A gap year in the South Pacific: Fiji

For most people, the very word “Fiji” calls forth images of idyllic tropical islands in the South Pacific.  However, Fiji is much more than an ideal destination for holidays, it also provides student visitors with intriguing possibilities for an enjoyable gap year.

Located about 2,000 kilometres north-east of New Zealand, Fiji is rich in natural resources as varied as fish, forests, and minerals.  Although some island-chain nations can boast only a few individual islands, Fiji has more than 300 – of these, 110 have been permanently settled.  The vast majority of the population lives on Fiji’s two principal islands, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, where the capital of Suva is located.

Gap year backpacking on Fiji

Students interested in a gap year to be spent in the South Pacific will find that although Fiji has fewer than a million citizens, its islands offer a myriad of possibilities.  One of the most popular trips is backpacking; in Fiji, tourists and students on holiday can truly “get back to nature” by hiking through the interior areas of the islands.  Since most residents have settled in the coastal zones, the inland regions are largely undeveloped, presenting visitors with a glimpse of ‘wild’ Fiji at its best.

Transport around Fiji is provided by the nation’s excellent bus service, which runs on many of the larger islands.  Tourists in rural areas will find that bus stops are few and far between, but this does not matter at all since bus drivers will stop whenever they are hailed.

Scuba diving and marine conservation

Fiji is an excellent place to explore the underwater world.  Because many of the islands have soft coral reefs off their shores, Fiji draws scuba divers from around the world.  This aspect of Fiji has also been woven into a variety of gap year programmes that focus on marine conservation.  Projects focus on activities such as collecting baseline data for future environmental efforts in the area; a bonus of such programmes is that they allow participants to earn formal qualifications in diving while they are assisting with important ecological surveys.

Teaching as a gap year project

Many students eager to embark on a tropical gap year experience are not avid backpackers or divers.  Fortunately for them, Fiji also features a variety of thriving gap year programmes that focus on finding teachers for native children.  English is one of the most popular subjects needed, which makes Fiji a good fit for UK students on their gap year.  Typical teaching placements last up to seven months, which leaves students with plenty of time to explore other areas of Fiji once their commitment to a particular community has ended.

A primary purpose of a gap year is to remove students from their cultural “comfort zone” so that they gain a much broader perspective about the world itself.  Fiji meets this goal remarkably well.  With a culture made up of native influences in addition to ideas imported from India, Europe, and China, the tropical paradise of Fiji is unlike anything most students have seen before.  For many students, that is what a gap year is all about; enjoyable, fulfilling and useful to the local community.

Top Image by Adam Selwood