience in the aloha state with such an activity. In order to successfully complete a puzzle, you must work with individual, disconnected parts to create the whole picture.

The first piece is the location, a world famous destination for tourists with tropical climates and swaying palm trees.

Then there are the workplaces where I am learning quite a lot. Now I know the branches of Government, how a bill becomes law in Hawaii, how people use their voice at the legislature, the process of voter registration and fighting voter suppression, the way people organize and mobilize when it comes to election security issues, youth education and advocacy, promoting peace and peacebuilding skills.

The third piece is my host family that is extraordinary. Mine are erudite people who love the tranquility of nature and the chirping of birds, watching movies and organized life. I entered their house as a guest and they treated me like a daughter.

The fourth part is extracurricular activities. Sailing on the catamaran and admiring dolphins was a great experience. I have enjoyed watching a spring school concert, attended a regognition reception at University of Hawai’i, watched a film based on the history of a local cheesecake-baking and a drug-fighting impresario, attended an art exhibition of the Young artists of Hawai’i at State Art Museum, and spent time on remote  beaches admiring the sparkling waves.32294467_1287339621399893_7683679767941349376_n

The fifth piece is the people I met and the culture that represent them. The Polynesian literature, music, culture and water sports are real attractions in Hawaii. Local people are more laid back here and they have a word when they are not on time (they blame “Hawaiian time”). They are happy to help out and really appreciate politeness. In Hawaii, being nice is the law.

All these pieces are working together to complete my puzzle, including the parts I have not yet discovered. Separated and scattered components are helping me develop new knowledge, broaden my horizons, and expand my appreciation for exploring different worlds. I am valorizing my culture while growing personally and interpersonally. After connecting all the parts, under the final photo are three printed words “learn and respect.”

Cristina Berlinschii MoldovaCristina at Pacific Asian affairs Council.jpg

Lake City

written by Kateryna Ryzhenko from Ukraine

My placement city is Chicago. It is the third most populated city in USA situated on the shore of a majestic Lake Michigan. Honestly, when PFP sent notification of my placement back in March, I though: big city, not that much nature and a lot of skyscrapers. And oh boy, was I wrong and should apologies to American Councils for doubting them in any way… The lake made all the difference. White spacious beaches, and green parks along them just take your breath away.

When you stand on the shore you can’t see the other side and it feels like you are standing on the seaside instead of the lake shore. I am not even mentioning azure color of the water on most days. Weather in this windy city can change momentarily, so it is a great view to observe when storm comes over the lake towards the city and in several minutes covers it. If you look long enough in the window you can see lightning striking tops of skyscrapers. A fascinating picture!


Questions are the best way to open up new horizons!

written by Veniamin Kizeev from Russia

When I found out that my Placement would be at the University of Utah, I did not know anything about Utah. I did not understand where I was going, so I decided to write to my supervisor as soon as I received his e-mail. I received a detailed answer, what is Utah, what should I take with me, even what clothes are best to take 🙂 But, most importantly, my supervisor Paul and my colleague Spencer made a detailed schedule of our meetings! It was great!

Veniamin at PFP Orientation

Then there was the pre-departure orientation in Washington. So many things you do not know! It’s unusual, and sometimes you feel helpless. The best way is to ask! Staff of the American Councils are really open people, ready to share their knowledge! Also, it was good idea to make a chat in WhatsApp, because you can always ask each other about something and also you can share your knowledge!

Veniamin U. of Utah


When I came to Utah, here you understand the value of the Professional Fellows Programs. There are an infinite number of opportunities for learning new experiences and cultures. People in Utah are friendly and willing to share their knowledge. I was lucky with my supervisor and colleagues. Every day I have at least 2 meetings, and sometimes 5-6. But, most importantly, I asked more questions and learned not to be afraid of not knowing something and not understanding. And it does not matter if it’s professional issues or everyday issues. One must never be afraid and ask, ask and ask 🙂

And of course the main test and new experience for me was the celebration of my birthday! I bought a birthday cake. But I did not know how to do it in the USA, so I shared with Spencer and Paul! It was magical. They made a meeting at lunch, and I met all our great team, told about what I do in Tomsk, about our city, about universities, about our culture, answered the questions about how we work and live! And my colleagues gave me a gift!

