View over the water
On the boat ride to our island where we would be staying for the next few nights

“You’re going to Fiji?!” jealously exclaimed pretty much everyone that I told about my travel plans. Not really knowing much about the country, I usually answered with a simple and lukewarm “yeah,” and proceeded to explain that it was just a stop for a few days and that I had my sights set on New Zealand for the semester more than anything else. I had seen pictures and heard about how nice it was, but never really thought about it or had any interest in going there. Needless to say, when my flight took off from Los Angeles International Airport, I had no idea what I was in for upon landing. And it was paradise. Tropical, textbook paradise.

Welcome to paradise. Photo taken on an early morning hike by Kritika Shrestha, Marymount University
Welcome to paradise. Photo taken on an early morning hike by Kritika Shrestha, Marymount University

Once we landed in Nadi, our group was shuttled to a marina where we boarded a ferry to Naviti, one of the Yasawa Islands. During the boat ride, which lasted a little over three hours, we were surrounded by some of the most picturesque island scenery imaginable, much of which evoked images of the film, Castaway. Each one was a unique display of lush green forestation, great volcanic rocks and towering cliffs framed by eggshell white sand and crystal clear turquoise ocean water. Throughout the entirety of the ride, I felt completely overwhelmed by my surroundings; the sheer beauty of each island, coupled with the tropical heat and perfect weather made me question whether or not our plane had actually crashed and we were in heaven.

Beach view island
View along the beach at our resort

Now, I should say something here to give warning to any aspiring travelers: Don’t be an idiot. Like me. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Especially in Fiji. In my spellbound state on the top deck of the boat, I ended up getting the most painful, massive, and somewhat embarrassing sunburn I’ve ever had on my face, arms, back, and shoulders that made it look like I was constantly wearing a white tank top. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with the Fijian Sun unless you want to look like the Incredible Hulk’s not-so-incredible red cousin.

Once we reached the shores of Naviti, we were welcomed in song by the resort’s Fijian employees, who smiled and greeted us each by exclaiming “Bula,” the Fijian greeting that means to send wishes of good life and good health, and is used on a totally liberal basis by Fijians. The island itself was beautiful, and looked like a snapshot from a travel magazine in every direction. The water, while often treacherous because of the sharp coral on the bottom, was the perfect temperature that was both warm and refreshing, and provided the perfect escape from the sometimes overpowering heat and humidity.

Welcome to Fiji
Welcome to Naviti

Although our time on the island was somewhat unstructured, there was never a dull moment in our days. The resort offered many activities for us to do on a daily basis, including coconut opening lessons, a spear throwing contest (which I won—heck yeah) and snorkeling gear rentals. The resort also held a kava ceremony, during which some locals prepared bowls of kava, a beverage meant to relax the body and reduce stress, and passed them around for us to try. For me, though, the ultimate highlight was our hike to a village on the other side of the island, where we were able to get a taste of the very humble lifestyle that its inhabitants were accustomed to, and included a brief trip through an elementary schoolhouse full of excited, energetic Fijian kids.

Village Visit
Photo of the village located just on the other side of the island from the resort

Our group also got to know the resort’s workers fairly well during our stay. Fijians, as I have learned, are some of the most generous, easygoing, and friendly people on the planet. “Fiji time,” a phrase that refers to the laid-back scheduling habits that Fijians are known for, implies that no event’s arranged time is set in stone and will probably happen later than planned, and it’s no myth; “Fiji time” is the perfect example of the laid-back, carefree attitude that Fijians have towards life, and it’s awesome.

Photo of enjoying life on "Fiji time" by Dillon Danforth, University of Rhode Island
Photo of enjoying life on “Fiji time” by Dillon Danforth, University of Rhode Island

I was so surprised by the locals’ lifestyles and positive attitudes that I found it hard to believe at first; I assumed that it was maybe an act that they put on for their American tourists, and that they were cracking jokes about how dumb we were behind our backs. By the end of our stay, though, I was convinced that their kindness was completely genuine, and that they really did appreciate having us as guests, especially on our last day, when they gathered to sing us a very sincere and heartfelt goodbye song.

A farewell song from the staff at Naviti

All in all, this trip helped me to understand the difference between our cultures, and to realize the degree to which things can be different outside of the United States. While extremely fun and relaxed, our time in Fiji was a pretty immersive cultural experience, and I left feeling a little more knowledgeable than I did only five days before. Even though it was such an amazing experience, I was ready to leave behind the island life by the end of the week—it was time to hit New Zealand, and I was stoked for the next steps.

Jack Shea is a student at University of New Hampshire and a TEAN Featured Blogger. He is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Dunedin, New Zealand.