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I studied in Fiji for 5 months with help from the New Colombo Plan

I studied in Fiji for 5 months with help from the New Colombo Plan


Have you wanted to go snorkeling after a lecture? Sophie Norris studied Journalism for 5 months in Fiji with the help of the New Colombo Plan. Read more about Sophie’s unforgettable experience!

Written by Sophie Norris

Twelve months ago I received an email saying I had successfully received a New Colombo Plan Scholarship.

I immediately cried, whether these were tears of joy or fear, I still don’t know.

What this meant for me was moving to a foreign country by myself for at least five months.

But what transpired was something beyond that – it was a combination of lifelong friendships, lifelong learnings, unforgettable experiences, and the kind of memories you know you’ll look back on your ENTIRE life and say, I am so lucky I got to do that.

When people think of Fiji they immediately think of clear water and white sandy beaches.

I must admit in my 153 days, there were plenty of times I too experienced those.

But when I think of Fiji, I immediately think of the people.

There’s the stereotype that Fijians are some of the nicest people on the planet and trust me, there’s a reason for this, it’s because they are.

Sophie and friends in Fiji

At the end of 2023, through Charles Sturt University I was lucky enough to be a recipient of a New Colombo Plan Scholarship – aimed at promoting cross-cultural connections in the Indo-Pacific region.

With this scholarship, I spent almost five months studying journalism at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva and at the same time, interning at one of Fiji’s national newspapers.

I spent my time in Fiji living on campus at USP’s eleventh hall.

Sophie Norris at USP

On the third floor, I lived with seven other girls: two from Tonga, one from Papua New Guinea and four from Fiji.

They taught me how to make Roti and in return, I showed them my sweet side and taught them to make banana pancakes.

They would stay up until three o’clock in the morning studying and working hard and would always be eating curry no matter the time of day.

It’s safe to say that living on campus in Suva had some stark differences from living on campus in Bathurst.

There were always groups sitting around the university singing and you would take your individual roll of toilet paper to the bathroom with you every time, for who knows what reason.

Sophie & roommates

And then there were the other exchange students. On the first day, we joked with each other about our accents and our weird phrases.

My Canadian friends found the words ‘avo’, ‘snitty’ and ‘mozzie’ particularly amusing. But it was differences that worked to bring us all together. 

On the last day we cried but we were also leaving with something so much richer, friendships that exist halfway across the world that will last a lifetime.

I can’t forget my family at the Fiji Sun. As part of the NCP Scholarship, you could choose to intern with an organisation in your host country.

As someone who’s always wanted a career in television journalism I did a surprising thing and emailed a newspaper asking for an internship.

Women in Media

It taught me to meet new people, share unique stories and of course, how much Fijians love a good selfie.

I became the social media coordinator at the Fiji Sun.

In this role, I attended almost every Super Rugby game in Fiji in 2023 and while due to broadcasting rights, we couldn’t photograph the games, we could photograph the fans.

And I got to revel in their national joy, that is Rugby Union, alongside them.

And finally, the USP Journalism Gang. If there’s one thing that can unite students across the globe, it’s the universal dread of having to go to a lecture.

Especially when it’s two hours long at 6pm on a Monday. 

On my first day of classes at USP, my journalism lecturer made me stand up in front of the whole class and introduce myself and my experiences with journalism.

Everyone in the room knew each other and I knew they were all staring at me because I was the new student.

I stood up, almost getting emotional as I introduced myself and tried not to make direct eye contact with anyone.

But what happened after was magical.

Within two minutes I had been added to the ‘Third Year Journalists’ Facebook group and no quicker had everyone in the class introduced themselves to me and befriended me, in real life and on Facebook.

During those fourteen weeks at USP, I learnt how to conduct interviews and discover issues that needed to be reported, in a Pacific context.

I got to be a part of the student newspaper as the ‘Sports Editor’ and I enjoyed the many hours sitting in the newsroom with my friends chatting.

In our last ever tutorial, they threw me a party and sang me a song.

Because Fijians love to sing and can do so, so well. The song is called Isa Lei (pronounced Ee-sah Lay) and is sung when bidding someone farewell.

The beauty of the song is that it laments someone leaving but also joyfully expresses the anticipation of an eventual reunion.

And that is exactly how I felt leaving Fiji.


Sophie & friends

Knowing I was leaving and saying goodbye to lifelong friends, colleagues, and classmates I had made in my five months on Viti Levu.

But also bittersweet because I was coming home so much richer, not in money, but in the wealth of cultural understanding and happiness that I gained, that will stay with me for life.

And just like Isa Lei, I too wait in anticipation for my eventual return to Fiji to catch up with these lifelong friends.

Thank you to Charles Sturt Global and the New Colombo Plan for letting me experience this opportunity.

Sophie snorkeling in Fiji

Useful links

To read about Charles Sturt Global opportunities click here.

To visit more about the New Colombo Plan click here.

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