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Katie's studies abroad: Applying learnings from a Fijian adventure

This article appears in: Learning abroad
Katie Hicks Study Abroad - Group

Taking your studies outside the classroom can enrich your knowledge with real-world insights and understanding. And taking yourself even further out of your everyday - say, to live and study overseas for a semester - can bestow benefits such as learning another language, experiencing another culture, meeting new people, personal growth and having a great adventure. If you share Katie’s hunger for adventure, learning new things and exploring different cultural perspectives, but you’re not sure how to take the next step to pursue your passion; read on to discover how you can experience life and study in a different country.

Katie Hicks is studying a Bachelor of Applied Social Science with CDU; with a major in Indigenous community action and a minor in Indigenous linguistics. She's studying full time, combining both online and on-campus study and is now in her third year. She's known for writing brilliant essays and her 10/10 spaghetti Bolognese (it's all in the sauce!). 

As a social science student, I was intrigued by the deep customs and social structures of Indigenous Fijians, and wanted to learn more.

How did you get started on your journey?

CDU nominated me to apply for the New Colombo Plan Scholarship (NCP). The NCP program allows undergraduate students to study and undertake internships or mentorships in various Indo-Pacific locations. After researching the program, I thought what a fantastic opportunity, and started to delve right into the application process. First, was the big decision on where I wanted to go. After cutting down my list from ten to five to three, and then one. I was set on Fiji.

The application process involved many stages. First, I had to complete a written application addressing the selection criteria, I had to gain academic and personal references, and I needed a clear plan of what I wanted to do, what I wanted to achieve, and how my gaols effectively aligned with the goals of the NCP. After completing the written application, I was then invited to attend an interview with a panel of NCP and DFAT secretariats. Two weeks later, I had found out I had been successful.

Katie Hicks New Columbo Plan
Katie Hicks New Columbo Plan funded trip

I headed to Canberra in November to meet the other scholars and receive my scholarship from the Hon Julie Bishop and the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove. While in Canberra I attended a two-day country training session, which helped me prepare for my overseas experience.   

Tell us about your overseas study experience

I spent six and a half months in Fiji starting from January 2017 until August 2017. I studied for one semester at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, Fiji’s capital, studying a variety of units focusing on sociology and education in a pacific context.

After my semester at USP I completed a community development internship for five weeks with an NGO. I was based in Silana village a very remote part of the Dawasamu district in Fiji. During this internship I helped develop important livelihood strategies; assisting with key infrastructure, community based income generation initiatives, education enrichment, women and youth empowerment, and health awareness.

Katie Hicks Studying Abroad
Katie Hicks and a friend during their internship in Fiji

During my study and work experience in Fiji, I had spare time on the weekends to explore. I hiked mountains, I visited the surrounding islands, and I snorkeled and kayaked the reefs, just to name a few.

While I was studying at USP I was also nominated sports representative for the international student’s association. So, this also involved me organizing sporting events around campus for students to participate in on the weekends.

Why did you want to study abroad, and what attracted you to Fiji in particular? 

Studying abroad has always appealed to me when I first started studying at CDU. Particularly for the numerous benefits one can reap if they decide to study abroad. Benefits like; learning another language, experiencing another culture, meeting new people, and making new friends, and of course, let’s not forget the competitive edge you have - the one of independence, cultural sensitivity, and adventure, which may put you ahead of the rest.

For me, studying abroad has made me a worldlier person, and I have picked up intangible life skills along the way; particularly adaptability and open-mindedness, which are important traits to have, and are valuable within the workforce.

The “Fiji time” took a while to adjust to, but the no rush in deadlines made you feel and be whatever you want. There was something unique and interesting about it.

Fiji appealed to me as I wanted to gain an in-depth understanding of the pacific region. And as a social science student, I was intrigued by the deep customs and social structures of Indigenous Fijians, and wanted to learn more. Fiji is the hub of the pacific, and leads you to experience and learn not only about Fiji and its people, but you are also constantly surrounded by people from Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa, and you get to experience their cultures and customs first-hand as well.

Was it everything you expected?

What I expected from Fiji was friendly people and beautiful beaches. And this was true. But what I didn’t expect was; that “Fiji time” is an actual thing, rugby is a religion, and kava doesn’t taste very nice. I also didn’t expect to get lost, even in a small island nation, my sense of direction failed me at the worst and best of times.

What challenges did you experience studying overseas?

I encountered many challenges while living in Fiji, and things I wasn’t fully prepared for. Particularly the language barrier and cultural misunderstandings. Which took a while to adjust, cope, and learn. Also, having major FOMO (fear of missing out) symptoms, with things happening back in Darwin, and sometimes feeling like an outsider back home.

I hope to take all that I have learned,  positive and negative, into my next chapter.

And what did you enjoy most?

There were so many things I loved about Fiji. Not only did I love the ambient islands, but I loved the people. Their hospitable nature and kindness is above measure, and they are always ready with a hearty “Bula”, with some tea or kava on the side. The “Fiji time” took a while to adjust to, but the no rush in deadlines, made you feel and be whatever you want. There was something unique and interesting about it.

Group picture in Fiji
Group picture in Fiji

What did you learn outside the classroom? 

That I am courageous, and I can get through any obstacle in my life, simply by having a positive attitude, an open-mind, and a love for what I do. It’s also not as easy as it sounds, it takes some reminding and a good support network to help you get through. I’m fortunate to have such great friends, who have been there for me right from starting the application process, to adjusting back in Australia after my program. It’s very important.

Fiji has definitely taught me so much on both a personal and professional level, and I hope to take all that I have learned, the positive and the negative, into my next chapter.

Any advice for others thinking of studying abroad? 

Maybe plan, or be spontaneous… whatever works for you. Just take the plunge into a new world, and be daringly brave!

Find out more about studying Applied Social Science and other degrees in the Indigenous studies field. If you’re a CDU student, discover more about opportunities to study overseas

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