White sand beaches lapped by turquoise water – for many people the island paradise is the place for the perfect dream holiday under palm trees. But Danny Heirens has not travelled halfway around the world just to go sunbathing – he has moved to the Pacific island to gain a deeper insight into the US tourist industry.

Tourists from around the world visit Waikiki. That is one of the reasons why Danny decided to study at Hawaii Pacific University. "I wanted to learn more about the tourist industry while discovering two new worlds: the US economy and the cultural contrasts between Asian and American identities," explains the ISM student from Cologne. That said, it was always a dream of his to live on an island for a longer period time.

And he is enjoying it to the full. Swimming in the Pacific Ocean, going on excursions into the jungle, watching the sun set on the beach and barbecuing with other international students – are all part of daily life now for Danny. Besides enjoying the social, cultural and scenic highlights, the emphasis is very much on studying. "A big difference to studying at ISM is that something has to be handed in every week here. You receive points for your work which count towards your overall grade. As a result, many hours each day are spent sat in front of your laptop," the fourth-semester student says. The Luxembourg-born student is staying on the Pacific island from the beginning of January to the middle of June. A highlight of his time there is participation in the LEI programme. In the events organised by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, university students give high school pupils an insight into the workings of the local tourist industry. They are accompanied by a manager of the respective hotel. In Danny's case, the LEI event was held at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel – a top address on the 3.5-kilometre-long beach.

Despite all this luxury, the 25-year-old is well aware of the gritty underbelly of Hawaii: "You encounter homeless people every day; unfortunately there's not a lot you can do for them apart from buying some food. At the end of my semester I want to give them my blankets, air beds and tents, so that they can at least get a bit of shade from the sun." But he still has some time left on the island to become infected with the 'Aloha Spirit', the attitude of openness and friendliness that can be found in the people of Hawaii.

"I really feel at home here," Danny claims. "Happier than sometimes back in Europe, where the people only think about their work all the time." The islanders have taught him that satisfaction and positive thinking are sometimes more important than a good job. "I've become more independent and my stay on Hawaii has definitely benefited my studies. Even though it hasn't all been plain sailing, it's been well worth the effort. It's taught me lessons for life."