“My experience with the Internship Around the World program was both illuminating and inspiring. Through this program I had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, Fiji and Australia and catch a glimpse of their natural beauty and the cultures that cultivate them. As a biologist, I was excited to find an internship that focused on marine biology in these amazing places. In Hawaii we studied the effects of tourism on spinner dolphins, we assisted with the fingerprinting of green sea turtles by taking photos of their profiles, and we received certification as humpback whale naturalists. In Fiji we studied reef ecology, specifically looking at sea grasses and the incredible biodiversity there. We became scuba certified and had the opportunity to go on several dives. We also discussed effects of climate change, as a huge area of coral had been bleached due to abnormally high water temperatures the year before. And lastly, in Australia we stayed on an island near the Great Barrier Reef, where we spent more time learning about reef ecology and conducting independent research.
While studying the biogeography, native flora and fauna, and human impacts on ecosystem health, we were also immersed in rich histories and traditions through a village homestay in Fiji, camping in the Australian outback, and hearing stories of Hawaiian mythology while watching lava from an active volcano flow into the ocean. For me, these experiences uncovered a compelling relationship between humans and the natural environment, and I started to develop a better understanding of the connectivity and interdependence between them.
Overall, this internship broadened my perspective on the interaction between environmental, socio-cultural and economic issues while reaffirming my interests in biological sciences. It helped me realize that environmental stewardship and problem-solving is centered around the interface between humans and the natural environment, and moving forward involves a multi-faceted approach that incorporates the needs of the locals, scientists, engineers, businesses, and administration involved. This motivated me to pursue an interdisciplinary Doctorate that would allow me to advance in a career that facilitates a more collaborative process between researchers, the public, and policymakers to create positive change in regards to healthy ecosystems, cultural needs and the economy. I feel lucky to have been able to participate in this program, and I hope others are able to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn and grow through ICE’s many internships.”
“Dr. Adams . . . New Zealand is amazing! The weather has been beautiful. The at-risk youth center is great! The staff has been wonderful and really make me feel welcome. I love working with the children. The work is fun but also challenging and engaging. Many of the children that come to stay at the center have emotional and behavioral problems. Most of the time the children are sweet and very loving, but every one in a while they just have to let loose. The other <span”>students that I’m living with are great. There are 3 from Germany and 1 from France. There is a little language barrier sometimes, but we all seem to get through it together. This whole experience has really opened my eyes to a new way of living and working. I have learned in the past month that I have more freedom then I thought when working with the children. I’m allowed to take between 2-4 children down to the beach that is 10 minute walk from the Home. The beach is filled with rocks where you can find little crabs and pretty seashells. I was very surprised when I learned I was allowed off sight with the children alone. I guess it is a way for the children to have more one on one time with the staff rather than having 20 people around all the time and everyone needing constant attention. “</span”>
“Dear IGS Staff . . .The SCDNR staff were really nice and supportive, from day one they made me feel like I was really part of their research team as a valuable member. The lab and research facilities were top notch and it was really cool to have the college right there. I was also able to go out in the field electrofishing and trammel net fishing. This was really cool because these techniques of fishing can only be done with a special permit and for research purposes exclusively. It was the first time in my life I really got to handle live fish and the boating staff was so knowledgeable they could tell me anything about any of the marine life we saw. The house I stayed at was cute and comfortable. The host was so nice and really helped me in getting acclimated by showing me all the best places to eat, shop, and go to the beach, as well as give me a taste of all of the fascinating history that the area holds. I worked hard, had fun, and made great contacts; what more could you want? “
“So far so good-the owners of the Butterfly Garden are very nice, as are the other volunteers. I am already giving tours! Santa Elena Cloudforest is lovely and the Garden itself is beautiful. Thank you so much for setting this internship up for me. “
“The best part of my experience in Hawaii was undoubtedly being able to engage with the girls I worked with one-on-one. While I met with the girls in a group of 10 to run the program everyday, I had opportunities to spend time with them individually before and after. I still keep in contact with the majority of the girls through e-mail, and their continued eagerness to discuss some of the very topics we covered in the “Smart Girls” program I ran proves to me the importance of mentorship.I also can’t emphasize enough how wonderful the staff at the Boys and Girls Club was. They went out of their way to invite me along to do activities with them- trips around the island, picnics, etc. Having done other internships before, I also appreciated how much responsibility they gave me. I was encouraged to design my own program and club activities, not simply instructed what to do. I really think that being able to take such initiative as a college intern is unique.”
