Teaching in Fiji by Cale Burge
A quick Google for a certain island nation in the South Pacific pops out the old tourism slogan – “The way the world should be.” From my personal experience, I can see no reason why they changed it; the words hold as true as ever. My time in Fiji was incredibly rewarding, enjoyable and just simply memorable, and I was only there for two weeks! In hindsight, I could’ve been there for two months and still not wanted to leave.
Why I Chose to Volunteer in Fiji
I originally chose Fiji because, while it was admittedly close to my home in Australia, more importantly, it was offering an opportunity to do something so dramatically different to what regular visitors would do. Before choosing Nadi, I was told that what the majority of tourists see of Fiji’s capital consists of the airport after the flight in, and before the flight out. The luxurious island resorts, cruises and decadent living are, for the most part, located boat or plane trips away from the main island. Nadi was described as a sweaty, grimy town not boasting many, if any, compelling reasons to visit. Volunteering in Nadi would be truly different, and represented a chance to directly interact with the people and communities of Fiji, not simply the public face presented to tourists.
Now of course, it was lax of me to say that there’s no reason to visit Nadi – that’s not true, the Projects Abroad office is there! My first impressions of the city were very different to what I’d been told – whilst the city was essentially located around one main street, there was still bustle and a vibrant feel to the place, as if energised to make the most of the day before the afternoon thunderstorms put life on pause for an hour or so.
During the induction tour, we ran into some of the other volunteers, and met more at lunch, and even more at dinner. I have to say, unequivocally, that the other volunteers in Fiji at the time I was there were some of the most amazing and incredibly fun people that I’ve had the fortune to meet, and they definitely helped make my time as great as it was. You’re in an exotic country with people your own age, no study or exams to worry about, and with enough shared free time to really get to know them and have some great times together.
My Teaching Project in Fiji
My project involved being a teacher’s assistant at Nadi District School, helping out with a Year 2 Class, or around 45 hyper-active six-year olds. I have to say, on the first day, having never taught young kids before, I was a bit bewildered. It definitely didn’t help that 20 minutes into the first day, the teacher had to leave to the airport, and I was left in charge of the class; 45 noisy, energetic kids, with not even a basic knowledge of Fijian words to help me teach, or just control them! I was truly tossed in at the deep end!
But somehow, together, the kids and I found a way – through sign language, and then eventually what must only be at best pidgin Fijian, progress was made! Teaching them the magic of the number 14, correcting their backwards English characters, struggling to pronounce, let alone remember names, and then before anyone knew it, the day was over. It only got better from there. By the end of two weeks, we’d got up to 18, I had learnt all the names, all the faces and all the personalities, and had even helped every single kid make their very own paper crane! On a related note, I now know every possible way to go wrong while making a paper crane!
My Fijian Host Family
My host family, the Wati Family, was just wonderful. Constantly accommodating, always boisterous, lively and helpful, there was always a crowd around the house just to have a talk with, or, depending on the hour, some kava with. I could walk to my placement, and despite the early morning symphony of roosters, cows and ducks, it was a great place to stay, with the people making it even better.
Overall, I’d recommend volunteering in Fiji to any and all who ask. The country is amazing, the people are friendly and amicable, the town is alive and varied, and the weekends bring opportunities of backpacking, travelling or cruising, often at the (always welcome) volunteer rates.
My lasting impression of the country is that there’s time for everything in Fiji – no rush, no stress, just Fiji. By comparison, I’ve been back in the real world two months, and I’ve only just found time to write this reflection. Fiji is a wonderful country, with wonderful people, and to volunteer there was overall, well, just terrific!