Fall 2019 Verto students in Fiji participate in a community celebration in Fiji
Whether it’s the shift from lecture-based classrooms to experiential learning, or hearing from locals instead of from a textbook, Verto programs are designed based on the belief that learning should ignite passion and joy. While all this talk of getting college credit for adventuring around the world sounds amazing (and it is!), it might be hard to imagine how that actually translates into real day-to-day life.
So join us and get a glimpse into Verto programming as we ride along with our students through a Day in the Life in Fiji!
Spring 2020 SoPac Verto students make their way down the path in the Nausori Village, in the highlands of Fiji
Students wake up to the smell of fresh cream buns and sweet lemongrass tea. The sound of birds chirping is a pleasant change from the iPhone alarms we’ve all grown accustomed to.
This cohort of Verto South Pacific adventurers is waking up in the rural Momi area of Fiji. They’ll be spending the better part of a week staying at the community center and experiencing rural village life.
Life here is quite different from what students are used to back at home. The village is remote and off the grid– yep, that means limited internet (for classes)– so students will get a taste of life “unplugged.” Students will eat what the locals eat and do as the locals do. They’ll get to experience all aspects of life in one of the less-touristy areas of Fiji in order to better understand the culture and daily challenges villagers face.
The day starts off right with a delicious breakfast prepared by local women; students are greeted with a tempting spread of white bread, jam, cream buns, pineapple, papaya, cereals, coffee, and local lemongrass tea. After fueling up, the cohort meets with their field instructor and program leaders for a briefing about the day.
This village stay supplements students’ anthropology course and gives them the opportunity to gain genuine insight into Fijian culture. The morning will be spent immersing in local family life in order to collect firsthand data for their ethnography project.
A Verto student helps her host prepare a meal in the Nausori Village
After separating into small groups, students meet with their assigned families to help them with daily tasks. This gives students an intimate opportunity to ask questions and take notes about the family’s history, their perspective on life in the village, and their understanding of their own tradition and culture.
Depending on what anthropological subjects students are most interested in, they can choose to farm with the man of the family or work on household tasks with the women and children. Those who tag along for farming will help with the difficult but rewarding work of harvesting cassava and dalo roots, the village staples. Housework includes hand washing laundry, collecting firewood, playing with the children, and cooking. Students might also be asked to join a group of villagers for communal projects like clearing a field to plant new crops or participating in the renovation of a communal building.
Today, students are grating coconuts to prepare coconut milk for Palusami, a local delicacy, and weaving palm leaves to cook a Lovo meal in an earth oven. The work is tiring but the hours fly by as students enjoy the company of the welcoming and inquisitive villagers.
Spring 2020 Verto students join their hosts in the community center in Nausori
After a morning of work and play, students reconvene at the community center for a lunch prepared by the village. On today’s menu? Chicken curry Fiji style, noodles, cassava root, cucumber salad and fried eggplant. Ask any Verto student and they’ll agree: there’s nothing better than village cooking!
Afternoons are generally class time. Classes take place sitting around in a circle in the lush outdoors or inside the community center if it rains.
Reflection is a critical part of the Verto curriculum and every seminar either begins or ends with a journal prompt. Today students are journaling about their experience utilizing anthropological techniques of participant observation and note-taking. In their responses, they draw from readings, class discussions and experiences in the field.
The class is excited to delve into today’s discussion about the history of the village’s people, the iTaukei community. iTaukei are the major indigenous people of the Fiji Islands and are believed to have arrived in Fiji from western Melanesia approximately 3,500 years ago. Students compare the history of the iTaukei people to that of the Indo-Fijians who were brought to Fiji from India by the British colonizers as indentured labourers. While the Itaukei community enjoys ancestral land, villages, traditions and practices, the Indo-Fijian community lives scattered around Fiji in freehold land. Learning about the village’s roots makes the experience living among them even richer!
In addition to classwork, students sometimes participate in service learning, like these students in the Momi Bay, preparing meals for a local women’s shelter
Hearing from locals rather than textbooks helps the material come to life. Oftentimes, community members join the group to offer their insights and answer questions. Last week students met with local women of different ages to talk about gender issues. A few days back, they spoke with a village elder about his village’s political system. To complement today’s discussion on the history and culture of iTaukei people, students will be hearing directly from the village chief this evening.
While students had an awesome class discussion, they are excited to wrap up class since it means joining the village kids for a game of rugby followed by a cooling dip in the nearby waterfall!
Students have plenty of downtime in addition to their studies and experiences – like this evening in Momi Bay, where students chatted and played games with their hosts at sunset
After feasting on a traditional dinner, students get ready to meet with the village chief who will be sharing about the social structure and customs of the village.
The chief describes how the village was historically split up into clans (such as farmers, carpenters, warriors, priests, and chiefs) with each clan responsible for a different aspect of communal life. Students learn about how the chief answers to concerns raised by villagers and about different ceremonies that are conducted to settle conflicts, reinforce ties between families or fundraise for a communal project. The chief also addresses the relationship of his community with their land. In Fijian, the word “vanua” describes both the land and the people, suggesting that the environment can’t exist without the people and the population can’t exist without the land. Students will definitely refer back to this concept as they explore the cultural aspects of environment and heritage conservation during their courses.
Such an informative talk leaves students with tons to reflect on so they return to the community hall to journal about what they learned and do some preparation for tomorrow’s class.
Upon arrival in Momi Bay, the Verto students took part in a welcome kava ceremony above
A great day comes to a perfect end when students join the villagers for their nightly ritual of sharing a kava bowl (a homemade herbal beverage) while debriefing about their days. While sipping on kava, students sing along to local tunes, help sharpen farming tools, and mostly, enjoy the company of this lovely community. Kava is the perfect beverage to wrap up the evening as it relaxes muscles and sets students up for a deep sleep.
While students are sad to say goodbye to their new friends in the village, they are looking forward to their next stop at a beach camp on Naviti Island where they will compare their stay in a rural village to life in the coastal village. They are excited to explore how access to the sea and marine resources affects the culture and local belief system.
Thanks for joining us for a Day in the Life in Fiji, where every day is programmed intentionally to give students a hands-on education they could never have in a typical college classroom.
At Verto, we want YOU to find the perfect post-high school plans for YOU. We’d love to help you plan for an epic start to college with a Verto semester abroad. Reach out to our team to learn more!