“The newspaper placement is going very well. I wrote a review of the new Niki Caro movie The Vintner’s Luck this morning after seeing the screening last night. The experience has been great so far. I’m thinking of doing some travelling on the weekends, and may be able to write some things for them when I go. Alastair has been very kind and everyone else is nice too. “
“I just wanted to say thank you so much for the experience of Fiji this summer, it was amazing. I also wanted to thank you for the opportunity to go back, I hope to go back to Fiji next summer and possibly Nepal.”
“I had such an amazing time working with the at-risk youth in Honolulu. I absolutely loved the staff and I can’t believe how much I got out of the experience. I was able to create my own projects for the kids as well as help with current events. I would love to tell other people about it. “
“It was an amazing, amazing trip! The village was really interesting, and we did some superb snorkeling there. From there, we stayed in Suva, and loved that as well. You’ll probably talk to Joanna about more of the details, but it was a real eye-opening experience. Brought home kava, so we can try it with some friends here. Should be interesting! It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had, so thanks for making it possible! “
“How’s it going? Just wanted to drop a quick line, let you know I’m back from Nepal. I just want to reiterate how great my time in Nepal was and thank you for helping me coordinate it, and remind you that if you have any more questions concerning the information I already sent you I would be happy to help, and you can pass my information along to any future participants who are looking for advice. I must say that my contact person was a big help. Also, I am strongly considering going back to Kathmandu this fall, to take a few more courses. The tuition fees are quite reasonable, and I think spending a semester there will really allow me to build on the foundation I received last month. I’ll keep you posted on that as well. Hope all is well.”
“This is an experience you can’t have preconceptions about. The friendly people, stimulating information, and the unbelievable scenery will blow you out of the water. This internship is about new experiences that will open your mind. Baron is one of the kindest people I have ever met. He is very thoughtful and grateful. He is such a great teacher, and his enthusiasm rubs off on his <span”>students.”</span”>
“I have to say that I learned more about how other people live in the two days in the village than in any of my other travels, including living in Italy. It was really difficult, but a mind-blowing experience. We find ourselves telling people about it more than any other part of the trip. Let’s face it, how interesting are the beautiful views in New Zealand when compared to the sevu sevu in Fiji. Thanks again, David, for all of your help. You know, I think you are directly responsible for two of my favorite trips! Cheers,”
“David . . .The at-risk yout center is wonderful. Everybody has been super kind in helping be get aquainted. Thids kids are great too. They really appreciate my help. I am so glad I chose this internship and IGS”
“Patrick has had an absolutely wonderful experience…Fiji (he absolutely loved Toby Wood, & had some great 1st experiences), New Zealand ( the Aspinall’s were wonderful and he really enjoyed the work), Hawaii at the whale research house in Maui, and now he is on Oahu working on a ranch for two months. I think he is planning to come home after that…we will keep you posted. The good that has come out of all of this is not only the terrific experiences and great people he has met but I also think he has college in his sights…and a greater sense of maturity that of course comes with time……If you have new opportunities we would love to hear about them in the future. Good to hear from you, Many thanks,”
“Bula…it is such a great experience for us interns and the villagers. it is good to see productive measures going back to the community as well as the environment. My family, Taco Tony and Nene Anna have been great and it is very hard to leave them. They have been so thankful for the support they have gotten from your program and it has inspired me to look into doing the same in the future. I will return today to the village to collect my bags to say a final farewell…until next time. Taveuni was wonderful, as you recommended, and it was good to finally see that island as that has been a place I have wanted to see from the first time I came here. Anyhow, next time we talk I will be stateside, thank you so much for your corrospondance and for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime. “
“Planting trees was really rewarding, and I learned a lot about Hawaiian natural history, local plant history and plant propagation. I really felt I was helping out.”
