My year abroad: how it's changed my outlook on life!

Psychology student Georgia Hewes tells us more about her time in Fiji as part of a Go Abroad programme.

From June to July 2022, I travelled to Fiji to volunteer with Think Pacific and facilitate the delivery of a mental health project. I was incredibly nervous until I landed in Fiji, then the excitement kicked in. I flew a few days early as I wanted to explore the island and go on a few adventures, which included swimming with Black Tip Reef Sharks, Turtles, Jellyfish, Clownfish, and Blue Starfish. It was such an amazing experience which I was able to tick off my bucket list! 

We spent six days in a briefing resort to attend workshops on Fijian culture, mental health in Fiji and what our project would involve, as well as bonding as a group. The day we left for the village I was very nervous, as it was a completely new experience. We did not know much about the village, only that it was called Nayavutoka, it is located on the north-eastern side of the island and was badly affected by the 2018 Cyclone Winston. It was a very long, bumpy drive but we played some music and were all up dancing to help pass the 6-hour coach journey!  

 Welcome to the village

When we arrived in Nayavutoka, we were greeted with open arms. We headed straight into the community hall for the Sevu Sevu to welcome and accept us into the village. During this, we met our Fijian parents who presented each of us with a beautiful flower garland before showing us to their homes. My house was made of tin sheets nailed to a wooden frame and was essentially one room divided into a main living area and two small bedrooms. One thing I discovered very quickly was that Fijians are possibly the nicest people on earth! Our families were all very poor, living off the food they had caught or grown, however, they will give you everything they have to make you comfortable - including their beds! Our Fijian parents insisted on sleeping on the floor so my project sister and I could have their bed, despite my Ma being 7 months pregnant! After a brief introduction with our families, we headed for a group welcome dinner which consisted of a whole fish in a bowl for each of us and some cassava on the side. Later in the evening, we found our way back to the community hall for a welcome celebration and to drink Kava. The whole village joined in with the celebrations and everyone was singing and dancing - it was a really lovely, heart-warming experience.  

Leading Mental Health sessions

We soon began running the sessions alongside another organisation called Youth Champs 4 Mental Health. Our days were very structured, so we would assist with the project in the morning focusing on topics such as mental health vs mental illness, stigma, where to go for support and a big focus on suicide awareness and prevention. In the afternoon, we’d attend a culture session led by Fijian youths in the village, where we learnt skills such as fan weaving, Billy Billy making, visiting the farm and learning the Meke – a traditional Fijian dance. 

Every Saturday we had a free day so would do activities such as boat trips to a remote beach, watching the village rugby team play a tournament against a neighbouring village, and hiking up the mountains that surround the village. The village is very religious therefore we attended church every Sunday and would then relax. To keep ourselves entertained, we played a lot of card games, made friendship bracelets and swam in the river surrounding the village. One of my favourite memories was teaching the young people to play Rounders, which they loved, and we ended up playing for hours until it got dark.  

Interested in a Go Abroad programme?

Apply now to take part in programmes in over 30 destinations around the world.

Fijian surprises

 Once thing I have to mention that I was not prepared for was the amount of animals and noise in the village. I expected it to be peaceful and it was to an extent, however I averaged about five hours of sleep a night. This was due to my little sister crying in the night, my Ta (who was the pastor in the village) banging the Lali at 4am every morning to wake people up for devotion, and animals such as dogs and roosters. On top of that, we frequently had chickens wander into our bedrooms and lay eggs in our bags and clothes! 

It was Winter, so although it was incredibly hot, it got dark early in the evenings, around 6pm, so we had to use torches to navigate the village. As soon as the sun started to set, an abundance of frogs would appear and it was a nightmare trying to walk anywhere without them jumping out at you. They made us jump so many times but it was always a good laugh! 

Soli Soli

 One Sunday during the project, the village hosted a Soli Soli (fundraising) day to help raise money for the church which had been destroyed in the Cyclone. Our lunch was cooked in a Lovo - an underground oven used for special occasions - and we performed the Meke for the visitors in the village. It was a really lovely day where people from all over Fiji visited, we drank plenty of Kava, sang, and danced until it was gone midnight! 


My time in the village flew by and it was soon time to leave. Our last day was spent visiting the preschool where we knew all the children, as they spent most of their free time braiding our hair and chilling with our family. We also performed the Meke one last time before having a leaving party with everyone in the village, including drinking lots of Kava, eating Fijian sweets, singing and dancing. It was a really lovely but emotional night as Nayavutoka had quickly become our home. The morning of our departure arrived and our Ta helped us take our bags to the bus. We had an emotional goodbye with our family - including our very mischievous little sister – and our Ma made us the most beautiful garland I have ever seen, including our favourite flowers picked from trees around the village. She also told us that they would be naming their baby after myself and my project sister which was really touching to hear and made it even harder to leave. There was not a dry eye in the village as we drove off and it was a very quiet drive to the debriefing resort.

“It’s changed my outlook on life”

I have learnt so many things about mental health in different cultures, how far behind many countries are in terms of mental health awareness, and how important organisations such as Think Pacific are to help educate people. Before I arrived in the village, I was very sheltered and never really grasped how different other cultures are to what I have grown up with. After just under three weeks in Nayavutoka, it taught me to appreciate everything I have, such as a roof over our head, running water, electricity and nutritious food - even fresh fish with its head attached. 

I can wholeheartedly say that my time in Fiji has changed my outlook on life and has changed me for the better! I’ll forever be grateful for the experience to live in Fiji and to be able to call it my home. I miss my Fijian family tremendously and cannot wait to return so I can visit them! 

Interested in a Go Abroad programme?

Apply now to take part in programmes in over 30 destinations around the world in summer 2023, or to study for a semester or a full year in Europe and internationally in 2023/24.

Find out more

What should you do next?

Find a course

We offer an extensive selection of more than 100 courses, spanning a wide range of subjects for you to explore.

Find a course

Come to an Open Day

Expert academics, state-of-the-art facilities and an inclusive student community - there's so much going on at Birmingham City University. Be at the heart of it all at one of our Open Days.

View our upcoming Open Days

Download one of our helpful Guides

Our guides contain expert advice and guidance designed to help you before joining university.

Follow us on social media

Follow our social media channels to stay up-to-date with everything that's going on at BCU.