After graduating High School I had the idea of doing some type of conservation project. I wasn’t sure where but all I knew was that I wanted to be in the water. Fiji was always on my bucket list of places to go to and explore since I was little. Growing up watching surf films and clips of the perfect barrels and waves that break all around the Fijian Islands slowly made their way into my dreams. I had posters covering my bedroom walls of my favorite professional surfers riding these waves. I let my mind wander to day dreaming about diving deep under the water, taking a moment to stop and watch the surface as I let my body relax. I longed for the beautiful ocean that danced with all the shades of blue but mainly I craved to be out of my comfort zone and experience something I had never before.

I did a lot of research and found an incredible project through Projects Abroad to participate in a Shark Conservation Program in my dream destination. Even before volunteering with the project I had an extreme fascination with sharks and how amazing and interesting creatures they are. They typically get such a bad rep but I had developed an adoration for them and I knew they weren’t all teeth and aggressiveness. I couldn’t wait to see them with my own eyes and meet friends in the water and on the land.

Before I left I hadn’t talked with anyone who would be volunteering during the same time besides one girl, Olivia, from Tasmania, Australia. We friended each other on Facebook as we were apart of the volunteer page for the trip. We shared some information with each other and asked questions in preparation for leaving and soon enough met in person when she arrived a few weeks after I did. Little did I know the incredible friendships and people I was about to meet.

The flight from home was long, nerve-racking and exciting. I went through multiple different time zones and rode on a double-decker plane for the first time. As I got closer and closer to my destination the anticipation was building by the second. I arrived in Nadi in the early morning before the sun was even up. I was given a bus ticket by a woman working with the project and was told to get off at Arts Village and there would be a car waiting with Lily, another woman from the project. As I was waiting for the bus these fluorescent warm colors scattered across the sky and the sun began to rise. I sat on my bag and took it all in, the colors, the traffic, the birds flying around the airport, the warm breeze and the humidity. I loved it all. The bus came and quickly filled up but I nagged a window seat, too excited and nervous that I would miss my stop I kept my eyes open against their will. The bus drove out of the city and closer to the coast, making stops here and there, letting people off and more on. After a couple hours I began to dose off and as soon as I was asleep I was abruptly awoke by the bus driver letting me know we were at my stop. Half asleep and confused I quickly gathered my things and got off, getting my bag from underneath the bus in the compartment, I was met with a smile and hug from one of the project managers, Lily. She told me a little about Arts Village and informed me of what my day ahead would look like as we drove to the apartment. We pulled into a gated off tall white building with two apartments on each side, all named after different shark species. Each apartment had its own kitchen and living room with two bedrooms filled with bunkbeds and two private bathrooms for girls and guys. The apartments had a small porch with a line for drying laundry and the occasional chair to relax in. On the far side of the building was a pool and a large mangrove nursery where a few people were working as we pulled in. Lily introduced me to the other volunteers and the staff members as we walked past and I waved shyly from afar. I was shown my bunkbed and a place to unpack my clothes and was told during lunch I would go back into Arts Village with the other Project Manager to be shown where I can get groceries, go shopping, go to an ATM, and have lunch. Fast forward to a few hours later I was sitting in the living room of my apartment when I met Luca, Marcia, Pauline, Timo-all from Germany and Rhia from Australia. I soon met the rest of the volunteers and the staff members including Klara, the Dive Instructor from South Africa and Millie the Marine Biologist from Fiji.

It didn’t take long before Luca, Marcia and I became inseparable. We came up with secret signals to each other while diving together and would make quick trips into Arts Village for the best mango shake we’ve ever had. On our days off from volunteering we would go to Uprising which was a small resort just down the road, where we could play pool, have drinks and relax in the sunshine. Some weekends the three of us including, Timo, Erik, and Loic would catch a small bus for an hours ride down the coast to a hostel resort called BeachHouse. We’d spend the day there laying in the sand and drinking cold beers with a view of the crystal clear ocean, watching the palm trees above gently rock back and forth in the breeze. It wasn’t often we went there but the last time we did I was craving to go surf. I was having a difficult time finding a nice board to rent and was soon introduced to a local who graciously let me ride his shortboard for a cheap price. I got to spend the rest of the afternoon catching waves on a small reef break just a quick paddle off the shore. The water was warm, clear and refreshing. I watched the sun begin to set below the horizon as one of the locals who was out surfing called people over to get a ride into shore on his small boat. After one of my favorite surf sessions I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I was overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude for all the new friends I had made on land and in the water. I am forever grateful for my Fiji family.

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