“Just wanted to let you know that everything is going well here. The people here could not be any nicer or more welcoming. I am slowly adjusting to this different but beautiful culture. Talk to you soon,”
“Jen is having a wonderful time in Auckland. Thanks for your help in setting it up with those folks! “
“I went to the Fijian today and had a great time with Fulori…she’s super fun. She’s fine with me staying in Kulukulu, and transportation is no problem. It looks like its going to be a really worthwhile internship. So I’m stoked….thank you for that. The location where I’m at is very accomodating . . . so I’m all set. Thanks for that… “
“The proposal you sketched out for me in the e-mail sounds fantastic! More than I possibly could have hoped for. You have managed to deftly blend all the interests I wanted to pursue while in Thailand. I could not have asked for a more amazing oppurtunity and without a doubt this is the project I wish to pursue. Looking over the outline you drafted up, I agree that an initial three weeks of language schooling is a good idea. Sincerely,”
“I’m fine, I just came back from Beqa to Suva and I’m going to Taveuni tomorrow. The training with Helen was good and the work is going well. I finished the first part of the research about the taboo in Beqa now and I will continue the next part in Taveuni. The people in the village were very nice and welcoming and I was a great experience to see how the people live there.”
“As an editorial intern for the premier Wellington, New Zealand Political Newspaper the primary focus of my job was covering the national elections in New Zealand and the United States. As a journalism student at Arizona State University, I was eager to understand the structure of a news organization in another country. The paper specializes in providing the public with news directly from the source — publishing press releases from various organizations. They also host live video and audio feeds of Parliament. While taping legislative hearings, I was struck by the intimacy of my access to New Zealand’s government. I also traveled extensively around the North and South islands. One cultural highlight was my stop at Rotorua, a town several hours north of Wellington. I visited a Maori village and learned about their historical way of life. These cultural explorations were equally important in rounding out my overall experience.”
“Thank you again for your help and for starting the Intern Around the World Program. I really enjoyed and learned a lot about marine biology in Hawaii, Fiji, and Australia and feel lucky to have been so fortunate to participate in it and gain that experience.”
“Had call from David. Enjoying village life very much his family is great with 4 little boys. His mom, Bola, is a good cook and is stuffing him. His dad, also a Pita ,sits with him and has him eat first. He hopes to change this as it is awkard to him. Am sure you know all about these customs and are smiling. Saw 3 lion fish and a sea snake on his first dive. Sounds like you have a convert!”
“I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but well, there are lots of excuses, not to mention the fact that I just have not had anything interesting to say! I did, however, mean to thank you, and when I recently found a funny letter (of thanks) that I’d written while we were still near Litiva, I decided to stop procrastinating. Aside from my unnecessarily long ‘introduction’, thanks for everything!! I can’t express to you what an experience this trip was for me. I honestly can’t remember enjoying my life that much since I was about five. I must admit that, in retrospect I liked most of the readings (and essays) we did. I think the academics did also increase my appreciation for everything else we were doing, i.e. hiking in incredible landscapes in HI, staying with traditional villages in Fiji, etc. Thus, I’m really glad you made me do the readings and participate in discussions!”
“I’m sure that there is a lot I am forgetting to say, but my mind is pretty foggy right now, so just please know that I really appreciate everything you’ve done, and I really can’t thank you enough for making this such a wonderful opportunity.
Thanks, My New Zealand experience was amazing! I was living with the Watson’s who live in the Mount Victoria District of Wellington. Maria Watson was treated me like a son, and was brilliant when it came to cooking and eating healthy, organic foods; to this day I still use her recipes and have become developed much better eating habits as a result of her influence. Own Watson was more reserved, but was also brilliant in his own right, he was full of interesting facts, and opinions; and was always willing to get into deep discussions about various topics. The location was perfect, 5 minutes to Courtenay Place (the most active street in Wellington) where there were dozens of restaurants, shops, theaters, and bars. Another 5 minutes takes you past the supermarket (very convenient) to New Zealand’s National Museum (admittance is free!); I took 4 trips just to see it all. From there it is only a couple minutes to the local opera theater, Wellington Library, City Council, other Museums, Parliament, the train station, popular shopping areas and of course the Wellington Botanic Gardens. There was simply too much to do there, even for being there for six weeks, a few things I enjoyed were seeing plays (dozens of small theaters and a good amount of larger venues), taking tours, visiting the museums, and seeing the sites. My hosts were very kind, interactive, and were always offering me advice to make my experience more memorable.
