808Aliens Blog

Why do international students pick Hawai’i as their language learning destination

Ava Rose 

Why Hawai’i?

There are many reasons why people choose Hawai’i as their vacation destination, but why an English language learning destination? Working in the education field for nearly a decade has opened my eyes to all the other potential reasons that international students would come here to study and ones that I and many local residents probably take for granted. Hawai’i is on the list of spring break destinations like Miami or Tiajuana, but language learning is not one reason we would think of. Hawai’i has unique wildlife, beautiful nature, a special melting pot of languages and cultures, and a relaxed lifestyle that attracts these students.

Student demographics

A little background of where the students come from. Most international students come from Switzerland, which is another question of why so many are from there. “Their English is good enough!” we would think. But they have their reasons which will be covered in another blog. The next major country that makes up most of the student demographic is Japan, then South Korea. It trickles down to less than 10% after South Korea. Other demographics come from Germany, France, Italy, Chile, Canada, Belgium, Thailand, and Mongolia to name a few. The age range is drastic for those wondering. Students can be as young as 17,  and the oldest I had was in their 70’s. There’s no limit to starting or continuing learning. Like Michaelangelo said, “I am still learning.”


Each country’s residents have their reasons. We will only look at the top three student demographics, Japan, Korea, and Switzerland. Those from Japan choose Hawai’i because it has always been one of their top destination places, but also because they can still get around O’ahu easily because many people know Japanese as well. They are not as anxious to speak English because there will be at least one person who can speak Japanese to them.

This also happens to be the reason that some Koreans also come to Hawai’i, but the main reason I see from the students is because they want their children to have more freedom than back in their home country. Korea is known for its intense academic lifestyle and the American academic life seems more relaxed. Many Koreans that come to Hawai’i also bring their children so that they can live a more free life. Their children’s happiness is their top priority and learning English allows them to achieve that.

Swiss students want to come to Hawai’i because of the TV shows they watch such as Hawai’i Five-O or Magnum PI, and more recently NCIS: Hawai’i and Doogie. A Disney classic, Lilo and Stitch, is another reason students from Switzerland want to come to Hawai’i because of the surfing in the movie. As many people know Switzerland is a landlocked country and even though they do have an indoor man-made surf machine it does not beat the real thing. Our nature and wildlife are also major attractions to the Swiss students because they could never have the same kind of experience anywhere close to Hawai’i’s. Swimming with manta rays at night on Hawai’i Island, taking an open-door helicopter tour on Kauai, and even horseback riding on the sandy North Shore beaches of O’ahu. Even though they have their very own breathtaking mountains, lakes, and rivers; Hawai’i is a slice of paradise.

All students want to be able to speak to the “locals”, but little do they know that when speaking to the locals you need to learn another language, Hawai’i Pidgin. This is a lesson plan I do every Thanksgiving week and it always surprises students that that is what is spoken and not standard English. I always laugh inside when students want to speak to locals when there is a whole other world of pidgin that they have no clue about. I will talk about that in another blog as well.

What’s your reason?

Now that you’ve read why the three major demographics chose Hawai’i as their language-learning destination, what were your reasons? Are you a transplant? University student? Relocated worker?

My reasons are a little more personal. I moved here from the mainland to better use my Japanese for work and to also help my mother take care of my brother. It eventually spiraled into teaching English to non-native English speakers because my mom would still have trouble speaking English even after living in America for nearly 30 years. I didn’t want to see others feel the way my mother did or be berated by native speakers for their broken English. I want my students to feel comfortable and give them advice and personal anecdotes for their language learning journey.

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