Earth's Finest, Bottled at the Source

How does one describe an experience that completely changed their outlook on life and gave them a sense of belonging in the world? In a word: transformative. Ever changing, the tropical islands of Fiji are nestled into their corner of the South Pacific. A country of 333 islands, Fiji has its own distinct culture and people. It feels like such an insane concept to be back in the Mile High city after such an amazing escape. The most insane part of it is that all my friends had their own adventures in their own pockets of the world, at the same time.

When I was about ten years old, a couple of our family friends went to the University of the South Pacific in Fiji for the summer. I had had no concept of Fiji, I had no concept of the Pacific, I was happy to thrive in my little Kansas bubble. When they returned, they had so many stories of tumultuous storms that shake the entire foundation of the earth only to revert back to the calm island breeze of the morning. The kindness and hospitality that the locals had bestowed upon them, invitations to houses and villages that they graciously accepted. And I listened in rapture, not a single photo to sway my enthusiasm.

I wanted that. I wanted a place where my first language, Hindi, and English are woven so fluidly together. I wanted to walk through the crazy night storms to end out on the other side. And, I didn’t even know I wanted that.

I had been wholeheartedly set on the European circuit, jetting off to a different country every weekend, ready to let the wanderlust just carry me through the world. Something was stopping me, and I almost deleted my OIE application entirely because I couldn’t settle on what it was. It wasn’t until I was on the phone with my mother that I said the words, “I want Fiji” out loud. From there it was a matter of looking around to find a program – and I was set. My heart was so set on this island paradise that I couldn’t sleep for days leading up to the Global Reveal. But there it was, my name and Fiji together on a luggage tag.

Flash forward through a very stressful spring filled with burnouts and light brain trauma. By the end of June, I was on my way. But what I got when I arrived was much better. I had some basics, but I didn’t realize there was a lack of late nights walking through the McDonald’s drive-thru, or telling ghost stories at 1 am in the park while playing cards. Or, a four-day field trip that dropped some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met straight into my life.

At the expense of sounding like a cliché, but I suppose that’s what I am now, I saw the clearest water of my life. I made wonderful, pure friendships, and I learned so much about how I fit into my own worldview. Of course, even in paradise, there were moments of panic and distress where I didn’t think I could go on. Despite my flair for the dramatic, I came out relatively unscathed. I got in a few tricky situations, but I always had someone watching my back, and to me, that’s the essence of Fiji.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions since my return about how Fiji was, what I did there, how it changed me. No one actually cares for the answer, because the answer includes a totally different reality than the one we’ve established for ourselves here. Fiji eclipses seasons, everything I thought I knew about the world was turned upside down (literally, being in the Southern Hemisphere was so disorienting). I have new standards for friendship, love, and appreciation of the sublime, as well as the quarter system.

I’m worried I am unable to do this place the justice it deserves. The people, the places, the plants, and animals. Adventure; it’s out there, and I found it.