Auburn Students Put Sustainability in Action on Fiji Study Abroad Experience

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

This summer, the Auburn University Office of Global Education added a new element to the Fiji study abroad experience – internship programs that would put students’ studies to work improving quality of life through sustainable practice. On the rural island of Vorovoro, Fiji, Auburn students grew professionally and personally while making the island a better place for all who live there.

During the month-long study abroad program, students stay in a Mali village in Fiji to experience firsthand authentic island life, cuisine and culture. Students have the opportunity to see and engage with sustainable projects happening on the island, and the option to participate in an internship while in Fiji further broadens student perspectives on sustainability, globalization, economic development, climate change, natural resource management, eco-tourism and consumerism.

“The internship experience is a chance for students to dive even deeper into Fijian culture,” Office of Global Education Director Kate Thornton said. “While on the study abroad portion, their days are filled with many activities and learning experiences, but during the internship, they get a chance to live in a Fijian community and work alongside community members. This also gives the students a chance to give back to the community as they each work on a sustainable community project that assists their internship site.”

Shelby Sires is a senior majoring in Global Studies with a minor in Sustainability. She was inspired in Fiji by the strong sense of community. A common phrase on the island is “one plus one equals one,” meaning the Fijian people and Auburn students coming together forms one community. Sires also heard, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

So, before her formal internship started, she worked with Dr. Anthony Lamanna of Arizona State University and members of the tribe to bring electricity to one of the family farms. Together, they constructed a fully-functional solar panel system.

“Our first weekend away from Vorovoro, we took an excursion to visit tribe member Nemani’s farm. I was extremely humbled by the way he took each of us in as if we were already apart of his family. Nemani taught me so much in such a short amount of time that I was determined to find I way I could impact him in the same way he had impacted me,” Sires said. “I worked on Nemani’s solar project for a month and he was able to help me bring it to life, even though I had never had any electrical or solar experience before. The week before I departed Fiji, with the help of many tribe members and Dr. Lamanna, I was able to bring electricity to Nemani’s farm.”

Sires and Jimbo Alldredge, a senior majoring in Global Studies with a minor in Hunger Studies, both interned at Cegu Valley Farm, a family-owned operation that practices sustainable agriculture. Sires constructed a garden that demonstrated sustainable techniques such as composting, intercropping, bio-intensive planting and organic pest management. Alldredge chose the internship because his dream is to be a missionary and work with sustainable agriculture in developing countries. By working on the farm, he learned about the day-to-day operations and the values of the Fijian people, practices he said will serve him on mission trips around the world.

“I got to become a part of the family and learn every aspect of life on the farm. I learned so many practical farming skills that I will be able to take with me when I move to India a couple years after graduation to help with sustainable agriculture,” Alldredge said. “The overarching themes that I learned and took away are what Fijian culture is built on - loving people, showing all people respect and showing all people kindness. Fijians as a whole exemplify these characteristics better than almost all people I have ever come across and I came back wanting to better live out those things.”

Human Development and Family Studies senior Mariah Watts interned at the Labasa field office for Save the Children and was responsible for traveling to Disaster Risk Reduction Clubs around Fiji to conduct an analysis of progress in the children’s lives. For three days a week, Watts interacted with the children, then for two days a week, worked in the Save the Children office with two local co-workers.

During the program, participants have to adjust to rural living on the rural island. There is no cell service or modern luxuries, which means the Auburn students must live like the locals during the program. Watts said though it was an uncomfortable way of living, it was meaningful.

“I have memories that I will never ever forget because I lived outside of my comfort zone 24/7 for over a month. I think this will help me in the future because I have realized that the things that scare me the most, are the very things that have caused me to grow the most and have left me with the most unbelievable memories,” Watts said. “Push yourself, challenge yourself, go somewhere you would probably never have a chance to go and do things you’ll probably never be able to do again. Don’t expect the Ritz Carlton, expect to camp for ten weeks, but expect to walk away a different person.”

For more information, visit the Fiji study abroad program page.