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Jan 20, 2019
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Fresno State student Cassie Niino (left) teaches Snow (right) how to make a friendship bracelet in Naboutini, Fiji on Jan. 5, 2015. Niino was one of many students who participated in a service-learning trip put on by the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning and Madventurer during winter break. (Yvette Mancilla/The Collegian)

From Fresno to Fiji: The value of serving abroad

It was only several days ago when I was standing at the edge of a sandy white beach watching a sunrise so vivid that an abundance of colorful adjectives wouldn’t do it justice.

Right behind me was a row of the tallest palm trees I have ever seen, coconuts and seashells thrown aside a beaten path leading up to my house and a weatherworn fishing boat that was, at the time, a familiar sight to see.

What on Earth could I be talking about? I know, the above description sounds like a bad rendition from “Castaway.”

However, what I’m describing is some of the breathtaking scenery surrounding what was my home for two weeks in Fiji during winter break.

Remember winter break, the wonderful time before another semester filled with stress and busywork occupied our everyday lives for several months?

For some students, winter break meant taking courses to reduce the semester load.

For others, it meant going back to their respective hometowns and being with family. And for a few, winter break meant more work hours and less time for fun.

Meanwhile, for a group of 20-or-so students, it meant flying over the equator to participate in a service-learning project with a small village in Naboutini, Fiji.

The group comprised of students of a variety of majors and diverse backgrounds, but all shared common experiences with volunteering in the Central Valley with local community organizations.

While the students who traveled to Fiji did some hard-labor tasks that you would find atypical of volunteering in the States – such as painting, sanding wood, mixing cement, etc. for the village’s community center – what distinguished this particular project was the relationships built with the Fijian people.

In America, unless you consistently participate in civic engagement involving local social issues, it’s hard to imagine what a person’s life is really like after you just did an hour’s work at the soup kitchen.

Granted, there are numerous services available to help volunteers truly connect with those they serve rather than participating just to pad your good ol’ resumé.

And sure, some might say, “Why go all the way to Fiji to help? Why not save your money and stay in town to help this homelessness issue?”

A throwaway answer would be, “Why not?”

Reasons to service-learn, volunteer outside of Fresno, whatever you may want to call it, may not easily be black-and-white, nor should they be. The experience gained in the end can matter more than a valid reason.

Traveling 5,000 plus miles to serve a community may not be on every student’s “top 10 things to do during break” list, but it can be.

The benefits? First, you learn a whole lot more about yourself than you would if you stayed home.

You test the skills you thought you had while gaining others, like being a great communicator while some things are literally lost in translation and being able to now call yourself an expert at chopping a coconut with a machete.

Second, you have innumerable chances to see and do things that you would have waited to do post-college. For instance, where else would you be able to learn how to weave a mat from palm tree leaves or to ride a horse bareback?

Finally, you realize firsthand, not from a textbook or from a YouTube clip what a small part of the world is really like and that, in fact, they are a lot like you.

The Fijian cleaning a water canal alongside you can happen to also like Bruno Mars and just might ask you to accept his or her friend request on Facebook.

Unlike others in the “Twitterverse” of Fresno State, challenge yourself beyond re-tweeting the hash tag #GoDogs after a day’s work of volunteering.

Go discover parts of yourself outside of the county line while others in the world discover you.

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