This city is for anyone looking for diversity and culture. Working at the gardens was a wonderful experience and I met some good friends that I will remember forever. Leanne, my contact and supervisor at the botanic gardens, was one of the friendliest people I have ever met. She always sought to maximize not only my internship experience, but also my experience in New Zealand. She allowed me to shuffle through some of the different departments at the Gardens. For the first two weeks I worked at Otari-Wilson’s Bush, a large reserve not connected to the main gardens. Otari was a very cool experience, the entrance has the typical exhibits you would see at a botanical garden with the exception that all the plants are New Zealand natives. The other 95% of Otari was all breathtaking hills covered by native forest. There were 6 trails at Otari, most memorable was the skyline trail, the longest trail that takes you to the top of the Otari where you can look down on the rest of the reserve as well as get a breathtaking view of Wellington. At Otari I worked on creating/altering/maintaining different plant exhibits, cloning plants, and upkeep of the paths. Working in the out doors with my New Zealand coworkers was always enjoyable and the staff taught me many different things about the plants inhabiting Otari.
The Next 2 weeks were spent in the Main Botanic Gardens. Here I worked on various Non Native Plant exhibits, I learned even more about various plant species, and also many facts on the growing conditions and unique features of the plants in the exhibits. They also allowed me to do some work as with an arborist, using ropes and harnesses to climb trees over 75 Feet tall. I was also able to go to the Rose Garden and Bagonia House as it was only a 4 minute walk from the Main Garden offices. The Rose garden was vibrant, spacious, and being there gave you a calming feeling to just stop and … smell the roses. The Bagonia house was a green house that had all kind of rare and unique plants.
The last 2 weeks was spent at the Plant Nursery. Here I mainly worked on seed/plant propogation, and seedling potting. Here I learned how much work actually goes into managing a botanic garden. Seeds and plant clones were all documented on when they were obtained, where they were obtained, and what species they were. Quantities and types of plants were also documented for shipping purposes as the Nursey was the source for desired plants for everyone in the Wellington region. I learned a lot about propogation techniques, the names and characteristics of different species of plants, all stages of plant growth, and certain aspects of the business and management of the Gardens. The most enjoyable thing at the Nursery was seed collecting. My supervisor and I would drive all around the beautiful areas in and around Wellington to find and collect the specific seeds the Nursery needed.
Final thoughts, The whole trip was wonderful, from exploring the city, to learning how a Botanical Garden operates. Everyone in New Zealand was noticeably more friendly than people in the States, even perfect strangers always had time to help me and were happy to do so. I recommend this for anyone who would like to get into botany or any plant related profession.”
“I have fallen in love with this island. I am currently working with a fisherman at the moment and am faring well. I have settled in nicely with the Fijian way of life and am treated as one of them here. Thank you for everything you have done. Vinaka”
Seldom have I found a place where I have felt so completely at home and fulfilled as I have in Koke’e. The work in conservation biology and the people here have helped me reaffirm my desire to be involved in environmental science. It has also helped me to understand where I want to go in my future endeavors. I have received complete support from the Katie, Ellen and David which they displayed by showing an intense desire to teach me about the forest ecosystem and guide me in any way possible. When I arrived up on the mountain, I spent the first couple of weeks working out in the forest, just trying to identify the plants. This was no easy task considering that Hawaiian plant names are completely different than common names and usually consist of about one consonant and five vowels. I am still having trouble remembering the difference between A’ali’i, Ala’a , and Alahe’e. Despite the fact that my coworkers spoke about the overall ecosystem functioning, my energy was completely focused on the minute details of plant identification. I suppose now, looking back, that that was a good way to begin; it is important to build knowledge from the base up. I now have an understanding of the basic constituents of the mesic to wet forest here. However, it wasn’t until we took a four-day backpacking trip into Alakai swamp that the delicate balance between the plants and their environment really struck me.
Nine of us left for the swamp early on a Friday morning in order to hike into the Wainiha poli area. Until that time I had only seen patches of native forest and our constant battle against the weeds was feeling futile. The swamp on the other hand is almost entirely native; we only went there to eradicate small patches of incipient Kahili Ginger. The swamp’s forest was absolutely breathtaking. There were huge O’hia Lehua trees, that over the ages had formed complex structures as one tree has fallen and others had grown out of it. All the structures were covered in thick mats of hanging moss and there was an atmospheric lighting as the 10-foot tree ferns filtered the sunlight. On one tree alone there seemed to be thousands of functioning ecosystems, with millions of minute organisms living together in balance. It was quite a different spectacle than the areas in which we had worked, where strawberry guava was the only thing the eye could see. While in the swamp I also had the rare experience of seeing a Puaiohi. These dove- like birds are endangered with only 300 of their kind left. Unfortunately, I just wrote it off as being a dove, until later I heard there are no doves in the area.
