Learn how Northumbria Student, Laura Connor found out so much about herself during her Fiji experience.

Published 08/01/2018

This summer, Laura spent 4 weeks with a team of fellow students volunteering on Think Pacific’s Student Global Mobility Program. Immersing herself completely into village life and contributing to national governing bodies initiatives to positively impact the children of the Saweni Community.

Wanting to step outside of her comfort, Laura wasted no time in getting to grips with village life and it soon became apparent just how much of an influence she could have on the communities lives.

In return, the experience developed students both personally and professionally, gaining skills that will serve them later on in life. Watch the video and read the article to find out more about Laura’s experience…

Find out if the Northumbria University Summer Project to Fiji is for you...

I was lucky enough to be part of a team of volunteers made up of twenty students who did a 1-month long expedition up in the remote, rural highlands of Fiji in the hidden treasure that is Saweni Village.  From my experience, I can honestly say that village life is something everyone must experience as it is so unique and special, it will leave an imprint on any individual due to the village’s incomparable way of living of which we can learn so much from.

Receiving the warmest of welcomes from all the villagers and some very excited children as the trucks pulled in put any nerves, worries or feelings of apprehension to the back of my mind, for that moment I had completely forgotten about them. Since it was confirmed that I would be coming to Fiji as a volunteer, I knew the thing I was most excited for was definitely meeting my new Fijian family and this also includes building a friendship like no other with the volunteer who you will be living with. I think it’s safe to say that the first thing I learnt about Fijian’s, is that they are huge huggers.  The introduction to the family is such a surreal experience, as it is so nerve wracking for both parts. Seeing how shy and reserved the children are initially with us is instantly reversed within half an hour of being in the family home, sitting down drinking lemon leaf tea and in my case, making an absolute fool out of myself with Una, my volunteer sister, as we danced, played games and shared any small gifts we had brought with us! We instantly felt at home, and knew that the next month ahead was going to be one of the most memorable and amazing months of our lives. During the expedition, you face many challenges that require you to adapt without a fuss, and at these moments you realise how important it is to have a familiar face next to you, going through exactly the same struggles as you are. The volunteer you move in with will become your best friend overnight, and you will break all boundaries with each other at a rate that best friends of many years would be envious of!

During my expedition, we had the privilege of working with two schools and we were given the opportunity to split our time between them both or to just stick with one, I swapped school in the last week as I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to help other children and so I got to see even more of the beautiful local area. The time you spend at school is the part of project that you will see the greatest improvements and it became very clear to me early on how you can make a huge positive impact on the children as well as the teachers. Both schools were beautiful, had amazing grounds and the most enthusiastic teachers, but the lack of utensils, workbooks and space within the classrooms inhibited the full potential of each individual student.  Therefore, it was our main focus to work within small groups or one to ones with students who were really struggling and offer them a new environment to learn in every day using the valuable resources we donated to each school. This by far was the most rewarding aspect of the whole expedition. Early morning starts, working with children every day and having to adapt to a new way of learning for a specific child constantly is tiring hard work, but the reward of seeing a child grow in confidence and academically improve because of your work is truly the greatest feeling which can even get the toughest of people emotional! Another very important aspect of school is of course sport. I was amazed at the innate skill each Fijian had for any sport you taught them. Personally, sport plays a huge part of my life and it was one of the main aspects to what attracted me to Think Pacific as I knew they recognised the importance of how sport can be used as a platform to all aspects of learning. As volunteers, we were given the freedom to use our own skills and create sport lessons for any sport we wanted but were also encouraged to try something new with the amazing range of donated sports equipment. This was my favourite time of the day as it was a chance to have fun with some of the happiest children in the world, as well as using this as an opportunity to get the teachers involved and to provide progressive action plans for any sport lesson we had given so they could fully utilise the potential of the sports kit and maintain a high level of sport within the school.

Upon returning from project, the question “what was the best bit/highlight” is all you get from everyone and anyone who is eager to learn about your experience and unsurprisingly, it is one of the hardest questions ever. For me, the highlight has got to be the Fijian family values. I was made to feel at home instantly and when It was time to say goodbye, I left knowing I have a wonderful new family all the way across the world in Fiji. It is their culture to welcome anyone, they live by an open-door policy and with my family, the neighbor who was also known as Grandma had the greatest impact on me. Although she was not related to my Fijian mum, they were the closest family anyone could imagine and it was so refreshing to see. So, our neighbour, also our Fijian grandma was the highlight of my trip as she was forever thankful for our presence and the work us volunteers were doing. I have so many amazing memories from Fiji, but the day my Fijian grandma told me that I had made her heart work again is something that was so special and honestly meant the world to me!

It is so difficult to put into words how much this experience has impacted me. I don’t have a bad word to say about any of it, I absolutely loved my team and everything we did with Saweni Village. In just four weeks, I learnt so many new things about myself that I use and think about in everyday life now.  Experiencing village life really opens your eyes to a way of living that is completely different to ours but yet the Fijians must be doing something right because they are the happiest and most generous people I have ever met. Therefore, I now understand to take each day as it comes, adapt to any situation to your best ability and to show more love and care to others as it is priceless. Everything I learnt during my experience will be beneficial to me as person whilst I continue in university and eventually when I leave and enter my chosen career path.

The Think Pacific organisation were also kind enough to cooperate with me and my university to allow me to use this expedition as part of my placement module in final year. Throughout my time in the village I was able to apply the knowledge I had learnt over the first two years of my course, whether this be in sports coaching or in the village health nights as I was allowed to focus on nutrition. Therefore, I cannot recommend Think Pacific highly enough due to their personal touch and ethos they have which is evident in all members of staff I had the pleasure of meeting. Again, I can’t thank Think Pacific enough for an amazing experience that will truly stay with me forever.  I am certain I will be back and already super excited for the next adventure! Vinaka!

Does Fiji sound like your ideal gap year destination?
Here's what to do next: