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Penn Hawaii Club held a Hot Hawaiian night in 2014.

Credit: Courtesy of the Penn Hawaii Club

Among many cultural clubs at Penn, only one is designated to a state.

The Penn Hawaii Club brings together students from Hawaii to connect over their shared culture. The club exists to provide a community for its members who have shared heritage in the Hawaiian islands. Members also use the club as a way to share their culture with the rest of the Penn community, even extending to alumni  with whom  they connect with regularly.

Currently between 20 and 30 undergraduate and graduate students actively participate in club events. According to the Penn Admissions website, the Class of 2019 includes 10 students from Hawaii.

Last week, the club gave a free hula lesson to audience members in Hoover Lounge in Vance Hall.

Club members use events like these to spread their passion for their native culture, which they are quick to say is distinct from the rest of American culture.

Beyond dancing, members forge bonds over food. Typical Hawaiian dishes feature lots of fresh fish and rice. Wharton sophomore and Co-Luau Chair Deena Char said that traditional Hawaiian sushi is much better than options she has found on campus.

Every year the Penn Hawaii Club hosts a luau. As Co-Luau chair, Char has already begun organizing the event, which will take place in April. At the event, members will again teach attendees how to hula dance. For both food and entertainment, the club expects to charge attendees $15.

Despite its focus on students with Hawaiian roots, Char said that the club provides “a strong Asian community, [that is] so accepting of diversity.

“Most people from Hawaii can’t count all their ethnicities,” she added. Among those ethnicities, Char said that Native Hawaiian, Japanese and French cultures are all very influential. Cultural fusion is the norm.

This fusion, however, stands in stark contrast to the culture Char and her fellow Hawaiians found at Penn.

“It’s a slow, mellow lifestyle,” Char said. “Here everything is very fast paced.”

Char said that she found this distinction especially apparent in her Wharton classes. “You wouldn’t be expected to wear a suit in Hawaii — that’s way overdressed,” she said.

So distinct was Penn from her Hawaiian roots that Char was originally concerned that after spending months at Penn, she would lose touch with her home culture. She worried her accent might not be the same.

“As soon as I got off the plane [in Hawaii], everything just switched,” Char said. “It all came rushing back to me.”

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