The work we did in the swamp and in the rest of Koke’e was enhanced by my coworkers. I felt that they all wanted to share their understanding and intense love of the forest with me. Katie’s knowledge of plants is astounding. She knows the scientific, common, and Hawaiian name as well as each plant’s history and general information. Ellen was also especially helpful. She spent many hours discussing my independent research project with me. She gave me input and ideas and taught me about analyzing and graphing my results.
Overall my internship in Koke’e has been extremely rewarding and educational. However my experience here has shown me that I do not want to go into conservation biology; I don’t believe I have the tireless faith shown by the people here. Instead I hope to do research so I can feel that I am moving forward. However, the application of the work done here is so valuable that I have also realized I want to go into an applied science. So although I haven’t realized that my calling is to become a botanist, I have realized many things. The forest here is severely threatened and restoration projects are utterly under funded. There is a great need for researchers with funding to study the forest here so the conservation work isn’t done blindly. I would love to be one of those researchers. Ideally, just give me a few years and I’ll return to Kauai with my degree and funding to work on the problem.
Upon my completion of high school, I reflected on what I had achieved in those four long years. It was then that I finally realized that I had never taken a chance, had never done some thing different, something that would set me apart from the rest of my class. I realized that I had not given myself the chance to enrich my character and grow mentally. It was time for me to take a chance and leave my circle of comfort for the first time; I applied for an internship in Fiji.
Interning through the Institute of Cultural Ecology and U.C. Santa Barbara allowed me the ultimate opportunity to be what it was to be an independent person. It taught me how to fend for myself and helped me to understand the world in which we live in. This was my first taste of the outside world. My internship was a reef study, but the true personal development occurred in my home stay in Votua Village and my interaction with its citizens.
The villagers were just beginning to come to grips with the world around them. They were learning about the new technologies and the every day current events in the outside world. They followed the carry-carry system of borrowing without the need for repayment. I realized that in order to survive in the world mentally and physically, I needed to take action for myself rather than to allow people to step in for me. I learned to support myself and to find ways, while involving the people around me, to get the necessary tasks done that better the group as a whole. I learned how to be a “team player.”
The villagers treated me like a long lost family member that had just returned home. They taught me the valuable skills that were needed to survive in their environment and at the end of my journey, I could spear fish enough to provide food for three families and at the end of my journey, I could use bamboo to build huts and other structures. And at the end of my stay I had helped a man in the village build his hut. At the end of my journey, I was able to travel with the men to the jungle to find herbs for their many natural medicines. They transformed me in to an efficient worker that could survive on his own.
The reef study was another wonderful experience. I got to see the largest variety of fish that I have ever seen in my entire life. From the crown of thorns starfish, to the French angelfish, I saw them all. My partner Eric and I decided taught a member of the village how to do the line-transect survey that we had been using to continue our research.
When I was doing my internship, the state of the Marine Preserve was improving. We were beginning to see more and more indicator species turn up on our surveys. We sighted a bump-head parrotfish. This species, especially in the area of study, is a very rare sight. When this species is sighted it is an indicator of improving reef health. The quality of the marine environment was stellar in comparison to the reefs that I had viewed in previous dives in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The experience in the marine protected area just outside of Votua Village was the best diving I have ever seen.
Coral diversity was evident everywhere. From massive field of fire coral to the many different types of Gorgonian soft corals, nearly every major species of coral is represented in that area. Inside those corals live some of the most vibrant parrotfish variations, the strange lionfish, and the imposing white tip shark. It is a complete ecosystem that is one of the most diverse in the world.
After seeing the types of cultures and landscapes that existed on the other side of the world in Fiji I gained a sense of myself. I was no longer the big child that I had been my whole life. I was now a thinker, a dreamer that was able to accomplish goals and to realize where people were coming from.
