Trading Mountains for Beaches

PROVO, Utah – Nov 18, 2020 – Most people would not move by themselves to an island they had never visited in the middle of a global pandemic. Stephanie Janczak, a senior studying therapeutic recreation and management at the BYU Marriott School of Business, is not one of those people. Janczak’s internship and graduation plans were altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, so she grabbed the opportunity to explore a new place while completing her final internship.

Before moving in August to the island of Oahu in Hawaii, Janczak had only traveled west of Utah a few times. “I'm originally from Indiana; I'm a Midwestern girl. I had only visited Utah once before coming to BYU,” Janczak says. “Moving to Hawaii by myself was terrifying. When I first arrived, I had to be in strict quarantine; I couldn’t even leave the property.”

Janczak’s first two weeks on the island were anything but relaxing. In fact, she describes her quarantine as stressful. "People from the government regularly called and checked up on me to make sure I was following the rules,” Janczak says. “Thankfully, I am living with my friend’s family in Oahu, and they are the most caring and compassionate souls. I consider them to be an extension of my family now.”

Feeling like a part of a family was a huge blessing for Janczak because, due to the pandemic, meeting new people has been a struggle. “Meeting people at a time like this where it is socially expected for us to stay away from each other is extremely difficult,” she says. “I have adopted a rhythm now where I go to work, come home, and then go to the beach or explore by myself. Isolation, which was at first a challenge, has now turned into a time of self-discovery.”

At the beginning of 2020, Janczak would never have guessed that she would be in Hawaii this fall. “My internship in Hawaii happened because everything fell apart,” she says. “My original plan was to go on an ExDM study abroad in the spring and complete an internship at an addiction recovery center in Murray, Utah, in the summer. However, when COVID-19 hit, the study abroad and internship were both canceled.” 

Despite feeling discouraged, Janczak did not let the pandemic keep her down. “I realized that I wanted to work with children because of how resilient they are. That led me to find an internship where I could work for a children’s hospital as a recreation therapist. I began calling every children’s hospital with a recreation therapy program and asking if they had openings for the fall,” she says. “Luckily, the Shriners Hospital in Honolulu did.”

Working for Shriners has been a special opportunity for Janczak. “At the hospital, we treat many kids who are not from the United States. I help children from Fiji, Samoa, Guam, Chuuk, and many other islands. This opportunity opens my eyes and helps me embrace new cultures,” she says. “I currently work with both kids and teenagers in our inpatient unit after they have undergone orthopedic surgery. We work one-on-one with them and help distract them from all the pain they’re in by using animal therapy, diversional play, and leisure education. We also just sit and talk to these patients and learn more about their lives and how they are doing. A little goes a long way when you’re with these incredible kids.”

Janczak feels thankful for this unique opportunity because she has a special interest in diversity and inclusion. In 2019 she had the opportunity to attend the No Barriers Summit in Tahoe, California. “I'm a big advocate for inclusion in any shape or form. The No Barriers Summit helped me see how companies can be more inclusive in a business setting,” she says. “The summit showed me how people with any and all abilities can overcome their trials and break down barriers in order to live life to the fullest. That experience helped me to ensure I am living in a way that I have no boundaries or barriers when it comes to working with others.”

Janczak will finish both her internship and her ExDM degree in December 2020. She is currently job searching and is working to become a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. She would love to stay in Hawaii because she has grown to love the Hawaiian culture and people. Although this year brought unexpected changes and challenges for Janczak, she looks forward to continuing to explore the unique culture of Hawaii and her future career opportunities.

Stephanie Janczak
Stephanie Janczak

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Madi Wickham