Life Slows Down for MTSU Study-Abroad Students in Pacific Paradise

Imagine a class full of college students having to forego being tied to their cell phones for 10 days.

In the 2015 study-abroad class taught in the Pacific Ocean nation of Fiji, MTSU students took advantage of the mostly unwired, nondigital atmosphere to explore a dramatically different culture.

“You don’t have service on your cellphone, and the Wi-Fi was here and there,” said Adam Thompson, a graduate student from Copperas Cove, Texas, majoring in leisure and sport management.

From May 28 to June 7, 13 students in the global studies course hiked through lush tropical forests, dove in crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life and feasted on organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Fiji is an archipelago of 332 islands in the South Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. About 110 of the islands are inhabited, and the population is about 903,000.

With students reaching depths of about 20 to 30 feet, they found themselves in a wet wonderland like no other.

“The soft coral was just absolutely phenomenal,” said Ray Wiley, associate director of campus recreation and instructor for the course. “You can go all over the world, but I don’t think you will find any greater collection of soft coral than you’ll find in Fiji.”

Thompson unexpectedly found himself swimming with a sea turtle who apparently didn’t mind sharing a bit of his habitat with a human being. Thompson described the experience as “breathtaking.”

In a modern variation on Tarzan’s network of vines, the class enjoyed the unique form of land/air transportation known as zip lining. The students donned harnesses and slid on inclined metal cables stretched from tree to tree.

Even more appealing to the students than the activities were the Fijian people.

“They are so humble and really show you the importance of family, hard work and faith,” said Karly Cordell, a multimedia journalism major from Dunlap, Tennessee.

“Everything they do is natural,” added Wiley. “They’re not sitting in a room hearing a marketing spiel about taking care of people. It’s not an act. They are who they are.”

Of course, it wasn’t all a recreational jaunt. Students learned about the country’s educational system by visiting schools and helped plant trees at Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park. The 20 new trees will help reduce the potential for brush fires and erosion.

The students were obligated to blog every day, create a website for photos and complete four analyses of local businesses, chronicling the firms’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

However, the learning process includes much more than homework for these students. It includes a wholly new perspective on life.

Graduate student Adam Thompson swims with a sea turtle off the coast of the Republic of Fiji during his 2015 study-abroad class.
Credit Photos provided by Ray Wiley

“Being in Fiji has really opened my eyes at how easily it is to become caught up in materialistic things rather than focusing on the things that really matter,” said Cordell. “Vinaka and sotatali, Fiji, which means ‘thank you’ and ‘see you later’ in English.”