Veniamin Birthday Meeting

The main thing that I realized, do not be afraid to ask questions, to communicate with people and be yourself. We are very, very similar! We are people!

My PFP Experience

written by Ion Schidu from Moldova

My Fellowship in Boston, Massachusetts, it has been so intensive so far! Wow!

I should start by saying that Boston is an absolutely amazing city! It is one of the oldest cities in the United States, which played a key role in several events of the American Revolution; a city with phenomenal historical sightseeings and United States’ many firsts (first subway system, first public school, etc.). Also, Boston is known to be the home of the best and oldest universities and colleges in the world, such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and many others. Boston is also a very vibrant city, with many fun things to do and events to attend to for each and every one: sports lovers, technophiles, art enthusiasts or gourmands, you name it!

Sounds intriguing, isn’t it?!

From the first days of my fellowship, Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities – my fellowship placement – has facilitated my introduction to the US standards on the rights of persons with disabilities and connected me with professionals and events relevant to my field of expertise – human rights, including disability rights. Thus, in the following days after my arrival I had the opportunity to meet activists, students and distinguished professors of human rights from the University of Massachusetts Boston and other local universities, participated in a training on inclusive education for the Disability Commission staff, attended to a conference on minority health policy at the Harvard Medical School.


The next week continued with even more substance and intensity: I have assisted at the meeting of the Architectural Access Board (institution totally new to me) which is a collegial body that develops and enforces regulations designed to make public buildings accessible for use by persons with disabilities. On May, at the Supreme Judicial Court of for the Commonwealth I have assisted at a though-provoking hearing initiated by a person with disabilities against the Department of Housing and Community Development regarding its refuse to place people with disabilities in motels if other housing options don’t meet their needs.

At the same time, I have gladly accepted the invitation of my colleagues from the Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities (Disability Commission) to facilitate a brief induction training for the staff on the UN Human rights mechanisms and their interaction with Member-States. At this moment, I am involved in delivering a succinct assessment of the different aspects of work delivered by the Disability Commission, in order to contribute to improving the human rights based approach in the work of the Disability Commission.


When it comes to extracurricular activities, Boston has a lot to offer and I prefer to do a little of everything. I ran for a world without hunger and breast cancer, visited the Boston tattoo convention, had an inspirational tour at MIT, enjoyed the sightseeing of the Old Town and tried a few traditional national cuisines, volunteered in the support of those suffering from hunger and malnutrition in Massachusetts, met with the Boston’s underground nightlife and wandered through the oldest public park in the US. What an amazing experience!

Missing it Before Leaving it: American Kindness

written by Adi Pratama from Indonesia

Who doesn’t know the United States. Many prominent figures in the world come from this country. Technology, economics, scientific, almost all sectors become in this country become global gold standard.  No wonder many people dream to at least put their feet in this dreamy land. I am one of them. Going to the United States was one of my biggest dreams. And I was lucky this year I did not just realize my dream but also, what never crossed my mind before, in a country that known to be most competitive one in the world, I found a treasure of genuine kindness.

Last week one memorable thing happened at my worksite, DC Chamber of Commerce. My colleague Valentina was sick and our Supervisor, Margaret Singleton, not only allowed her to go to the doctor but also made sure there is a colleague of us who accompanied her to the doctor. Ms. Nathalie Harris and Ms. Jennie Orange took care of Valentina very well and take her to the doctor. Until the next day they keep checking if she doing fine already. Their concern for us made me and Valentina out of words to express our gratitude. Beside that, our President & CEO, Mr. Vincent Orange also always take time to talk to us to make sure all we need is there. He even sent us to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and give precious lesson from the experience (that I would tell you in another post).

