Anthropology Department


Anthropology Term Abroad in Fiji – Fall term odd numbered years

Faculty Organizer: Karen Brison (Anthropology); (518) 388-6673


In fall of odd numbered years, Prof. Brison will take ten students to the Pacific Island nation of Fiji. The term is open to students of all majors. The term will introduce students to the process of doing anthropological research, and the cultures of Pacific Islands, as well as giving them a hands-on experience in schools. Fiji, as a developing Pacific Island country, offers a strong local cultural setting while at the same time giving ample material on the relationship between educational systems and society. English is the second language of most Fijians so students can conduct research in English. A midterm break includes the chance to visit other areas of Fiji.

Students will take two anthropology courses with Prof. Brison, both of which carry WAC credit: ANT 285T (Peoples of the Pacific); ANT 226T (Education and Culture). The third credit, ANT 499T will be given for an independent project on a topic of the student’s choice. Hands-on research is emphasized. Students will be immersed in the local culture. Anthropologists feel that it is important to live with members of another culture and to be actively involved in their day-to-day life. To truly understand how people see the world, you must “walk in their shoes,” ideally through participating in a venture of common interest together. Students will learn this method both through living with a Fijian family and through working 10-12 hours a week in a classroom to gain a thorough appreciation of social and cultural forces that shape everyday life and schools in Fiji.

After an initial orientation week, students will be placed with individual host families spread throughout the capital city of Suva. Students will meet together and with Prof. Brison two days a week for classes and discuss their experiences and readings on Fiji and on education and culture. Students will do readings about educational systems and how they are shaped by, and in turn shape, society and culture. Students will carry out structured exercises every week, and will design one longer project of their own choosing in the second half of the term.

We go on a weekly fieldtrips, often involving activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, and river rafting. We will also take one or two longer fieldtrips to neighboring Pacific Island countries or to other areas of Fiji.

  • An overall cumulative average of 2.5 at the time of application.
  • Certification by the Dean of Students that the student is well prepared to participate in foreign study.
  • Be in good academic standing and have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5 for the term prior to the program.
  • students must take at least one anthropology course before going to Fiji; this can be taken after being accepted into the term. Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANT 110) and Qualitative Methods (ANT 363), offered in Spring term, are good choices

Information on Fiji

Fiji is a former British colony that attained independence in 1970. The country consists of a group of 320 islands located east of Australia. There are two main ethnic groups in Fiji in a population of just over 700,000: indigenous Fijians and descendants of Indian indentured servants brought in by the British in the 19th century. About 60% of Fijians live in rural villages in a largely subsistence-based economy where kin connections and communal obligations are very important. Fiji thus offers relatively good living conditions while giving students exposure to a very different culture and way of life. Students would gain first hand experience of the problems of a developing country. Experience in a Pacific society is also important given a growing emphasis on Pacific relations in US business and education.

Fiji is an ideal site for a field oriented term abroad since most of the population speaks English (the official language of the country), medical and other facilities are good, and the country is free of major tropical diseases like malaria. The South Pacific Handbook, a popular guide for tourists, says “Fiji’s climate is a healthy one, and the main causes of death are non communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer…the tap water is Fiji is usually drinkable except immediately after a cyclone or during droughts. Health care is good, with an abundance of hospitals, health centers and nursing stations scattered around the country.”