Anna Lindhjem, who completed two years as a biology major at St. Michael’s College in Vermont and is now taking a break from traditional college education in Hawaii, enrolled in the program as a concession to her parents’ desire that she stay engaged academically. “It was kind of a compromise between traveling and school,” says Lindhjem, who had been reconsidering the focus of her studies. “I got to earn credits and stay out of the classroom.” Not wanting to stray too far from her background in biology, yet interested in exploring something somewhat different, Lindhjem settled on the marine-biology focus for her multinational journey. “It wasn’t that hard to choose,” she says. “I’d never had any marine-science classes, and I figured if I liked it, I could stay and finish school in Hawaii and not have to go back to the mainland.”
Lindhjem cites her stay in a village in Fiji as the most eye-opening. “The houses there are single-room shanties, but the people set us up with whatever they could. I had a mattress, and the family slept on the floor, and they had an outhouse and no electricity. But they treated us so well; we were offered everything they had.”
Lindhjem also tells of an experience working on the north shore of Oahu doing drift-net recovery with a sea turtle advocate. She explains, “It’s a common practice for fishing boats to cut their old nets loose when they’re old or ripped and leave them in the ocean. One net meets another and they’re just a tangled mess snowballing across the Pacific that wash up on our little islands … Turtles get stuck in them and they end up killing the reefs as well.” She estimates that she and her companions pulled up six thousand pounds of net in two days, and describes how their work encouraged the participation of island locals. “The second day we went out happened to be the Fourth of July, so a lot of families were out and setting up picnics, and they saw what we were doing and started helping. They wanted to know how they could do this, how they could continue to help. I think they saw what a difference a bunch of random people could make to clean up their beach, and it was really cool.”
Adams discusses the long-term effects of such experiences. “A lot of these kids are going to come out of this program and it’s going to be potentially life changing. What’s rewarding for me is that I may be dealing with the sons and daughters of lawyers and accountants and venture capitalists. That’s all they know, and they’re headed straight toward that course in life, but it just so happens that we cross paths and I get a chance to expand their horizons and kind of steer them toward alternative routes, whether that means fund-raising for nature conservancy or something related in some other way.” He tells of one former student, Andi Nelson, who performed a six-week field study in Hawaii, living in a Buddhist temple and writing a paper on Buddhism and ecology. On her return home, she added a minor in environmental studies and instituted a program of student-orientation wilderness trips for incoming <span”>students at her college.</span”>
In Lindhjem’s case, the program didn’t direct her to a single path for future academic pursuit, but opened doors to numerous possibilities instead. “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life or with a degree,” she says. “A lot of things sound cool, and a lot of things sound fun.” She has decided that she isn’t interested in pursuing hard science, however. “I’m not so interested in how a cell works anymore. I’d like to know how all things work together, like reef ecology or even how humans came into effect, and how they affect their environment. I think I may be onto a bigger picture.”
Lindhjem credits her experience with the institute for her new interest in environmental science and ecology, and even for a turnaround in her feelings about school. “Being in a class with hardcore biologists, I used to pray for the animal I was dissecting … I think I’ve kind of known all along that it’s not what I’m into … It may be why I haven’t gone straight through school and gotten a biology degree.” Most importantly, she feels that a world of unlimited learning has been opened up to her through her guided travels. She sums up her experience, saying, “There was a sign we saw on the wall of a hostel in Maui that said ‘Be a traveler, not a tourist,’ and I think that’s what we really got to do.
When I told all my friends that I would be going to Fiji for six weeks they said I was the luckiest guy in the world… they were right. I had no idea what to expect. I mean I’ve heard that once you go to Fiji you will never want to return. Before I left for my excursion I did a little reading into how the Fijians live, what they eat, and what customs they have.
I have never really traveled alone, especially for six weeks. All I knew is that I was going to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world, living with complete strangers, and living a different life. After an hour and half drive I finally made it to my destination. A little place called Votua Village, which lies right in the middle of the coral coast. The driver pulls up to this little house and I said to myself, “Wow this place is small.” It was nothing what I had expected. I walked inside and this wonderful family greeted me with firm handshakes and open arms. I set all my bags in my own room and right when I was finished the family offered me food.
