Meet Maile Kamisugi (IES Abroad Sydney | 2012) and find out how study abroad led her to discover her passion for fitness and food. After college, Maile attended culinary school and took another trip back to Sydney. Upon her return to Hawai'i, she took her formal training, passion for health, and food to create ‘Ulu & Kalo Bakery. a sustainable bakery using ingredients indigenous to Hawai'i.
IES Abroad: As an undergraduate at the University of Portland (UP), how did you decide to study abroad in Sydney, Australia?
Maile Kamisugi (MK): I decided to study abroad in Sydney because of my best friend, an avid surfer. She asked if I wanted to go with her and I hadn't thought about studying abroad previously because I was having such a good time at UP. Still, it sounded like a fun adventure and the right location because Sydney has similar weather to Hawai'i (where we are from), no language barrier, and lots of surf spots for my friend.
IES Abroad: What was your biggest surprise about living and being a student in Australia?
MK: The biggest surprise about living abroad and being a student was the lifestyle. We could either walk or take the bus to UNSW, but walking was the best because we got to be a part of the community and look at the shops and beautiful houses. Living in Coogee was quaint and minimalistic because we had all the essentials within walking distance, and the beach was right across the street from our flat.
IES Abroad: Many IES Abroad students travel on the weekends while they're studying in Europe which is fairly easy since public transportation is readily available and very economical there. What was it like to travel outside of the major cities in Australia?
MK: We did make a couple of trips, one to Melbourne and one to Brisbane. It was amazing to see the different characteristics of the other cities. Melbourne was very artsy, and we camped along the Great Ocean Road. Our road trip to Brisbane was memorable because we got to see a lot of the smaller towns with a lot of charm. One of the most memorable nights was when we camped at a pineapple farm. As soon as we pulled up to check in, we saw giant toads everywhere, and I was (and still am) terrified of them! My throat was so raw from screaming constantly but, once we got settled in, my friends were on toad watch for me, and we went out to stargaze. The stars and constellations were so peaceful, and the sky was endless; it was scary being surrounded by toads but looking at the night sky made all the worries disappear.
IES Abroad: What was it about the people and the culture there that inspired you to develop a healthy-living lifestyle?
MK: When we arrived in Sydney, I decided to become healthier and get back in shape. Being away from a familiar place allowed me the space to start new habits. In addition, the lifestyle, particularly in the coastal towns, is very fitness-focused, so I felt like part of the community when I was working out. As a result, it was easy to be active and stay motivated.
IES Abroad: Now back in your native Honolulu HI, what was the process to start up Ulu & Kalo bakery? What were some of the challenges that you encountered and how did you work through them?
MK: After returning from college, I went directly to culinary school because of my positive experience in health and fitness (that started in Sydney). I then gained work experience in Honolulu and went back to Sydney on a work visa to get a different experience. Upon returning from Sydney, I knew I had to start my own food business. Although I enjoyed working in cafes and restaurants, my body didn’t respond well to working in an uncontrolled environment. I would get horrible rashes on my hands and forearms, which would force me to quit.
Over the years of gaining experience, I realized I enjoyed baking because I love sweets, and the pace was more my style. Once I knew baking was my path, I decided to bake with 'ulu (breadfruit) and kalo (taro), which are very culturally significant and two of the many canoe plants of Hawai'i. They are naturally gluten-free, flavorful, versatile, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates. The main challenge for the bakery is keeping a steady supply of 'ulu and staffing to harvest and process it. 'Ulu grows seasonally in Hawai'i generally between July-Feb, so I have to process a lot to cover for the offseason. I am blessed to have built relationships with homeowners over the years who need help harvesting and using the 'ulu that is on their trees. Unfortunately, I lack the staffing to harvest as much as possible, and this past season, someone robbed all the fruit from one of the 'ulu trees. Despite the setbacks, I remain optimistic and adjust my product line as needed. I was lucky to have met my mentor/business partner through a permaculture workshop. She has taught me how to mill the 'ulu flour and kalo flour that I use in my products. Together, we started the Canoe Plant Collective, focusing on processing canoe plant flours. It takes a community to build a business, and I am so grateful to create healthy 'ulu and kalo baked goods.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give to students planning to study abroad in Australia as soon as it is possible to do so?
MK: I would advise students to learn a new skill or pick up a hobby that sounds interesting and fun. Also, learning about the indigenous Aboriginal culture is very important.
Learn more about studying abroad in Sydney, and check out all of our Alumni Spotlight and Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our past students.