This summer, I traveled to the islands of Fiji for three weeks to volunteer and tutor in a kindergarten. The experience was unforgettable, and I truly am the luckiest person in the world. I treasure the memories and have learned so much from the children I taught, the people I met and the experiences I had. Unfortunately, some lessons were learned the hard way.
I faced some troubles with my accommodations. I had bedbugs, rodents and cockroaches the size of my hand all living with me. Being from a suburb in New Jersey, I was not used to my little friends. While I understand the caretakers of my volunteer house had the best intentions in trying to take care of the bedbug situation by spraying pesticide on the beds, I, unfortunately, had a severe allergic reaction to the certain pesticide they used.
One Saturday morning, all of the volunteers decided to travel to a smaller island off the main island by catamaran — expecting an amazing day. I realized that I had little dots all over my arms, but simply ignored it. I thought that it would eventually go away since it was probably just a little reaction. Boy, I was wrong.
As we were waiting for the catamaran, I realized that the rash spread to my chest and face, and I started to panic. Even though I was very stressed, I still decided to go on the catamaran with the other volunteers. As the day progressed, my rash not only got worse but got extremely itchy as well. Even though I had the best time on the island with my new friends, I was filled with anxiety and panic on the inside. My face felt like it was physically burning off and I needed to see a medical professional for help.
One of the locals told me that he would make a “potion” that treated allergic reactions for me, but since I was American, he would order a taxi for me to go to the private doctor. His comic relief actually cheered me up — kind of. Picture this: I am at a Fijian private doctor without my health insurance card, wanting to peel my burning skin off and suffering from the consequences of a language barrier. I was absolutely miserable, but luckily, one of the volunteers came with me to the private doctor, and I will forever be grateful for her company.
The doctor seemed nice, but he barely spoke English. I was put in a room that looked more like an office, and the doctor did his routine vitals check. He then intently studied the rash on my body as if it were a medical textbook. After a while, he mumbled, “You either have meningitis or an allergic reaction,” with a straight face. At this time, a million thoughts went through my head. I immediately thought the worst.
“Meningitis? Are you kidding? I am literally going to die in paradise,” were my exact thoughts. As he examined my skin more, he eventually told me that it was certainly an allergic reaction and that it would go away with a few medications from the local pharmacy. I was more than happy to hear that I actually was not going to die in Fiji. He wrote my prescriptions and with an abrupt goodbye, he was out the door ready to treat a shouting patient from the other room. The taxi driver immediately showed up to pick me up and then offered to stop at Wendy’s to celebrate me not dying. I found his offer oddly comforting.
The reaction cleared up in a couple of days and I thankfully survived this “health scare.” Nowadays, I love to tell the story to people, but in the moment, I was genuinely concerned and worried that something severe was going to happen to me. At some points, I was so scared that I wanted to cut my adventures in Fiji short and just go home. Even though these thoughts crossed my mind at the time, I would go through this experience a thousand times over. I did not realize how much it affected me until I realized how important “trust” is when traveling.
I had to put full faith in a foreign doctor, despite my own ignorance and stereotypical depictions of non-American doctors that I had in my mind. I also had to trust my taxi driver, who was one of the kindest and most cheerful people I met there. I trusted the other volunteer who came with me to the doctor’s office and took care of me, yet I only knew her for a week and a half at the time.
Finally, I had to trust myself. I thought that my body was betraying me, yet it eventually healed, like it always does. Even though this trip taught me a lot of valuable lessons, the most important one that I learned was to not give up when something negative occurs because there is a likely chance that something negative will always occur wherever you are. If anything bad happens, remember to trust yourself, the people around you and, sometimes, complete strangers. There really are good people in this world who are more than willing to help you. Do not close yourself off due to predisposed views of other people or other countries. Instead, keep an open mind and trust.
Emily Kiernan is an LSA sophomore.
To search for education abroad opportunities and register your travel, visit global.umich.edu.