By: Laura Vinzant
Growing up the youngest of three sisters in rural Alabama, I was always pretty accustomed to routine. School on Monday through Friday, church on Sunday, and grandparents’ house for lunch following services. I liked knowing when things were happening and the security that came with that. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock when I tell you I had a really hard time coping with big life changes like divorce, moves, and deaths. As much as dealing with that kind of stuff sucked, it forced me to become more flexible and just roll with the punches. I eventually evolved into a more relaxed, go with the flow type of girl. Whether it be spontaneous trips abroad with cousins and friends, making impulse purchases, or staying at a friend’s house for days on end and having to bum clothes off of them—I don’t have a problem with last minute changes. This is one thing about me that keeps my parents on their toes. So, naturally, when I called them in March explaining that the only hope of getting my degree on time was to go off the grid for almost 5 weeks, they weren’t thrilled.
As a Global Studies major, I’m required to complete a study abroad and a four-hundred-something hour internship. This is something I knew coming into Auburn, but, in true procrastinator fashion, put off until I couldn’t any longer. I sat down with an advisor and narrowed my choice down to the New Zealand and Fiji trip. She explained that the living conditions for the bulk of this trip were quite primitive and might take some getting used to, but c’mon, it’s Fiji. A couple of months went by and then, again, in true procrastinator fashion, I packed the morning of my flight and started my journey. Never giving any of it much thought, I guess I just expected to go on the trip, do what I needed to do to earn my degree, come back and move on. I laugh at that now ^^^
Important side-note: let it be known that I’m a bit high maintenance. I’m not afraid to admit that I love boujee things just as much as the next person, so, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about living on an island with no electricity or running water for an entire month.
From the moment I stepped foot onto the island, I felt completely accepted as I was (which was quite dirty) and felt like a part of the Vorovoro family. I still find it so crazy that although everything about the living conditions—from the meals to the bucket showers—were completely foreign to me, I felt at home (my family and friends actually could not believe that I lived like that for a month). And look, I love my phone. I love Insta, Snapchat, keeping up with the Kardashians and all of the other pop culture fads—I have no shame. But there’s something about putting your phone up and disconnecting. I don’t want sound like a granny, but seriously. Turning off my phone for nearly a month allowed me to build better social skills, form better relationships, and, most importantly, have meaningful conversations. It also allowed me to gain some great new friends and really get to know some of the other students who I had met (maybe?) once before our trip. I felt such a pure happiness from living simply and in tune with the environment. Not the same superficial happiness I feel when I buy a new pair of shoes or a ridiculously expensive purse, but genuine happiness. I say all of that to say this—if I had gone into this trip with a narrow mind, unwilling to be immersed in the culture and experience, I would’ve never had the experience I had.
I could sit here and type paragraph after paragraph to try to explain my experience, the emotions I felt and the things I learned, but I could never, in a million years, do them justice. However, what I can do is try to convince you to step out of your comfort zone, open your mind, and give all of your effort to a new experience. Whether it be the Fiji program (which I highly recommend) or another, I encourage you to just go for it. You may find yourself in my situation—learning more about yourself and where your happiness lies in one month living on a fairly remote island than you have in 21 years at home.