A true Fijian experience By Baird Cotsakis

After flying halfway around the globe, George Duncan was taken aback by the remoteness of Fiji. As an American teenager, and lifelong Providence Day School student, he had never experienced the struggles of a developing country

Being a conscientious global citizen, Duncan eagerly signed up for the chance to go on a service trip to Fiji. Rustic Pathways, a student travel organization, provided him with this rare opportunity. As a rising Junior and Global Studies Diploma student, Duncan was looking to continue his global education. In an interview with The Charger, he expressed his motives for going by saying, “I think it’s really interesting that it's such a faraway place, and it's something I've never experienced before. Also, I like the idea of helping people that aren't as fortunate.” He also added that even though it was labeled as a service trip, one of the most important aspects of the trip was cultural exchange.

Coast of Fiji

After a grueling 11 hour long flight, Duncan and his group traveled straight from the airport to Momi, a small village 20 minutes outside of Fiji’s largest city, Nadi. Momi is where he would spend the majority of his time for the next two weeks, fully immersing himself in their culture, while also sharing his own culture with the natives. Duncan described the primitive village as “a summer camp but Fijian,” complete with cabins called “bures” and a long base house which was the center of the village.

Village of Momi

Within a short amount of time in Momi, Duncan spotted several cultural difference: “Fijian culture is way more laid back, and there is a much greater sense of community because it is such a small island and a lot of people know each other... There weren’t American ideas such as material wealth, it was more just about living life to the fullest and having a good time.” This immensely contrasts with American culture, where people are always in a hurry, and obsession over material wealth dominates society.

Duncan witnessed even more of a cultural shock when he went on a weekend trip to the Fijian highlands. He describes the pure remoteness by saying, “they didn't have any electricity, they rode horses instead of cars, and the van couldn't make the trip so we had to take a military carrier up.” The group stayed in the native’s homes for the weekend and fully integrated themselves in their culture. Despite Duncan being completely out of his element, he reflects on his experience in the highlands as being his favorite part of the trip. By being in complete isolation, he fully understood the struggles these people face, and how fortunate he really is.

Fijian highlands

This cultural exchange wasn’t a one way streak. Duncan stressed the importance of spreading his culture to the Fijian youth: “The kids there would never be able to see someone from the United States in their everyday lives… and it's really valuable to the kids because they get to learn about American culture.” In a forever increasingly global world, the importance of spreading cultures becomes all the more important. As more cultural exchanges occur, it helps humanity understand each other's differences, which promotes a more unified world.

Duncan’s first-hand encounter with a country that many Americans think nothing more of than the producers of overpriced bottled water is a small step in the direction of global awareness and cultural understanding.

Going into the trip, Duncan worried about the difficulties of connecting with the local Fijian children. However, he was pleasantly surprised saying, “I found myself being able to relate to these kids more than I could possibly relate to some teenager in America… Their sense of humor was really relatable and they weren't stuck up or anything like that they, also they were really welcoming.”

Duncan was shocked to find that aspects of American culture had already reached the corners of the modern world. He learned that “even in the most remote parts, they know how to whip.” Another cultural similarity Duncan found was that many Fijians used Facebook, which made it really easy for the group to connect with them and keep up after the trip.

“Fijian and Americans, although they live halfway across the world, aren't that different.”

Even though the cultural exchange had the largest impact on Duncan, the service aspect was also very rewarding. The group built water tanks in Momi, worked in a school cafeteria, built toilets, and constructed stone paths. When they weren’t doing manual labor, they taught children in their village, primarily doing arts and crafts. Duncan described the trip as both a service and cultural success, and he felt fulfilled “going back knowing that I made a difference in their lives and that they wouldn't forget us coming,” while also being satisfied to know that they improved their daily quality of life by bettering their facilities.

View from Momi

This once in a lifetime opportunity expanded Duncan’s horizons and provided a broader outlook on life. He looks to continue his passion for service in the future, and is possibly considering traveling to the Himalayas on a service learning trip next summer.

All photos courtesy of George Duncan

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