The food was set out on the floor on a cloth that was hand made. As a matter of fact the entire floor was made from tree stems and it was all hand made. After swallowing down a bit of food the family told me I was needed at the dive shop. Not knowing where that was, a little boy I lived with named Wiley who was about seven walked me to the dive shop. The dive shop is part of the village and is actually run by people who live in the village and a percent of what the dive shop makes goes to the village. At the dive shop I was introduced to Blue, Albert, Pita, Junior, Wiley, Smelly, and JQ who were all workers. They all spoke very good English but of course they had the native Fijian dialect. The first thing they said was, “Would you like a cup of tea?” So we all sat down and I enjoyed the absolute best tea ever and the reason for that was Fiji is a main exporter of brown sugar.
While we were drinking tea, Pita who is the dive master and he pretty much runs the shop, explained to me what I would be doing. He said I would be doing MPA (Marine Protected Area) surveys, working on a new type of surveying in the ocean, and just any work around the shop. I was looking forward to this. Because the village is right on the ocean, they catch most of their food themselves. Now to do this they have to walk on top of the corals, which end up dying, in order to spear the fish so they can feed their family. When the villagers walk on top of the corals they crush them and they just die. They also use a special root that stuns the fish but little do they know it also kills the coral. The MPA was designed to show the villagers that if you leave it alone the corals will live and more fish will start coming around. The MPA was about half mile walk from the village and was marked off with buoys. Nobody is allowed to walk inside of it whatsoever.
Our job was to survey the MPA area calculating the percent of live coral and dead coral and also some indicator species and then compare that to areas on both side of the MPA, which were not protected. With the girls previous work and the work I did along with my friend Jack (another intern) we showed that the MPA had anywhere from 10 to 20 times more corals, fish, and invertebrates. We put all of our information together and introduced it to the village in hopes to get the MPA extended bit by bit so that soon the MPA will be much larger and even the villagers could enjoy the amazing life under the water.
When I wasn’t doing MPA work I would spend a lot of time with my Fijian brother Cheetah, whom I lived with in the village. I never thought I could grow so close to someone in such a short amount of time. He taught me the Fijian way of life, introduced me to their customs, taught me how to climb 40-foot coconut trees, grow crops, and even build a burre (a Fijian house). The first night I was in Fiji they had a Kava ceremony. Kava is a very sacred root that they grow, pull it out, and grind it up to make a drink. The ground up Kava root is mixed with water in a giant bowl and is then served to all that is around. It is custom to clap once before accepting the bowl, say bula, and then clap twice after you drink it. It is not the best taste in the world so many villagers have a little piece of candy to put in their mouth afterwards. The Kava makes your tongue and lips go numb for a little bit and if you have enough of it you can get drunk. Life in the village was completely different from that at home. Everyone is very nice and they will always greet you with a smile.
As I would walk from house to house they would all be yelling “Bula Eric”, which means hello and all the little kids would come running out to play. The village was not very big with only about 300 people living there and most of the running water came from a little stream nearby. The showers were very cold with no heat and not much pressure so on cold days you had to suck it up and hold your breath. But the weather wasn’t too bad at all. For the first three weeks I was there it had rained non-stop and when it rains the entire village stays inside because they don’t enjoy the rain too much. I found out that when it is summer in the states it is winter in Fiji and visa versa but the rainy season is their summer. After the rain had stopped the weather was absolutely amazing.
The biggest sport in Fiji by far is rugby. Every single day the villagers would set up games in the middle of the village and play for a couple hours. After I learned the rules I was playing right along with them. But for them this was only practice because the villagers had a league team, which was very good. I had the chance to watch them play and I thought they were good in the village, but they were even better when it came down to the real thing. Their game field was about 3 miles from the village and all the villagers would walk to watch them play. You get used to walking everywhere because even though transportation is cheap it gets expensive after a while. You could hitch a ride from practically anyone with a car but the main source of transportation was mini vans that would drive up and down all day long and you could pay them .50 cents to go 20 miles. Many things in Fiji were much cheaper which made it very nice to buy things.
I made so many friends in Fiji and I know I will have them for the rest of my life. I want to talk to them but I know I can’t because they don’t own phones and very few of them have a post box. But the one thing they said to me is, “Eric whenever you want to come back, you just come straight to the village because this is your home.” So now whenever I want to go to Fiji I have a place to live because not only have I made so many friends…I’ve become family.