Sun, Sand, and Service, Fiji 2017
Charlotte is a junior at Belmont University, currently studying Public Relations with a minor in Sociology. At school, she is a member of Alpha Sigma Tau, Relay for Life, Service Corps, and Up til Dawn. Charlotte hope to become a Public Affairs officer in the US Air Force and eventually volunteer for the Peace Corps.
All photos have been provided by Charlotte. Read her story below!
Boarding the plane in LAX, I could feel my heart pounding. Looking around, the only person I recognize is my sister walking behind me. Mind racing and anxiety rising, I step foot onto the plane that will soon be in Fiji in just 15 short hours.
Little did I know that stepping foot on that plane was not simply the first step to starting my Rustic Pathways Sun, Sand, and Service program; but the first step to finding my purpose in life. As cliche as it sounds, my experience in Fiji is simply indescribable.
Of course, I’m able to describe the stunning scenery that surrounds the Eco-Lodge along with the hilarious moments made with friends.
But I’m unable to fully put into words the happiness I felt while staring at the stars laughing with the friends who quickly became my family.
Nor can I truly describe the sensation of purpose and joy I felt playing with the children at the Women and Children’s Home in Momi Bay.
My time spent abroad in Fiji in 2017 changed everything I thought I knew about myself. I was fortunate enough to discover a true passion of mine: travel. Going abroad before my junior year of high school granted me more perspective on potential careers and colleges I wanted to pursue.
My short two weeks in Fiji has been resulting in a domino effect like no other. Following my return home, I made the decision to live my life with an open mind and open heart.
I continued working with Rustic Pathways for my Girl Scout Gold Award. We spent months creating, developing and raising money for a nonprofit smoothie cafe called Sun, Sand, and Smoothies; located on the Eco-Lodge’s property. The cafe became fully operational by the summer of 2018!
Aside from continuing my work with Rustic Pathways, my trip to Fiji played a major role in pushing me to go to school in Nashville, nearly 800 miles away from my New York home.
Prior to my Rustic Pathways trip, I never bothered stepping out of my comfort zone but now that’s all I want to do. Going to school in Nashville was way out of my comfort zone, but my trip to Fiji proved that you have to leave your comfort zone in order to truly embrace the world around you. It is only through experiencing other ways of life that you can truly gain a deeper perspective on yourself and others.
Learning more about Fijian culture has fostered a desire in me to learn about other cultures. Experiencing other cultures, as well as learning about them in depth, fosters more meaningful conversations upon returning home.
After witnessing the basic yet fulfilling lifestyle of the Fijian people, my thoughts and actions, as they relate to my needs versus my wants, are significantly challenged. Discussions surrounding social issues of the impoverished and the responsibility we all have to reach out to others without imposing our own way of life is ongoing.
It is through these meaningful conversations that I truly realize the importance of traveling and experiencing the world in as respectful and sustainable a way as possible. The ability to have conversations on serious topics and understand different perspectives is something no classroom can teach you to do.
Especially in today’s climate, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and a higher focus on diversity, breaking stereotypes and learning how to treat all people with respect is essential. These skills learned abroad are easily transferable into both the academic and professional worlds.
Studying abroad provides lifelong impacts that a student may not even realize until later. It is never too early to start traveling, whether it be simply exploring surrounding towns or going all the way to the Fijian Highlands. No matter where you go or what you do, you will become a better person because of it.