I knew I wanted to try something completely out of my comfort zone and ensure that this experience would challenge me. I had heard about Fiji the way I assume everyone else has: white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and only really knew about the 'resort' side of Fiji. It intrigued me that this program would allow me to see the 'real' Fiji.
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Rustic Pathways, my program, assisted me in everything from accommodation, to service, to free-time activities. The only thing I had to organize for myself was the flight.
Rustic Pathways is extremely helpful when it comes to addressing questions and concerns coming from me or my parents. They also make sure that you are prepared as possible with check-in emails, extensive packing lists and a 'rustic package' that is received before departure.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Overall I felt I had been prepared by Rustic Pathways extremely well, so there wasn't much I wish I had known. One piece of advice I would give is to just come with an open mind. Come with an attitude to learn and engage with a new culture. Not everything is always going to go as planned and there are going to be some times where you may feel out of your comfort zones, but those are times where you have the opportunity to embrace the situation and gain something positive from it.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
There is never an 'average day' on this program. Every day is new, different and you are presented with the opportunity to learn and embrace the true Fiji. Service is a part of pretty much every day. You wake up early to prepare for a morning of rewarding service. You may work on the same project for multiple days or one different aspect of the project, it highly depends on the needs of the village at the time.
Afternoons are often also filled with service or some days there is the opportunity to come out and see Fiji. This may include a hike to the waterfall or a trip to the market.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Having traveled so much before, homesickness or culture shock is never something I struggle with. My biggest fear in Fiji was being disrespectful of the culture.
Fiji is a traditionally conservative country and I did as much research prior to my departure to make sure that when I arrived in Fiji I would not be disrespectful. On the base, the way we dressed was never really an issue, but off the base, it is important to be dressed appropriately and always be aware of what you are saying and how you are coming across.
I never want to come across disrespectful and I just wanted to learn as much as possible about their culture so this was my biggest concern.
Is there any other advice for prospective travelers?
This experience was so surreal to me and I cannot believe I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to become a part of such a welcoming and rich culture. I think the most important thing for prospective travelers to know is to be completely aware and present at all times because your trip will be over before you know it.
Enjoy every sunset, every sunrise. Lie underneath the stars at night where you can see the milky way and a million constellations. Listen to the stories from your Tatai (Grandma), as well as other family members and ask questions! Tell your host family about your life back home and ask them about theirs. You will make friendships on this trip that will last a lifetime so cherish them.
Be completely committed to service, but don't forget to have fun! You will only get as much out of your trip as you put in and the way your trip turns out is completely up to you. Don't forget to cherish every moment and stay thankful for your opportunity to be on the trip!