PLATTEVILLE - Thinking of the Fiji Islands may evoke an image of a lush,
tropical vacation getaway rather than a classroom, but beginning in July
2005, students from around the United States can experience both through the
University of Wisconsin-Platteville's newest study abroad program. Students
seeking a unique living and learning experience may want to consider a
semester of study at The University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, the
premier institution of higher education in the Pacific Region and an
international center of excellence for teaching, researching and consulting
on all aspects of Pacific life.
UWP will be the first four-year accredited institution to offer a semester
program in this South Pacific island nation, which provides an excellent
setting to study tropical, marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the context
of a multicultural society. USP offers internationally recognized
undergraduate and postgraduate programs in a wide variety of disciplines,
including accounting, agriculture, banking and finance, computing science,
counseling and social services, engineering, environmental management,
journalism, public administration and management, science, teaching, and
Why did UWP pursue Fiji? "We have established ourselves in some Western
countries, but this is one of our first programs in a developing nation,"
explained Donna Anderson, UWP Study Abroad program director. "In the past,
when students have traveled through Fiji on their way to or from New Zealand
or Australia, many have been excited by what they've seen there and
commented that they would like an opportunity to study at USP," she said.
The Study Abroad staff has put together a diverse curriculum for this
18-week program which will include two required courses and an additional
two to three courses (eight-12 credits) from a wide range of disciplines. A
sampling of course possibilities for the fall include: Law of the Sea;
Fijian Language Studies; Introduction to Hindi; Resource and Environmental
Economics; and Society, Culture, and Change in the Pacific. The curriculum
designers hope to ensure that students are not simply taking courses
identical to those available on their home campuses but are taking maximum
advantage of the special location and unique expertise of the USP faculty.
And just as the curriculum is specially designed to maximize students'
experiences in Fiji, so, too, living with a Fijian family is an integral and
equally important aspect of this intercultural experience. "Students will
live with a family for the first half of the semester, then move into
independent living quarters for the second half, so they'll be able to
experience life from both perspectives," said Anderson. "Our coordinator in
Suva will act as the 'glue' for the program and will assist students in
getting adjusted to home and school life, as well as teach a Cross Cultural
Understanding course and coordinate excursions and cultural visits," she
The indigenous culture of Fiji is a complex blend of influences shaped by
Polynesian, Melanesian and some Micronesian peoples who used Fiji as a
meeting place for about 3,500 years. During the British colonial period,
Indians were brought over as indentured servants, but stayed on after the
indenture system was abolished, and many went on to become independent
farmers and business owners.
Today, Indo-Fijians comprise 44 percent of the population while indigenous
Fijians account for about 51 percent, and sometimes these groups experience
great political and cultural tension. "This is an excellent opportunity for
people to study how groups with deeply felt differences live and work side
by side," said Anderson.
Viet Ha, assistant director for the Study Abroad program, did much of the
research about Fiji when the department was weighing its options for a new
program. "This is a relatively new country and I think it will be
interesting from a political and sociological perspective for students
trying to make sense of post-colonialism. Ninety-eight percent of the
economy is run by Indian Fijians who have a much more intense attitude about
business and making money than the indigenous population. On the other
hand, Indian Fijians are not allowed to own land - the land is either owned
by the government or by 12 to13 native tribes. It will be interesting to
study how these groups work out there differences and learn to govern
together," he said.
Fiji is a land of diversity and contrasts: the thriving modern city of Suva
contrasts dramatically with the very rural surrounding areas. Christian
churches, Hindu temples, Islamic mosques exist alongside one another; tall
modern buildings are balanced by traditional Fijian houses, quaint wooden
bungalows, and rich colonial architecture. Although the official language
is English, most citizens also speak Fiji Hindi, Urdu, or one of the many
"There is so much to see and do there. Students will love watching a 'kava'
ceremony. It is considered a high honor to be invited to someone's home to
participate," Anderson explained. Kava is a drink made from the waka root
and is a prime feature of Fijian official ceremonies. When guests are
invited, they are expected to bring a bundle of waka and make a brief speech
about the purpose of their visit.
There will also be excursions to authentic rural villages and natural
attractions, as well as outings to city attractions such as museums and the
USP Oceania Fine Arts Center," said Anderson. Plays, concerts, exhibits,
and performances are also ongoing throughout the year.
At least one student from UWP has already applied. Maggie Putnam, a senior
majoring in geography, says she is interested in broadening her
understanding of other cultures.
"The physical and cultural setting would allow me the opportunity to witness
life from another point of view. Understanding cultures from other
perspectives is something that has become more important as globalization
advances and the distinctiveness of nations subside," she said.
For information about costs, application deadlines and academic
requirements, contact Anderson, director, UWP Study Abroad programs, at
(608) 342-1726 or go to www.uwplatt.edu/studyabroad. If you would like to
learn more about the University of the South Pacific, go to www.usp.ac.fj.
Prepared by: Evelyn Martens, Public Relations, (608) 342-1194,
Contact: Donna Anderson, Director, Study Abroad, (608) 342-1726,