The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Op-Ed: Finding and Making a Difference is Easier Than Ever Before


In my freshman year, I was in a small online Chinese class with students from all over the world. Even though I was in Virginia, I simultaneously had classmates in California, Wisconsin, New Jersey, California, Pakistan, and Panama. 

One day my Panamanian classmate, Jaime, was speaking when suddenly there was a massive, loud explosion in his background. A few seconds later, a teacher (from his brick-and-mortar school) jetted into the empty room that Jaime was in, and briskly told him they needed to evacuate. Jaime told our class he had to go, and of course, our teacher told him to go and be safe. 

About 15 minutes later, Jaime dialed back into class, but this time from outside. Apparently the local power plant had caused the explosion, which wasn’t an entirely unusual occurrence. Our class was astounded; seeing something like that live, from across the globe, was eye-opening. 

At Punahou, while we [hopefully] aren’t witnessing explosions in each other’s backgrounds as we attend classes and meetings online, we are having unique opportunities to experience different, and sometimes challenging situations, which we’ve been taught to value, and even seek out. 

I recently interviewed the directors of the Wo International Center, Mrs. Paula Arias and Dr. Robyn Vierra. Dr. Vierra, the Director of Global Education, shared, “This idea of ‘engaging with difference,’ and understanding the world we live in… is of the utmost importance.” 

Global exchange is the ultimate way to ‘engage with difference,’ and the best parts of it, I think, are the people that you meet. Speaking with others, hearing their stories, learning from them, and learning about their daily realities is incredibly interesting and impactful. 

In the summer before 8th grade, I was fortunate to attend the Student Global Leadership Institute (SGLI). SGLI is a really neat (middle and high school) program hosted by the Wo International Center, where students from around the world gather at Punahou to collaborate on a themed service project pertaining to a global issue. Students are then challenged to return home and ignite positive change in their own local communities. 

Riley Murakami ’21 also had the opportunity to attend the middle school SGLI program. Reflecting on her time there, Riley said, “Having lived here in Hawaii my whole life, I’ve always been surrounded by such diverse and beautiful cultures; so I love to, when given the chance, [immerse] myself in others. Rooming with someone from India, a culture which I have never been very familiar with, was an amazing learning experience. My roommate and I got close, and she told me about her home and family…. It was so cool to get to learn about a country from a person who was the same age as me, who had similar experiences that were so the same — yet so different because of where we [are] from!”

Despite being currently based at home, via modern technology we have access to virtually the entire world. Because the entire planet is facing a similar situation, finding ways to synergize and interact with a greater number of people is now so much simpler. 

While perhaps less than optimal, in an online environment it is still possible to recreate those meaningful aspects of in-person collaboration and global exchange. We can embrace uncertainty, and find better ways to help both our local and global communities. We have the resources — you have the resources — so now it’s only a matter of reaching out ourselves. 

How will you choose to ‘engage with difference’?

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