Destination Hawaii: Steel toes and surfing

Featured Image: Students enrolled in Travel’s Impact on Culture & Enviroment January Term course take surfing lessons at Ukumehame Beach Park in Lahaina, Hawaii. Doug Kennedy | Courtesy

A planned trip to Maui, Hawaii was delayed due to an unexpected layover in Dallas, Texas.


The last thing I expected to be doing on our one-week trip to Maui was bull-riding and line dancing in Texas, but after the FAA glitch, there was no shortage of flight delays and cancellations throughout the world. However, the professor of my J-Term class, Dr. Doug Kennedy, certainly made sure that the twelve students on his trip had a blast, no matter what state we were in. Anyone on the trip would confirm that of all the places to be “stuck” for two days, Dallas was definitely not a bad option.

The day we landed in Dallas was mostly spent in the airport, but the second day was full of exploring the western bliss of Fort Worth and the Stockyards Station. After a hotel breakfast of massive, Texas-shaped waffles (apparently, everything is Texas-sized in the Lone Star State), the group visited the Dallas Museum of Art for a few hours. Next, we headed to Fort Worth, where we explored the exciting activities around the downtown area, such as the World’s Largest Human Maze and the Texas Trail of Fame. After visiting the local shops, we ran to the streets where every day at 4:00 p.m., there is a “parade” of long-horn cattle and horses. Before leaving the area, Hannah Wright (‘26) and I decided that we couldn’t leave Texas without riding a true, Texas mechanical bull. I rode first, staying on for 50 seconds as the tour group and people passing by rooted us on. “You own that thing!” Doug exclaimed, clearly entertained by our shenanigans.

Once returning back to the hotel from our group outing, Bailey Brown (‘26), Kylie Brown (‘25), Hannah and I decided that to fulfill our western experience, we absolutely had to attend the famous Cowboys Red River. We started the night off with line-dancing lessons underneath the bedazzled saddle disco ball. Thursday night was the two-step partner dancing, where we danced with people from all over the world. After about an hour and a half, we took a break from dancing to play pool and take another ride on a mechanical bull.

After we finally arrived in Hawaii, we immediately started our adventure due to our delay in Dallas. One of my favorite activities from Maui was hiking the crater and Mt. Haleakala. I would argue hiking in the bamboo forest  was the most difficult part because it was challenging to walk over the fallen bamboo and navigate through the stalks. After arriving at the 400-foot waterfall, the challenge of the hike was all worth it. 

Snorkeling and surfing were unforgettable experiences, as well; the coral reefs and aquatic life at the Natural Area Reserve were so clean and vibrant. This experience specifically enabled me to recognize the cruciality of environmental conservation, a core value of Virginia Wesleyan University. Although we didn’t see any sea turtles while snorkeling, we did get to see one when we were surfing, in addition to lots of whales. 

Students in Kennedy’s course work in the Taro Fields at the Kīpahulu Ohana. Doug Kennedy | Courtesy

The most impactful experience from Maui for me was the time we spent with the Kīpahulu Ohana, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve the environmental and cultural integrity of Maui. At first, I was not looking forward to being in the mud for hours pulling weeds, but I am so grateful for the opportunity we had to volunteer in the taro fields. Meeting with Auntie “Tweetie” Lind, one of the founders of the organization, was the highlight of the trip. Her desire to advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty and her passion for the work on the farm are admirable and I hope to embody her same qualities in my own life. 

From working in the taro fields to surfing to interacting with locals who were eager to “talk story,” every aspect of this adventure served to better inform me of Maui’s culture and environment. I am thankful for the awe-inspiring sights and the impactful opportunities we were presented with on the island.

To any student looking towards the possibility of pursuing a study away experience, I highly recommend it. I firmly believe in the value of fully immersing oneself in a different culture.

Ultimately, I am grateful that I took the Maui course because it opened my mind to the possibility of any adventure, waiting to be discovered. My only regret from this experience is that had I only known that we would end up in Dallas, I would have made sure to pack my cowboy boots, bedazzled country belt and cowboy hat…  I’ll make sure to bring it just in case on the next Hawaii trip!

Kaza Dayton