I’ve noticed that, as people, we talk a lot about how this person or that person has changed or provided a positive impact on our lives. But have you ever thought about how a place can change you?
“Nā mea`ike honua”–the wisdom of the world
When living in Hawai’i, I often came across the idea of “Ike Honua,” or “sense of place.” I grew up moving around quite often and have so far continued to do so in my adult life. I am twenty-five years old and I have lived in 12 states, not counting time spent abroad in Germany, my semester of studying in London, or my summer spent backpacking other cities in Europe. Fun fact I just discovered–I have lived in 18 different homes. And the crazy thing is that I know that every location had a hand in shaping my identity. I notice that every place leaves its little traces on me, for better or for worse, and that some places do completely change my world view. My experience isn’t an anomaly, one study has found that the deep historical roots and cultural values of a place play a huge role in the lives of its inhabitants.
I would consider myself an extremely empathic person–I can’t watch the news without getting upset about the tragedies other people have experienced. Part of this may just be my personality, sure, but I also think it has a lot to do with moving around and seeing all different walks of life. After wondering about this for a bit, I found a few studies that show that travel not only makes people more empathic and open-minded, but also more trusting of people in general.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. . .Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”
Though my early life of moving around definitely made me a more open-minded person, it wasn’t until I was eighteen that I had a say in where I lived. Eager to see what life in a city was like, I decided to move to Boston for college.
That city was the first place I felt as my own, and where the culture of the place reflected my own ideals. I fell in love for the first time in its streets. I became an adult. Boston teased out the identity that I couldn’t explore as a teenager in Virginia. I identified with its history of fighting for independence because I was doing the same thing. But the physicality of the place was still definitely a huge factor in my affection for it. I love the blend of the old and new in Boston–the skyscrapers towering around the old state house.
Its weird, in a way, because sometimes I feel like I’m still carrying the city, in miniature, inside somewhere; I can still picture the snow-lined streets of Government Center, feel the sweat beading down my neck as I wait for the T, watch the ducklings trace their fading paths in the ponds of the public gardens in spring. All the bars, bus stops, and cobblestone corners are just as familiar to me now, three years removed, as my own freckles or fingernails.
Then, I moved to Hawai’i and experienced another great identity shift. I watched the waves endlessly return to the shore, the stars illuminate the tall mountains, the whales spout and lift their curving tails before diving, and the steam rise from the bright lava that flowed into the ocean from a rocky cliff. I swam with dolphins, manta rays, fish, fish, fish, one shark, and truly realized that we all only inhabit one small part of this world.
“Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace. ”
Living on an island, the people of Hawai’i naturally value conservation. While I was there, laws changed and plastic bags completely disappeared from all stores. Though I have always recycled and generally considered myself to live my life in a nature-friendly way, this took on a more important role in my life.The natural living lifestyle definitely drew me in as well. I found myself going to farmer’s markets, eating fresh produce, and living an overall healthier life.
Hawai’i is a place of renewal, where nature sets the pace of life for the people living there. It reminded me the truly important things in life–caring for others, exploring my passions, and valuing beauty. And the messages that our greater society touts–that money can buy you happiness, that success is measured in material things–evaporated from my mind completely.
My friend made this video when she came to visit me. I think it captures some of the joy and wisdom of the place. I was very sorry to move away, but hope to return someday. Mahalo i ka nani–thank you for the beauty.
In the meantime, I will continue to experience what Portland has to offer and look forward to learning more from it. Have you ever experienced a change in your personality of inner values after living somewhere new?