lessons learned abroad

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4 years ago… This exact time… I was packing my suitcase to move to a country I knew virtually nothing about. While so much has changed since then… That time in my life was one that will forever remain a part of who I am. Fiji was exactly what I needed at that time. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people. Every year around this time I am reminded of where I am today, but thankful for my experiences in a country I loved.

 

Ok, So I learned a lot of things, but I have narrowed it down to four and four only. I will do my very best to stick to four, because I couldn’t just do three. I have to preface this first with the fact that I studied abroad in the Fijian Islands 4 years ago almost exactly. I lived there for about 6 months. I left knowing that I needed to do this. I had a deep desire to be completely out of my comfort zone, seek adventure, meet amazing new people, and be challenged/pushed to know what it feels like to be a minority. I blame my parents for my wanderlust and desire to see the world. My dad was in the air force so from about middle school on I have lived in MN, England, California, and back to WI. Seeing and traveling Europe really opened my eyes. Moving around doesn’t really scare me and actually just the opposite…being in one place forever freaks me out. I love change.  So, 4 years ago upon my return people would ask “How was living in Fiji” and I could literally never answer it. How do you explain living abroad in 1 sentence? I found myself frustrated and I began journaling and so these four points are taken from my journal.

1.How can we live next door to neighbors here in America and NEVER even know them?

As I was sitting on the village floor eating lunch with an entire village I couldn’t help, but think…”WOW this is amazing!” This community…this ENTIRE community eats meals together every single day. Each meal. They do life together, they raise children together, they do chores together, take care of each other’s homes/ fields /and gardens TOGETHER. Everything is done as a unit. A whole village. Open door policy… you walk in hang out with each other. Yes, they each have their own homes, but the sayings “It takes a village to raise a child” and “Mi casa es tu casa” are literally true in smaller villages in Fiji. Why in America and how can we live next door to people and never even know them? I learned in Fiji the importance of loving each other and cherishing others. The importance of creating and establishing relationships with others. Even living on campus at the University of the South Pacific- you still see pieces of village life. Communal studying, eating, and hanging- always.

 

 2.       Each of us has a story to tell.

I have talked a lot about this here. I really learned that in Fiji. My study abroad group which consisted of about 10 other Americans who were all completely different from all over the U.S were just about as different as you can get. We all had a lot in common though and throughout living abroad we began to discover that there was a reason we were all in Fiji. I learned that students who came to University of the South Pacific came from many many surrounding islands including Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and many more…but yet we each had a story to tell. I found it fascinating when I was required to interview locals for one of my classes and I got to sit down and learn about different people’s lives and cultures. It all came down to this: We each have a unique and fascinating story to tell. We each have a heart, and we all feel pain. We are loved more than we will ever understand by a forgiving and amazing God

3.       God has you exactly where you should be. Trust the Plan.

Living abroad didn’t come without some hardships. Being the only white person really puts things into perspective to what other cultures may feel like here in the States. Living in a country where Christianity is becoming more common, but where ancestors often times believed in witch craft/magic/and many gods always made for interesting conversations on God. I remember talking about God to another student and she made a comment about believing in God, but still incorporating her ancestor’s beliefs. Tough situation. Coming home was actually much harder than getting adjusted to life in Fiji. I struggled for almost 2 years with feeling “trapped” here and finding it hard to share my journey and how I had changed living abroad alone. I remember hearing that “God has you there right now Elicia (meaning back in the states) to finish your teaching degree and use you there.” Making the best of it was hard sometimes, but finally FINALLY four years later I feel like he was right. God has you wherever and whatever stage in life you are at- exactly where you should be. Trust his plan!

4. Island time means ISLAND TIME-

No person is in a hurry. 30 min late is the normal. Everything is on island time and in no rush. At first you love it- no place to be nothing to do. Then you hate it (because you are trying to “get things done”) Then you learn to love it. You don’t realize how fast paced America is until you are gone for a long time. Island time grew frustrating once I was living at the University of the South Pacific because I wanted things done and I wanted it ASAP. NOPE. Not gonna happen in Fiji.  When I wanted a research paper printed it was literally (no joke people) a 1/2 a day process. You had to go across campus and get a print card. Then go to another office to get the print card activated. Then wait in line at a computer lab varying from 30 min to an hour… Which then no joke took 40 min to long in because they were computers from like 1980. Then you realize after you log in that the card code doesn’t work. HA! Joke is on you…you silly American. So back to the office to receive a new card and start all over. This happens a lot. At first it is frustrating until you learn that deadlines can be pushed back (and usually are) and literally no one is in a hurry. So why should you be?  Later, I learned to LOVE and seriously adore Island life.I learned quickly how sometimes American life is based on the individual and getting ahead. It took a long time for me to stop waving and smiling to strangers on the sidewalk with no response (once back in the states.) In Fiji, every person n’ every place you go will greet you with a massive smile and hug. They will even shout across streets, over buildings, and around corners to greet you. Then when they do greet you (because they are on island time) they will stop and have a conversation with you because they are in no hurry. It is awesome. You are never in trouble when you show up 30 min late or even 45 min into a lecture or even important business meetings, because it is usually starting then anyway. It is simply fabulous. Island time means slowing down, appreciating life, and spending time with those around you.

…So.Many things have happened since those 4 years. I married my absolute best friend and the coolest man that I know in the Dominican Republic. Still though, Fiji remains a part of who I am and how I look at life. I still seek adventure and have the past few years just in other ways. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I am proud to say that I DID stick around the states long enough to earn my  teaching degree.

So, if you have read this far…you may be thinking “why is she talking about Fiji now?” I promise you it relates to my next post. In. so many. BIG. ways.

Stay tuned 🙂

boat and trees celebration night dinner

fiji family and me fiji me and kids Fijian kids Indian festival looking down at village story telling sunrise sunset village again

One of the villages I stayed in (view from hike up) ^^

ovillage celebration group shot village men village spokesman

Village spokesman telling us history after dinner this talking and hanging/ drinking kava (traditional root drink) can go on all night.

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About Elicia Shepard

I'm unique just like you. I've learned every person has a story which makes us who we are. One minute I am here..then I am gone. Discovering unknown places and people is an addiction I am proud of and will be an endless journey of mine. Smiling is not a pastime it's what I do. I live for moments that take my breath away. Falling in love is the greatest feeling-and the biggest risk. I thrive off of risks.Challenges. Adrenaline rushes. Making others smile. Art is all around and in ourselves. I love taking an unknown path not knowing where it'll lead. Mystery is beautiful. Compassion, kindness, and love- things I will always strive for. Know what you believe in. Stand up for it. Never be afraid to feel. Time waits for no one.Ever. Children inspire me. God fires me. Happiness is being with those you love.I am really blessed. I think God is love and forgiveness and I think he wants us to be good people and love EVERYONE. Figure out who you are and what that means to you-It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself (and you deserve it.) Live frugally on surprise. Breathe. Be who you are. Be an outcast...If you wanna find me I will be where the wind blows...Wherever that may take me.

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