UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The distance between Penn State and Hawaii is 4,766 miles, such is the rare trip that Penn State softball sophomores Reina Furuya and Maegan Tupinio both decided to make two years ago to receive a world-class education and play Division I softball.
With the average annual temperature 25 degrees higher in Hawaii than in State College, the looming question is why make the extensive trip east to wake up to snow five months a year rather than to the sounds of the ocean crashing up against the soft, warm sand?
"I just like the education system on the East Coast," said Tupinio. "It's different. My brother lives on this side of the country, so I've been here before. I just wanted to do something different, and I really liked Penn State. It's well known in Hawaii, so I wanted to do something that would make the people there [in Hawaii] proud of me."
For Furuya, her answer is similar to that of Tupinio's, but incorporates her freshman year in Happy Valley to evaluate the entire expedition.
"If you asked me a year ago I would've just said academics and softball, but now that I have a year under my belt, I love it here," said Furuya. "The whole atmosphere, including the academics and coaches, it's just fun to be around with football and watching other sports compete, it's just a fun college town to be around."
Three years ago both Furuya and Tupinio were seniors in high school. And, despite growing up just 11 miles apart - Furuya in Waipahu and Tupinio in Wahiawa - neither really knew each other until they both decided on Penn State.
That last sentence is not entirely true.
"I knew of her [Tupinio]," said Furuya. "I played against her. But I never really got to know her until I got here."
For Tupinio, her knowledge of Furuya is a little bit different. Because Hawaii is such small compilation of islands, both played against each other all the time.
"I definitely knew Reina more than she knew me," said Tupinio. "She's a well-known player on the islands."
The two Hawaiians have helped each other adapt to the different environment up along the east coast of the United States, but the move from Hawaii to Penn State was far from a walk in the park.
"Oh my gosh! I do [miss the warmth]," said Tupinio. "No offense, but this winter was terrible."
Keeping in touch with family back in Hawaii has been a challenge that both have had to overcome. Each has had to deal with the six-hour time difference to talk to their loved ones. When it's Noon here in State College, the sun is rising in Hawaii.
Together, Furuya and Tupinio have brought their tropical culture to Penn State, culture that is rarely experienced in central Pennsylvania.
"I like just listening to the way that they talk," said senior Kasie Hatfield. "Even just the way they say certain words is really cool, so it's just fun to have them around."
If you ask Furuya or Tupinio, they will both agree that Hawaiian food is what they miss the most of home during their time at Penn State.
"I definitely miss the food at home," said Furuya. "I just love food so much. Here I can get burgers, fries and pancakes, but at home I can get the Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian food. Love it."
Their teammates aren't complaining though because Furuya and Tupinio have not only introduced them to new cuisine, but they also have a knack for finding the best local restaurants.
"The food that they introduced to us is really cool because they eat a lot of rice and spam," said sophomore Macy Jones. "They find the best sushi places in State College, too, so that helps a lot."
On the field, Furuya and Tupinio's relaxed, vacation-like mindsets have helped calm their teammates battle through frustrating mishaps.
"They're actually our calming forces," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "So when everybody else is bouncing off the walls, they're the ones just chilling and going with the flow."
Penn State wasn't always a certainty.
"When I first came here I thought everything would be so big, and I wouldn't really know people," said Tupinio.
Now, Penn State is a certainty.
"Everything here is well put together, and everyone is very close," said Tupinio. "I feel like I am a part of a family here, and I love it. I love the feeling of tradition and just the values that everyone has here."
The fusion of cultures, highlighted by the two Hawaiian sophomores has provided a balance among the team. A diverse balance that Lehotak thinks reflects the power of college athletics.
"You get so many people from different cultures and different areas of the country that teach everybody, whether it's about their culture or what they are about," said Lehotak. "It's awesome."