I found another moment when I had the opportunity to visit and study at Destination DC, stakeholders who marketed tourism for Washington DC. At the beginning, I felt that I was coming in a wrong timing because it was a busy week for everyone there, but I was wrong. I was very well received. Ms. Terri Carter Human Resource Manager from Destination DC is happy to give me a brief tour to get around the awesome Destination DC office. Continued by Mr. Bruno Schwartz who is a Senior Manager of membership who kindly explained in detail how Destination DC works. All came and went because they actually have upcoming work, but they really devoted attention and also answered tons of my questions in detail. Ms. Letizia Sirtori and Ms. Lindsey Hill then accompanied me to lunch and was kind enough help me discuss about my outbound project that I will do in Indonesia. The most memorable moment was when after lunch I was invited to join the weekly staff meeting. President of Destination DC Mr. Elliot Fergusson welcomed me warmly and invited me to take a picture with the entire staff of Destination DC. He is very humble and nice. He willing to give a word or two for the activists of tourism in Indonesia through my vlog. I haven’t been there for a day, but already fall in love with this office.

Not only at Worksite, my two weeks with my Host family is also amazing. Lilia Murphy, my ‘Host mom’ treats me very well. I was very surprise when she cooks fried rice for dinner, just because I casually told her that I still need to adjust because I used to eat rice in Indonesia. On the weekend, Lilia kindly drove us to Baltimore and Annapolis on her precious day-off. Last Friday night she held a small dinner and invited some of her acquaintances to give me and host my brother from Brazil culture exposure which is very useful for us. The next day one of Lilia’s neighbors, Barbra kindly drove me and my Host Brother and accompanied us to the shopping center because my Host brother wanted to buy something before returning home to Brazil. All day, she spent his weekend with us and she did it with pleasure.

There is more that I can’t comprehend here. But those already touch my heart deeply. Not just a courtesy to be polite, but something sincere that is hard for us to forget. This country not only has great people indeed, but also people who have a wonderful heart with them. Therefore, I know, even before I go home, I will miss this country and its people very much.

Leave your worries aside and do your best to become a PFP Fellow!

written by Ece Karakus from Turkey

Two weeks have already gone since I got to Salem, Oregon and I have already started to feel myself privileged to be a part of this program. I have a great host family, the Chandlers, who are so welcoming that not only they try to do their best to make me feel at home, but also very generous in making plans for me to travel, meet new people and participate in local events to get a better understanding of the local community. So far, I have already volunteered in a popular local bicycle ride -“Monster Cookie Bicycle Ride” – participated in May Day celebrations in Salem with locals, and went to the Mexican festival Cinco de Mayo in Portland, of which I had no idea before I came here.

Despite being a professional program and offering the participants a great deal of opportunities regarding their professional occupation, I think Professional Fellows Program should also be acknowledged with what it offers to fellows regarding once in a lifetime experiences. As I have said although it has only been 2 weeks since I arrived in Salem, I have already made so many memories. My visit to Oregon coast, Pacific Ocean with my host family is one of those memories which I am very excited about to share with my relatives, friends when I am back at home 🙂

Also in my worksite, Governor’s Office of Oregon, I have such a lovely and inspiring supervisor, Nikki Fisher, that she has been setting up meetings for me to understand the functioning of the state government. I have so far met and get the chance to have a talk in diverse issues with state representatives, Governor’s policy advisors, and representatives of NGOs. But among all, I have had the privilege to meet with the Governor, Kate Brown herself, and even travel with her and her press secretaries to another city, Eugene, where I attended to certain events and meetings. I must say how lucky I felt being a part of it.

As a last word, all I want a say to those who has been thinking of applying the program:

Leave your worries aside and do your best to become a PFP fellow! You will never regret it 🙂

Ece at WorksiteEce at the Pacific Ocean with host family