Member Spotlight: Chris Warren, PhD & Nikki Rice  By

Member Spotlight: Chris Warren, PhD & Nikki Rice

A few months in Paradise: from Utah to Hawaii

What happens when you transplant two academics and their three school-age children from Logan, Utah to the Big Island of Hawaii for the Fall semester? The Warren family has spent the last few months working hard and learning from home on the lanai of their rented home (complete with visiting geckos), spending their free time surfing, snorkeling, watching sea turtles and just generally appreciating being in such a beautiful place.

Heading to Hawaii

A road in the Hawaiian Paradise Park neighborhood, Kea’au, Hawaii.
The road to the beach in the Hawaiian Paradise Park neighborhood in Kea’au, Hawaii.

This past summer, the Warren family decided to take advantage of circumstances coming together that allowed them to live on the Big Island for a few months. With COVID, they knew their work and classes would be online for the fall, so they made plans to house sit in Hawaii for good friends. After completing their 14-day quarantine at their friend’s home, plans changed, and the friends were not able to leave Hawaii.

Chris and Nikki could either arrange flights for their family back to Utah or figure out an alternate plan to stay in Hawaii. To make things a little more complicated, they were building a new house in Utah, but there were delays in construction so they did not exactly have a home in Utah to return to right away.

It was tight timing and wasn’t easy to find a suitable short-term home for their family of 5. As Nikki says, we “looked at a lot [of homes]. Many were too expensive, didn’t have WiFi or only had one bedroom. Everything we looked at had a problem; we looked at long term rentals and thought there must be some condos, but we couldn’t find anything.  Then we found this place [ Listing #135027] and sent a note and the owners replied instantaneously. It all happened in one or two days!”

The living room in the Warren family’s SabbaticalHomes home rental in Hawaii.
The living room in the Warren family’s SabbaticalHomes home rental in Hawaii, Listing #135027.

The hosts are international teachers who have lived all over the world, but are living in Florida for this school year working at an international school. They were very happy to meet Chris and Nikki before they headed to Florida, since they normally rent to SabbaticalHomes members but don’t always get to meet their tenants.

After that whirlwind start to living on the Big Island, the Warren family was able to get settled in their home away from home and get into the routine of work, school and play that they have enjoyed these past few months.

Related: Communicating with a Potential Landlord

Working & Learning Remotely

Working on a Hawaiian lanai with a gecko on the laptop.
Gecko as co-worker on a Hawaiian lanai.

Between the five family members, the Warrens teach and attend four different schools with variety of working, learning and researching. They all adjust for the time change when they have live instruction and meetings.  The whole family enjoys all the areas of their Hawaiian home, including an outdoor lanai as a coveted home office, complete with visiting geckos.

Dr. Chris Warren is an Assistant Professor in the Neuroscience Program and Brain & Cognition Program at Utah State University. He has been lecturing via live broadcasts for his undergraduate classes (he has found it doesn’t make sense to record the lectures, it’s better to keep students engaged and attending lectures on a real schedule keeps them on task more effectively).  Since most of his research was halted by COVID, he and his colleagues are reviewing old research, seeing if they can follow up on any existing data they can dig deeper on and investigate.

Nikki Rice is a graduate student working on her master’s degree in Kinesiology. She balances her own classwork with working as a graduate assistant on a review paper with a professor in the public health department researching public health literature on older adults falls. This collaboration combines the professor’s focus on public health and Nikki’s emphasis on the body mechanics of older people. In addition, Nikki is working on another review paper with a PhD student.

Their oldest child was able to take online classes for her first year of high school at their public high school in Utah, although figuring out the logistics of high school remotely were more challenging than doing the same at the university level for both parents. They found the administrative details around the high school enrollment for online classes frustrating, but their daughter has been making the classes work until they return to Utah where she will attend in person.

Their middle child attends a charter school in Utah and completes all his schoolwork via live zoom classes, with a full day of scheduled classwork each day. In an effort to be able to work successfully from home, the Warrens decided their youngest needed more structure than their charter school online could provide, so he has been attending a Waldorf school in person while in Hawaii. He loves the school, and even wants to go to school on Saturdays!

Related: Taking a Family Sabbatical

Figuring out the Challenges

The Warren family is not new to living in different places. A true academic family, they are originally from Canada, lived in the Netherlands for four years while Chris did his post-doctoral work, spent a year in Maine when they came back to the United States and eventually landed in Utah, where they have lived for the last three years. They have enjoyed their experiences in all these locations. And even while living in paradise for the last three months, there have been some challenges.

Like many academics and researchers, the Warrens balance their careers with raising their family. Their oldest is a competitive swimmer, and many pools were still closed due to COVID when they first arrived on the big island. When a lap pool opened up, she was able to go every day but for a limited time since reservations were required. Nikki and Chris split duties driving to the pool each day and try to combine it with going surfing or running errands.

They also found they had to adjust their plans for some parts of their stay.  Originally, they had agreed to use their friend’s car while house sitting on the Big Island. When that situation didn’t turn out exactly as planned, they had to plan for the expense of renting a car during their stay. Similarly, when they realized their youngest needed more structure to allow both parents time to work, they added tuition to his Waldorf school to their budget, which was “well worth the expense!” according to Nikki.

Related: Member Survey during COVID-19

Living in Paradise

Enjoying the tide pools and the beach near Hawaiian Paradise Park on the big island of Hawaii
Enjoying the tide pools and the beach near Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaii.

The Warrens have enjoyed their experience of living and working on the Big Island of Hawaii. To start, there’s the weather! As Nikki says, “the ocean is phenomenal, I sit and stare and watch turtles whenever I can. We walk down to the water every day, although it’s a lava beach, not a traditional sand beach. When we drive to the sandy beaches, everyone snorkels, boogie boards and surfs. One night, we went down there to look at the stars, it was totally pitch black just lying on our backs looking up at the stars.

“Even when I’m not in the sun or doing anything in the ocean, I’m sitting and working on the lanai. My computer sits outside on the table on the deck, and my daughter and I share that workspace. I also love to get up in the morning and go outside wearing a tank top! [Although] it does get pretty hot at 2 or 3pm, it cools down at night.”

They have been staying in Hawaiian Paradise Park, which is in the city Kea’au (close to Pa’hoa, a sort of hippy town about 25 minutes from Hilo). The family loves to go to picturesque Hilo for the restaurants, gelato, and stores. The house itself is lovely, it’s a little cottage that’s perfect for 5 people. There are 2 bedrooms upstairs with a loft and a basement below that Nikki and Chris stay in. They have gotten to know the neighbors while walking around Hawaiian Paradise Park, and enjoying the dirt roads with jungles up and down the sides of the “banana roads.”

Related: Search for your Next Home Away from Home

Coming Home to Utah

Very soon, the Warrens will say good-bye to Hawaii and their adventure on the Big Island and return to Utah. Their kids are excited to see their friends and their dog, who has been staying with another family. It will be quite a shift, with their kids attending school in person (with masks on), Nikki still doing classes online and Chris still teaching online but going to campus to work and meet with his graduate students.

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