University of the South Pacific – Fiji Islands
What was the preliminary process like when deciding to study abroad? What impact did your program of study have on your decision?
I’m a senior pre-dental biology major and business minor. I thought about study abroad during my junior year of college and applied for both exchange and direct programs through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). After finishing all the paperwork and finances, I found out that I got accepted to be a direct student (which personally I think is better when it comes to housing). I started my amazing five month adventure on the 300 Island of Fiji. I worked with my biology advisor at VCU as well as the advisors at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji to make sure that all the courses I was taking would transfer back and count towards my pre-dental track. I ended up taking animal and plant physiology for my major as well as economics and financial calculus so I wouldn’t waste any credits. Originally, I had wanted to study marine biology since all the labs would have hands-on experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the prerequisites for that course. I did, however, have the chance to meet great minds that specialize in this field while working with coral reefs; from them, I learned about coral bleaching and the increasing ocean temperature due to global warming.
What program and destination did you choose and why?
Any type of travel and any country you decide to go to will be a lifelong experience full of people and adventures that you’ll never forget. Personally, I wanted to go somewhere where I could maximize these experiences and try new things for the first time. I first learned about study abroad through one of the Global Education Office’s seminars. I started looking at a list of programs that offered upper level biology courses since I was going to be studying abroad as a senior. Out of all the places that offered those biology classes in English, the University of South Pacific in Fiji was the one that stood out the most, even though it was located in the country that I knew the least about. The only thing I knew about Fiji was that they had a highly over-priced bottled water; it turns out that this brand is the only bottled water here. We actually were able to go to the factory to see how the water is filtered through volcanic rocks!
What classes did you take while abroad and how would you compare the experience to taking courses on campus at VCU?
The course load is structured very differently from our system back home. The labs for all the sciences, especially biology, involve a lot of field trips to farms and research centers to apply the things learned in lab to the field. I learned a great deal about coral reefs, coral bleaching and effects of global warming, and the leading research in Fiji concerning the importance of their survival.
What were your favorite things about your study abroad experience?
Waking up to fresh bananas, coconuts, and a quick morning jog to the Pacific Ocean is exactly what I dreamed about all my life. Getting the opportunity to live my dream while going to school has been the best thing to ever happen in my life. Not one student on the trip complained about getting to spend every other weekend at a “screensaver resort”, as we called it, for less than $15 US dollars per night.
If you want to be on an English-speaking tropical island while learning two languages at the same time (Fijian and Hindi), climb mountains that were inhibited by cannibal tribes 100 years ago, lay on endless hammocks, and dive (with no cage!) with over ten species of sharks, all while studying and learning biology or environmental studies in an interactive way, Fiji is the place to do it.
What would you say to a student who is considering studying abroad?
My advice to students is to plan and save money early, research, and talk to people like me.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain.