The Rewards of Responsible Travel

To truly appreciate a country you must meet their people, establish relationships and live the culture

International travel, for the most part, is an enjoyable experience. I have been fortunate to have travelled to many countries and experienced many cultures, however it was not until I experienced the Fijian Highlands as a supervising teacher for 20 St Catherine’s students earlier this year, that I realised the responsibility we have as travellers and what it truly means to be a global citizen.

There is an immense difference between visiting a country and experiencing its culture. To truly appreciate a country you must meet their people, establish relationships and live the culture – these are the essential elements to meaningful travel.

Through actually ‘being’ in Fiji and experiencing the Fijian lifestyle, myself and 20 St Catherine’s students completely changed our outlook, ideologies and opinions on culture, philanthropy, wealth and living in the moment.

A lack of air conditioning, simplistic streetscapes, limited electricity and the hunting and gathering culture of the village locals certainly gave us some culture shock in our first few days. However over the following days each of our students, as well as the supervising teachers, developed a greater understanding of the culture and the local people of Nasivikoso Village.

The people of Nasivikoso have few material possessions and live quite simple lives, yet our girls discovered these same people are amazingly rich. Far outweighing any material item we may think makes us happy, the locals are rich in culture, tradition, family, community spirit and togetherness. They are so happy, always smiling, laughing and joking and incredibly warm and welcoming. No one wears a watch and rushes to meet deadlines and appointments.

Our girls often questioned what makes the people of Nasivikoso so warm and friendly? It was evident to many girls that the local people were forever smiling at us and it was clear from the start, the impact a smile can have in bringing people together. Tom, our trip leader summed it up so beautifully commenting that, “Everyone smiles in the one language.” This was a very early realisation for many of us which prompted the girls to question their daily lives and if they are welcoming enough.

When asked to describe the Fijian people and their culture my personal favorite is refreshing. Our trip to Fiji was so refreshing. In western society we are so incredibly time poor, we are married to our jobs, see much less of our family than we should and we are forever living in the future to obtain the extra mark, make the deal and secure the client. The essence of life in Fiji, is the most important time is the present. So for many of us upon leaving, it was our aim to not live so much in the future.

So how did we achieve such an incredibly rewarding cultural experience and learn so much in such a short amount of time? The answer is simple. We were responsible travelers. We were well prepared in understanding the importance of cultural ceremonies and customs. We did our fair share of cava ceremonies, but it was so important to have the blessing of the local people and be welcomed into their community. We dressed appropriately. Our girls wore their sulu’s and removed sunglasses whenever entering the village. The head is sacred in Fijian culture. If you are higher than someone else when you stand up and leave a seated group, we used the word “Tulou” to say excuse me. We never walked through a conversation or through the middle of a circle as a sign of respect to our peers. We learned common phrases in the local dialect and spoke to many village people and children.

Destination Dreaming can take a lot of credit for preparing us so well. Our girls realised a sense of social justice and increased their understanding of the complexity of the issues surrounding poverty and its underlying causes. Destination Dreaming’s relationship with the village is not one of charity but educational enrichment by both parties. We learned just as much from them as they learned from us. The relationship is mutually respectful with equality in partnership. Sustainability is important. The local school was built only four years ago in conjunction with the government to ensure ongoing support. Through student led fundraising St Catherine’s was able to donate a water filter to the school and just like the school, it was installed by local people in support of the local ecconomy. Our girls learned that if we volunteer to do a role that a local person could be paid to do, we undercut the labour market and continue the poverty cycle.

This experience will shape the way many of our girls experience travel. The reverse culture shock of spending four days in a Fijian resort after our Highlands experience was abundantly evident. The following questions were common – why are we here listening to western music, eating western food, being served and waited on by people speaking fluent English? Get us back to the highlands and our Fijian family!

Sightseeing is spectacular but a travel experience, is in a whole other league. Living the cultural experience through responsible, respectful travel makes it meaningful travel.

Mr Bradley Hicks
Physical Education Teacher
Supervising Teacher – Fiji Education Tour 2015

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