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I moved from NYC to live in a Hawaiian penthouse with 19 strangers. Co-living helped me form adult friendships.

Kaitlyn Cheung   

I moved from NYC to live in a Hawaiian penthouse with 19 strangers. Co-living helped me form adult friendships.
  • I moved from New York City to Hawaii to reside in a co-living space with 19 strangers.
  • I formed incredible friendships and had the adventure of a lifetime.

Last fall, I took a leap of faith and traded the concrete jungle of New York City for the tranquil shores of Honolulu.

After six months of living in NYC, the winter blues finally caught up to me and I began to seek a different way of living.

I stumbled upon Surfbreak HNL, a penthouse where co-living and coworking come together for digital nomads.

The home is located on the entire top floor of a high-rise, where the walls were knocked down and rebuilt to form 20 rooms in a circle surrounding a common space, almost like a college-dorm floor.

The penthouse is a 10-minute walk from Waikiki Beach, and the private rooms range from smaller spaces with a twin to corner suites with king beds. A room costs between $1,500 and $2,850 a month, depending on the size.

After speaking to a previous resident of the house, I applied to live in it.

From application to move-in, I didn't know what to expect

After sending in my application online, I had a 30-minute interview and virtual tour of the space with the property manager.

During it, we discussed my goals for moving to Honolulu, my hobbies, and my personality.

A week later, I received an email telling me I was accepted into the house. Since I originally planned to stay for two months, I packed only one suitcase and hopped on a one-way flight.

As I toured the floor, current residents whizzed by, some cooking in the kitchen or heads-down on their corporate laptops, others clad in their swimwear heading to the beach.

Each room is furnished with the basics, including fresh bed linens and a desk because most people in the house are remote workers.

The kitchen was stocked with basic ingredients, and we shared things like dishware, cookware, and communal camping gear.

Living with 19 other people was a lifestyle adjustment

For someone who was learning to deal with uncertainty, moving to Honolulu knowing no one was a personal challenge.

As soon as I met my 19 roommates, the experience was a whirlwind of excitement and perpetual busyness. There was never a dull moment.

During a typical week, we would go out to dance and surf after work, then hike on the weekends.

As an introvert, staying sane in a house full of active people was challenging. I'd often find myself escaping the chaos by walking to Waikiki Beach, ordering an acai bowl at Sunrise Shack, and watching the sunset.

Although I loved the constant activity, I also found it important to keep my priorities clear and carve out time to rest and recharge.

I loved connecting with my fellow residents, who were remarkably open

Unlike many of my friends on the continental mainland, everyone at Surfbreak seemed genuinely excited about exploring new places.

It can be difficult as an adult to break the barrier of small talk and get to know someone on a deeper level, but when you see the same people 24/7, vulnerability comes easy.

I noticed most of my conversations with others focused on the human experience of living, not where we went to school or where we worked.

I made close friends in the house and enjoyed getting to know my housemates on such a deep level.

Many people find that forming close friends as adults is hard but co-living effortlessly and quickly breaks down barriers to forming adult friendships like time, distance, and vulnerability.

Although I no longer live in the house, I still have a friend group from when I did. And, to this day, I connect with other Surfbreakers who have lived in the house before or after me.

Surfbreak provided an amazing experience, but it doesn't reflect what it's actually like for many folks living in Hawaii

Living in the Surfbreak house for a few months gave me a glimpse into exciting expatriate life in Hawaii, but not what living in Hawaii as a local is really like.

It's important for expats to appreciate the history and culture of the islands, which is something we visitors don't always do well.

After all, Hawaii has a rich heritage, and temporary residents are responsible for respecting and protecting it.

I encourage anyone else who chooses to live in Hawaii temporarily or for the long haul to do their research, support local businesses and artisans, and participate in cultural activities with respect and humility.

By doing so, we can ensure that our presence in Hawaii is not just a personal adventure, but also a positive and respectful contribution to the community and the land we've come to love.

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