Throwback Thursday: Deep Waters

During my junior year of studying at university, I had the opportunity to do something that most students can only dream of doing. I figured out that with the courses I had left to complete for my degree, I could take an entire semester off and still graduate on time! This was wonderful news to me. Should I get another job? Should I travel? What should I do with this semester? It was in the midst of these thoughts and quandaries that my roommate at the time told me all about her experience volunteering the previous summer in Hawaii. Volunteering…. Hmm… I liked the sound of that.

I applied to volunteer in several other countries but did not really hear anything back from the organizations I was looking to work with. As winter break quickly approached, I had to figure out something. So I sent in my application to volunteer at the University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii “just in case” nothing else worked out. They got back to me within a week and before I knew it, I was told to buy my plane tickets and be there for the end of December. I did not know anyone there or really anything about what I had just signed up for. But while my friends registered for the spring semester, I packed my bags with shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops, hopped on a plane. I wound up on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

My first impressions were positive. The people I would be working with seemed nice and we had a pretty good set up. We received free accommodations and food for volunteering, so there was really nothing to worry about. As I unpacked my suitcase and surveyed the room I would be sharing with my new roommate, I was filled with anticipation and excitement for the next six months.

In the midst of this blissful moment of reflection, I heard a loud knock on my door. “Hey, wanna come with us? We are getting a group together to go see some manta rays!” Standing at my door was a blonde gal a few years older than I. Sure, why not? She told me to find a flashlight and a ziplock bag, grab some snorkel gear, and head out to the truck in five minutes. So I quickly changed, rushed around my new home trying to find some gear, and jumped in the bed of the truck with ten other new faces.

We drove along the highway for about half an hour until we pulled up to a very (and I mean VERY) nice hotel, overlooking the ocean. It was dark already, but the lights from the hotel shone brightly to illuminate the surrounding area. What are we doing here? No matter. I followed my new found friends through a garden of the hotel and around one of the sides of the building. We soon approached some lava rocks that provided a barrier between the ocean and the hotel. “We are here!” someone in our group exclaimed.

(On a side note: I really had no idea what “Seeing some manta rays” would entail. In my mind I had this picture of our group slowly wading into waist-high water somewhere along the coast while manta rays just swam joyfully around us in the shallow water (think Sea World or the likes). Clearly I misunderstood.)

We dropped off our things on the rocks, placed our flashlights in the ziplock bags, and strapped on our snorkel masks and flippers. There was one area of the ocean illuminated by a spotlight from the hotel. We were going to swim out to where the light reflected on the surface of the ocean and look for manta rays there. I got this. I can swim! No problem… I think…? As I stepped closer to the edge of the rocks from which I would jump into the ocean (hopefully in sync with the waves crashing to and fro), the pit in my stomach dropped deeper and deeper.


I was in. There was no turning back now. All I could think to do was to continue swimming towards the light. The ocean seemed so vast and dark compared to the little light produced from my flashlight in its ziplock bag. But boy did I swim. The water was deep enough for me to know that I did not really want to take into consideration what could be under the surface. So I just kept swimming.

When I finally reached the hotel’s spotlight on the water, I was relieved to see the friendly faces of my fellow adventurers and to be reminded that I was not alone in our mission to see the manta rays. We ducked under the surface a few times to check out the illuminated water around us. Sure enough, we could see the shadowy figures of some huge manta rays. They drew in closer and closer as they seemed to dance around our feet kicking beneath the surface. What a wondrous sight!

After some time, we headed back to the rocks, climbed out and jumped back into our truck. As we drove back to our new home, we chatted about all that we had just experienced. Is this what the next six months will be like? I wondered. I had little idea of what would be in store for the months to come on that island, but I did know that as of that night my life would never be the same. This was the dawn of a new era; a time of taking risks and going on wild adventures; a time of simply saying “yes” and jumping into deep waters.

What is a risk you have taken that has led you on an awesome whirlwind of adventure? Are there any risks you are thinking of taking? Share in the comments below! 🙂

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset
“Deep Waters” in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

13 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Deep Waters”

    1. Hey, thanks! 🙂 this was actually a few years ago now, but I definitely hope to go back! Maybe sometime in the years to come, we will see. And if you ever have a season of life where you don’t know what to do too, definitely keep it in mind! It is a really awesome opportunity!

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  1. That sounds likes so much fun! When you first mentioned the manta ray-watching, I also just figured you’d all be wading in to about waist-deep to see them haha. I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii; maybe that’s a risk I’ll have to take. What kind of volunteering work did you do during your six months there?

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    1. Thanks for reading! Haha ok good, I am glad that I am not crazy in thinking I’d be wading into the water! 🙂 it is such an awesome place to go. I haven’t been to any of the other islands yet but the big island is like a second home to me. There is really so much to see and so many incredible adventures that will blow your mind. It is unreal.

      Well, at the university there are many capacities that you can volunteer in but basically all of them help the campus to run. Without volunteers there doing things like housekeeping, yard maintenance, kitchen work, construction, etc. the place wouldn’t really be able to run. When I was there I worked part time as a housekeeper and then part time in the kitchen. Then you have weekends off to explore the island or just hang out. It is really cool because there are people who come from literally all over the world. So even now we have really close friends all over the place, whom we can visit and hang out with when traveling. It is pretty sweet 🙂

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      1. Well that was an awesome opportunity for you, and that’s great to hear about the connections you made with people from all over. I’m not in college yet, but once there I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for any volunteer programs like this one, it sounds like it was incredible! Thanks for sharing

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  2. Mate, that must have been one crazy experience!!! That feeling of ‘what the hell did I just do’ feeling you get afterward is worth everything that comes before. I hope’ll continue to have those moments in the future 🙂
    As for me, I think volunteering in Madagascar for 2 months was a cut above all my other adventures. Living on a small island off the mainland with no electricity, running water etc was definitely something! Which reminds me I should write a short story about that experience soon!

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