When I first moved to Hawaii, I was only supposed to stay for six months. I was working the latest in a string of (underpaid) entry-level jobs, this time in sports marketing, and my friends were already worried about my never-ending intern status. When I took the short-term gig in Hawaii, they all laughed and shook their heads, wondering when I'd actually start my life.
They were right that the six-month job didn't lead to my future career, but it did lead me to Hawaii and it was in Hawaii that I learned that you don't start life, you live it. During that time, I read all the Hawaii books and websites, and I created a bucket-list of things to do. I hiked Diamond Head; I snorkeled; I went to farmers' markets and ate crazy and beautiful things; I found breathtaking hidden beaches; I swam with sharks; I booze-cruised; I took pictures of rainbows; I learned to stand-up paddle board; I attempted, and failed at, surfing; I said "aloha" and "mahalo" like I was local; I tried spam musubi; I fell in love with acai bowls; I fell in love with the North Shore; and I fell in love with banyan trees. (I pretty much fell in love with everything except shave ice with azuki beans -- I still can't come around on that.) I met an amazing ohana.
And then, like that, the six months were up. I flew back home and started looking for the next job -- the one that would help tell me what to do with my life -- and I was totally miserable. I know job searching is the absolute worst and enough to drive anyone to insanity and depression, but what I was feeling was different than anything I'd experienced before. In just six months, Hawaii had taught me how to live and I wanted to be there.
What I missed most about Hawaii were not the tourist-y, postcard things you immediately think of. I missed biking to my favorite yoga class on the North Shore, finding random geckos in the house, playing real-life "Angry-Birds" by trying to peg a friend's kayak with slingshot water-balloons, buying three dollar red ginger at the farmers' market each week just because I thought it looked so cool, finding sand in my bed, the fact that it is appropriate to wear jorts at all times, how one hike can take you through both a jungle and a pine forest, my local beach buddy Larry who would make me palm tree hats and leave some of his spear-fishing catch in my fridge for dinner (you never really do get over the shock of opening your fridge to find a whole dead fish), walking down the beach and popping into friends' houses to have a beer at sunset, and having Diamond Head and the Waikiki lights take your breath away every time.
So I moved back.
To this day, my friends and family probably still think that the perfect weather (75 and sunny everyday) or crystal blue water brought me back to the islands. While I do love these things about Hawaii -- it's hard to get over the realization that people pay thousands of dollars each day to vacation where you live -- the aloha spirit is what called me back; there was simply nowhere else I could imagine living life so fully.
I still have my one-way ticket stub in my drawer of treasures because moving back to Oahu was the scariest and most amazing thing I have ever done. I can't speak for everyone who has moved here and I definitely can't compare my experience with people who are born in Hawaii, but I believe that you really can't "get" what Hawaii is all about until you've experienced it personally. It's like when you find someone who went to the same small high-school as you; you are both instantly part of a special club that no one from the outside can really understand or appreciate. In my experience, Hawaii is a magical never-never-land full of loving people and unbelievable land. It sounds cliche to talk about the "aloha spirit" to my friends and family on the mainland, but the aloha spirit is very, very real. It is about community and friendship and positivity and love, and it is vibrant and strong and totally addictive.
There are, of course, a few things I'm not very fond of in Hawaii: seven dollar cereal, not being able to watch my Tar Heels play at a normal time of day, paying $1,300 each time I want to go back home for a wedding, seeing friend after friend leave the island for a military deployment, a new job, or just because it's time for them to move on. The questions "So, when are you going to get this Hawaii thing out of your system?" and "What is your plan?" are constants when you move to a tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific.
I'm often asked if I get "island fever." People back home say they could never live so far removed from everything and everyone else. The whole living-on-a-rock-in-the-middle-of-nowhere thing is surreal, but it also forces you to approach life a little differently. There's nowhere else where friends band together so easily and loyally, and where people feel lucky to be alive every time they step outside and catch a glimpse of the mountains or the ocean. You just don't get jaded here. There never can be too many majestic sunsets or gentle trade wind breezes, and I still appreciate the sliver of ocean I can see from my apartment, every apple banana bunch from my coworkers' trees, and every well-made acai bowl.
I know I won't stay in Hawaii forever (I have to continually remind my parents of this), but I am so glad I bought that one-way ticket four years ago. Hawaii has been the adventure of a lifetime, the lessons from which I'll carry with me forever.