City Discovery: The Diverse Island Paradise of Suva, Fiji

Suva is the capital of Fiji and is the second most populated city in the island nation. Fiji is made up of over 330 islands in the South Pacific, 110 of which are permanently inhabited.

Claimed as part of the British Empire on October 10, 1874, Fiji gained independence on October 10, 1970. October 10th is celebrated as Fiji Day each year to commemorate these events and is honored with cultural and religious festivities.



Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.

The ISA on-site staff organizes many cultural activities in Suva, allowing students to engage with the city and its unique culture. One of these activities has historically been a cooking class. Students learn from local chefs about how to prepare and create traditional Fijian food before enjoying a traditional Fijian meal of coconut, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and rice as well as other vegetables.

The ISA staff also makes sure students are aware of various cultural activities and occasions in the city, one of which is the Hibiscus Festival. The festival takes place in Suva each year in August and celebrates Fijian culture through dance, music, parades, food, talent shows and beauty pageants. Students are able to learn the dances that have been used for entertainment and to celebrate events in Fiji for centuries. The festival displays the Fijian love of light and color and celebrates the importance of family and community.



ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

The ISA staff leads excursions around the host country, giving students a chance to see life and culture beyond their program city. One such excursion is to a traditional Fijian village near Suva, where Fijians live much as they have for hundreds of years. Students enjoy traditional foods, learn about the visual and performing arts specific to indigenous Fiji, and take part in an ancient kava ceremony. The best known of indigenous Fijian rituals, the kava ceremony revolves around a drink made from powdered pepper plant roots. The kava is brewed in a large bowl and served first to the chief, then to the guests in order of status. During the students’ visit, local Fijians explain the significance of rituals and ceremonies in Fijian culture, both throughout history and in a modern context.

Another cultural activity lead by the ISA staff is a visit to the Fiji Museum in Suva. The exhibits at the museum portray the country’s social, colonial and archeological history, highlighting indigenous Fijian culture, British colonial influence, and the many geological and political changes the islands have experiences through their history. One of the museum’s most interesting pieces is the remains of the shoe of Methodist missionary Thomas Baker, who was killed and eaten by a group of Fijians in 1867.

Fiji Temple


Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.

While visiting a traditional Fijian village on an ISA excursion, students will have the opportunity to meet the village chief and learn about the village’s leadership and hierarchy. The Fijian chieftains rule their villages much as they have in the past centuries, though certain cultural norms have been updated; for instance, only the chieftain can wear a hat or sunglasses in the village. Visitors must still ask the chief’s permission to enter the village, and it is customary to bring a gift of kava when asking. Students will learn about the ways life in the villages has changed—and remained the same—during British colonization.

The ISA staff works to make students more aware of sociological and political differences, not only between Fiji and the United States, but also between different ethnic groups in Fiji. Among these groups are Indo-Fijians, Fijians of Indian descent whose ancestors were brought to Fiji as indentured labor. Due to differences in religion particularly, tension still exists between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, though relations have improved significantly over the past several years. Today, Indian culture is still a vibrant part of Fijian life. Students will hear Hindi-Fijian, the language brought by the Indian laborers, spoken throughout the country, as well as see Hindu temples, though most of the indigenous population is Christian. Indo-Fijian culture is also celebrated in Fiji through the combining of Indian and Fijian foods to create new dishes, such as curries with Fijian vegetables served over rice. Students will learn to make some Indo-Fijian dishes and learn about Indian influences on Fijian life.

Students with Students in Fiji


Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Past students studying at the University of the South Pacific with ISA have worked on a research project with a graduate student at the university. These projects offer students hands-on experience through fieldwork in various subjects, including ecology, biology, and marine sciences. One such project allowed an ISA student the chance to assist in classifying a hammerhead shark nursery. The student was able to help a fellow international student, a graduate scholar from Belize, gather data on the scalloped hammerhead shark population in Fijian estuaries and provide this data for further research on the species in the Pacific Ocean.

Students studying marine biology can take a number of courses with field components while studying at the University of the South Pacific with ISA. By engaging in fieldwork, students not only increase their knowledge of the subject and field techniques; they also bolster their resumes and prepare for careers in their field. The island is a perfect natural laboratory for investigating marine species and habitats. Possible marine studies course offerings with field experience opportunities include Marine Biology, Physical Oceanography, Tropical Seafood, Coastal Fisheries Management and Development, and Aquaculture in Pacific Island Countries.



Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.

The ISA staff leads a multi-day excursion to the city of Nadi. Here, students have the chance to go on a zip-line tour through the lush green of the island’s rainforests, getting a unique view of the local environment and learning about the biodiversity of the Fijian islands. Students also spend a day on an ecological tour of the region, enjoying swimming holes created by rushing waterfalls, hiking through the rainforest, exploring therapeutic mud pools and hot springs, and visiting the Garden of the Sleeping Giants. While on the ecological tour, a guide will point out the uniquely Fijian flora and fauna in the area.

The ISA staff accompanies students to Colo-i-Suva Forest Reserve near Suva. The reserve gives a unique look at Fiji’s lush rainforest and indigenous plant life. Students will explore the area and learn about the wildlife in the reserve as well as enjoy the waterfalls, rivers and swimming areas, complete with rope swings and water-worn rock outcrops. The reserve, created in 1953 to protect the forest from being harvested out of existence, is home to 14 different species of bird, among many other animals.

Explore Suva and Fiji for yourself


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The 2015 City Discovery Series aims to showcase one of ISA’s program locations each week. Facts about each location and several Discovery Compass activity examples are given, however they are not a comprehensive list. These activities highlight the areas of Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental discovery. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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