An interview with Deanna Jones, a student from Elmhurst College, who studied abroad with ISA in Suva, Fiji.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
A bit about myself… I’m not really sure where to begin. I’m a self-proclaimed coffee enthusiast, I work two jobs during the school year, and my dog is my best friend (I think I may have missed her more during my semester abroad than my own parents, but shhh don’t tell them that!) Jane Austen is my all-time favorite author and Billie Holiday is my all-time favorite singer. I play Cribbage and hearts at least once a week, and I am a firm believer that if you use a GameCube controller while playing Mario Kart Wii you are a dirty, rotten cheater. When I went to Fiji I was an Accounting major, but I have reason to believe that that will be changing in the days to come. I’m planning to keep a Business major of some sort (though probably switch it from Accounting to Management) and add a major in Geography because I am very interested in something called “Environmental Management.” I had never heard of it before going to USP, but the more research I do, the better it sounds to me.
You are venturing where no Elmhurst student has gone before. How did you make the decision to go to Fiji?
It just sort of fell into place. I’ve been encouraged to go abroad ever since starting college. One of my jobs is in the office that houses International Education. I knew I wanted to go somewhere English-speaking, and I knew I liked the ocean. I found out about the Suva program and just said, “Why not?” I don’t think that there need to be a better reason to go to Fiji.
What has surprised you most about studying abroad in Fiji?
Goodness, I’m not sure. I can’t think of any identifiable “shocking” moments, but there were things that took some getting used to. For example, toilet paper is not typically found in public bathrooms. If you found a bathroom that had some, it was like you hit the jackpot – your inner self did a little touch-down jig and wept tears of joy. I never thought I’d be so grateful for TP in all my life, but there it is.
Can you tell us about your research and how you got involved in it?
As for the hammerhead research, it was primarily to classify the nursery. Now mind you, this wasn’t actually my own research. I was just volunteering with a masters student, Celso Cawich, on some of the fieldwork for his masters thesis. The project proposal has this to say; “The project aims to improve the understanding of the populations of scalloped hammerhead shark in Rewa River estuary. The results of this work are expected to serve as baseline data for the scalloped hammerhead shark nursery in Fiji and as genetic reference material for future works on the species in other Fiji estuaries and in the Pacific Ocean.” Celso is from Belize, so he’s also an international student at USP. Because of this he offered the volunteer work to us. And me, being a nature-lover all my life, I jumped on the opportunity!
How are your classes at the University of the South Pacific?
As for classes, they were different from what I’m used to. I go to a small, private college and I think the largest class I’ve ever been in had maybe 40 students. At USP, two of my three classes had around 500 kids. There was not as much interaction with the professors of these classes, which was definitely a struggle for me. Grade uploading was on “Fiji time” with meant that for a majority of the course I didn’t know where I stood. Something else that was different was that the profs posted all of their PowerPoints online, which certainly had an effect on attendance levels. In my geography class (which was my favorite by far) there were supposedly over 60 students enrolled, but I don’t think I ever saw more than 30 in any given lecture.
Is life in “paradise” all it’s cracked up to be? What can you tell us about the cultural and socioeconomic realities of Fiji?
“Life in paradise” isn’t how I would phrase it. Please, don’t misunderstand me, going to Fiji was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I had the time of my life there. But being a student at USP wasn’t what I’d call “glamorous.” Suva isn’t all clean and shiny and westernized. There are certainly places where you can find paradise on Earth (like resorts) and I was consistently in awe of my surroundings. But people have to remember that Fiji is a developing country. It’s not white sandy beaches every where you turn your head. As for the culture… I don’t even know where to begin. It wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies.
There is an underlying assumption that white people – and believe me, we definitely stood out – have a lot of money. But there is a reason why Fijians are known as the friendliest, most genereous people on the planet. I remember going to a village near campus, having never been there before, and being greeted with a smiling “welcome home” and insistent invitation to join their meal. Before Fiji, the idea/meaning of taki – the sharing of drinks with everyone around you, stranger or not – wasn’t in my vocabulary. Lost in town? Ask a Fijian and they will probably walk you straight to the door of your destination, even if it’s completely out of their way.
Would you recommend your experience to other students? Why study in Fiji?
I’d absolutely encourage others to study in Suva! It’s perfect if you have an adventurous heart–those excited by the prospect of shark dives and mountain climbing, rope swings and waterfalls. And it will, without doubt, get people out of their comfort zone; it is a developing country, after all. You won’t even realize how many dumb things we think are important until suddenly they’re not there. And don’t be surprised to go back home and suddenly be appalled by things that had never crossed your mind before. This trip certainly isn’t for everyone. There were two or three people in our group who came to Fiji with the expectation of nothing but pristine beaches and they weren’t able to (or rather, in my personal opinion didn’t try to) adapt to the culture. They ended up miserable, counting down the days until their escape, and in turn made everyone else miserable. But for the rest of us, who welcomed Fiji with open arms, we found a culture more than willing to welcome us back.