The Aloha State

Story and Photo by Samantha Greig, Global Co-op

In Hawaii, Aloha is more than just a greeting. Aloha is a way of life and a symbol of love and acceptance that creates the beautiful island spirit. The spirit of Aloha manifests itself in the Hawaiian culture in a plethora of subtle ways that breathe even more life into the already enthralling magic of the islands. The Instagram worthy views are not the only things that bring people back to visit year after year. The culture of Hawaii is largely centered on the concept of Ohana, which means family. Here, Ohana encompasses much more than just relatives; the term can be applied to many different groups across society. This concept makes large communities feel smaller, bringing people closer together to create intimate bonds in a short period of time.  Although the mainland of the United States has various groups of interest that serve the same purpose, defining these groups as Ohana seems to solidify the connection between people, creating a more welcoming atmosphere. Humans, being social creatures, enjoy the companionship of others. Research has shown that having supportive relationships is an essential component of happiness and wellbeing. This specific element of Hawaiian culture within the community may be one of the reasons that Hawaii was named 2018’s happiest state.

I am currently in Hawaii doing my second co-op at an outpatient Physical Therapy (PT) clinic. I have heard the term Ohana on multiple occasions during my short time here, but the concept gained a new meaning for me after a recent experience at work. The owner of the company I am working at had just discharged a patient from PT services, but told her that she would always be part of this PT Ohana. The owner then thanked the patient for allowing him to treat her. The patient was told that she was welcome to come back at any time, during any point in her life, for a free check-up. This type of pro bono work is generally unheard of in the rest of the United States because free check-ups take up valuable time that the company could instead be using to make money. The therapist-patient relationship that is emphasized at this clinic goes beyond that of a service provider and recipient. Compassion and understanding is truly emphasized as an essential component of creating the special Ohana bond that characterizes the spirit of Aloha.

Another way the Aloha spirit is expressed in Hawaii is the concept of “Island Time.” The easy, go-with-the-flow nature of Hawaiians, induced by never ending sun and an abundance of pineapples, leads to this so-called “Island Time.” Although important appointments have set times, the pace of life in Hawaii is far more fluid than that of the mainland. There is less rush to complete menial tasks and if large waves are in the forecast, those take priority over anything else scheduled.

Many of us take on a flexible attitude while on vacation, but adapting to it as a way of life is trickier than it may seem. Expect long, leisurely answers to yes or no questions, appointments that run into one another and freeway speed limits that are more likely to be seen in residential areas throughout the rest of the States. After the initial disarray of adjusting to “Island Time” comes a more nonchalant approach to living and working in paradise. Aloha again manifests itself in enjoying the little tasks of life. People do not mind being late if it means that when they are taken in for an appointment, they are receiving quality care that is delivered along with compassion and meaningful conversation.

Aloha is a term that is thrown around often and covers many broad concepts. Its deeper meaning stems from the cultural and spiritual roots of native Hawaiians which carry great significance. It is the embodiment of life, the appreciation between loved ones and the salute to new friends. The people of these beautiful islands embrace Aloha and sweep the rest of us along with them until we too can personify this philosophy.