Hometown: Honolulu, Hawai’i Major: English Major; Asian Studies Minor
Why did you come to Bowdoin?
When searching for a college, I knew that I wanted to go somewhere that offered a strong liberal arts education and was located on the East Coast. Bowdoin fit those criteria! And, this may seem weird to some of you, but the College’s close proximity to water was another critical deciding factor: Being from a tiny island in the Pacific, I just couldn’t imagine being landlocked! One of my favorite pastimes is fishing off the shores of Hawai’i, and though the beaches of Maine are quite different from those of Hawai’i, for me there is something comforting about being near the ocean.
Why did you decide on your major?
As far back into my childhood as I can remember, I have always had a fascination with books. My parents have tons of pictures of me smiling contently while being read to as a baby. I came to Bowdoin intending to major in English, and though I considered many other fields before settling on English, I guess my love for literature was just too strong! Furthermore, English is such a broad discipline that allows you to delve into so many other fields, including history, politics, psychology, and sociology. When studying literature, there’s really no telling what you might encounter!
What's the best class you've ever taken at Bowdoin
Hmmm, I’ve taken such a wide variety of courses—from theater to philosophy, Chinese to biology—and they’ve all contributed to who I am in some way or another, so it’s difficult to narrow it down. One class in particular with Takeyoshi Nishiuchi in Japanese titled Medieval Japanese Philosophy, Aesthetics and Rhetoric has forever changed the way I conceptualize the world around me, and the way that I interact within it. Professor Nishiuchi is absolutely wonderful, and though the subject matter he teaches is serious stuff, he’s a pretty funny guy at heart.
Professor Aviva Briefel’s Introduction to Narrative, and visiting Professor Susan Burgraff’s Infant and Child Development are two classes that were truly rewarding, as well. I especially enjoyed volunteering at the Bowdoin Children’s Center and working with toddlers while studying about child psychology.
What extracurricular activities do you participate in?
For all four years of my collegiate career I have been a member of the Bowdoin Men’s Cross Country team, and have been known to many as, “G-Man.” I’ve been running competitively since middle school, and training and competing in Maine and throughout the East Coast has only furthered my love of the sport. Running “nice 12 milers” in the fall amidst the falling leaves while taking in the natural beauty of the Maine wilderness is something I will never forget. I have also enjoyed traveling throughout New England to run at places like Franklin Park in Boston for the Open New England Championships. Go BBXC!
Upon arriving at Bowdoin four years ago, I really wanted to share Hawaiian culture and the Aloha Spirit with others, so I founded the Bowdoin Hawai’i Ohana (ohana means “family” in Hawaiian). As the leader of the Hawai’i Club I have worked with other cultural groups on campus to spread cultural awareness and appreciation, and have also made some wonderful friends in Residential Life, Dining Services, Student Activities, and the Admissions Office while working on community outreach programs. During my time at Bowdoin I have nurtured the Hawai’i Club from a small organization that held our first Luau in Moulton, to a organization that holds numerous cultural events each year and is recognizable not only on campus, but in the Brunswick community (and beyond!), as well.
I have also been a member of the ResLife staff, and worked as a tutor in local elementary schools for the America Reads program.
What's your best Bowdoin memory?
Definitely, the thing that I will remember most about Bowdoin is the great people I have met here. There are some intelligent students, faculty and staff members walking around campus, and taking the time to actually stop and get to know them has been invaluable. Such extraordinary people are what make Bowdoin special.
What's your strangest or funniest experience while at Bowdoin?
Brunswick restaurants, beware! Forget China Rose! See you later, Asian Grill! Last year my roommates Boon, Khoa, and I had our very own “restaurant” right in Coles Tower! Boon and I are pretty ambitious chefs, and Khoa, well, he is a pretty avid “taste tester” (and we can leave it at that).
We decided that our meals in the dining hall just weren’t enough to satisfy our big appetites, so every night around midnight we would take study breaks to cook and eat our version of good food. Using our creativity and whatever primitive technology was available, we were able to whip up some pretty good cuisine—from Thai curries and pad thai to Japanese okonomiyaki and yaki soba! All of our friends said that our room smelled like a restaurant, and to be honest, it was a bit “aromatic” at times. Going along with the idea, Boon and I had an ingenious plan to start our own late night catering and delivery service right here on campus, but that idea, unfortunately, fell through. Oh well.
Have you done any independent study/honors projects?
I am currently doing an independent study with Natsu Sato in Asian Studies, reading Japanese literature in its original tongue. It has been quite challenging, but a rewarding experience as well, and Sato-sensei is simply awesome. Through her I have learned that you can tell a lot about a people and their culture by reading the literature of their time.
Have you studied away during your time at Bowdoin?
Last spring I studied away at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. I have been studying Japanese since high school and felt that living amongst the Japanese was really the best way for me to polish my language skills. Much more than this, however, I chose to go to Tokyo because I have a deep fascination with modern Japanese culture, especially the current tension between Japanese tradition and the “old” ways, as well as the influences of the West. Meeting Japanese people and living with the Takasaki family while abroad truly provided me with a deeper look into the Japanese psyche, and allowed me to reflect on my multi-ethnic identity, as well.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I have decided to pursue a career in commercial aviation, so I will be heading off to flight school next fall. I have always been fascinated with flying planes since flying inter-island a lot during my childhood (my family used to live on the island of Moloka’i), and I would often pretend-play that I was a pilot. I would be content flying the beautiful Hawaiian skies, but it would be a dream come true to fly trans-Pacific to Asia (and elsewhere around the globe). So, keep your ears open, and hopefully one day you will hear, “This is your captain, Ryan Gillia, speaking…!,” while you are on your way to paradise or far off lands.
Is there anything else about Bowdoin or your experiences here that you would want prospective students to know?
Bowdoin is a very accommodating place for students who want to assume a leadership role and make a change in the world. I would encourage students to become invested in the College community. Make Bowdoin yours, and share your gift of leadership with others. I would also say to study hard, but don’t forget to get out there and mingle with people! Needless to say that students, faculty and staff are Bowdoin’s best assets. It would be such a shame to leave this place knowing only Hawthorne, Longfellow, and Hatch! (no offense to the library junkies!) Also, always try to keep others in mind; it’s difficult to explain “the Aloha Spirit,” but let me just say that if you have compassion for others, they will (learn to) have compassion for you.
What is your favorite bit of New England culture?
Without a doubt, the word, “wicked.” It makes me smile every time.