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Students Gain Understanding on Fiji and New Zealand Cross-cultural

Fiji and New Zealand CrossculturalThirty-one students and their leaders, Vernon (C 64) and Dorothy (C 62) Jantzi with volunteers Kenton (C 54) and Shirley Yoder (C 66) Brubaker, spent January-April 2005 on EMU’s first cross-cultural semester to Fiji and New Zealand.

Bare footed, we stooped to enter the thatch-roofed bure and sat cross-legged in a semicircle on the woven mat floor. After our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we could see the village men across from us preparing the kava for the welcoming ceremony in Navala, a traditional village in the highlands of Fiji. After the requisite speeches, both from the village elders and EMU’s elder, Vernon Jantzi, we were each handed a coconut shell filled with kava, a drink made from pounded roots of the pepper plant. We had memorized the protocol. Clap once before receiving the bowl, then drink the entire contents in one gulp, and after returning the bowl to the server, clap three more times. The kava-drinking ritual was repeated frequently—in our host bures before retiring each evening, during our nightly meetings with the village elders, and once again in the farewell ceremony.

Three months later, we again experienced a similar welcoming ritual only this time in New Zealand on a marae, a Maori community center. The EMU group assembled at the gate—elders in the front (Jantzi and Brubaker), then the elder women behind them (Jantzi and Yoder Brubaker), and last, the women students. The women were then surrounded by the warriors, our twelve male students. Facing us across the grass were the Maori from this marae—men on the right and women on the left. A woman issued the welcoming call—something similar to a Gregorian chant. Only then could we enter the grassy area and take our seats on the backless benches. After a series of speeches from the Maori elders and the EMU elders, a gift of money and the singing of several songs in Maori which we had learned in advance, the ceremony ended with a hongi between each of us and the Maori. A hongi is the pressing of noses and foreheads, the Maori equivalent to the handshake.

The sun-bleached beaches and azure oceans of Fiji or a mist-shrouded fjord in New Zealand, typical travel posters scenes, do not evoke the usual images of an EMU cross-cultural destination. So whether or not a developed country like New Zealand, or relatively developed like Fiji, with minimal language barriers can provide a true cross-cultural experience was a discussion that the students and their leaders kept alive during the semester. But the decision was unanimous by the end of April. Yes, this truly had been a cross-cultural experience. Key to that consensus were the village experiences.

"We had memorized the protocol. Clap once before receiving the bowl, then drink the entire contents in one gulp, and after returning the bowl to the server, clap three more times."

In Fiji, we had home stays in two villages, Navala in the mountains and Malake, an island fishing village. Navala is the only village in Fiji where all the homes are still traditional bures with thatched roofs and woven split bamboo walls. We sat on the floor, slept on the floor, dined on the floor. Showers were taken outside so everyone learned how to soap up and rinse off while wearing a sulu (sarong). One luxury was flush toilets although each was in a thatched outhouse and shared among several families. Taro and cassava were part of every meal.

Malake was accessible only by boat across a small inlet of the South Pacific Sea. Because this was a fishing village, seafood was the major entree at mealtime. All kinds of fish—boiled, baked, fried, raw, bony, in a sauce or without, heads on. Again, showers and latrines were outside and communal. In this village some students slept in beds while others were minus eating utensils and ate meals with their fingers. The overwhelming heat and humidity of Fiji were compensated by the genuine hospitality and generosity of the people. On the last morning in both villages, our hosts draped farewell leis around our necks.

While the village experiences were a small portion of our semester, they were seminal. In New Zealand, living standards and cultural experiences were similar to the U.S., but Vernon and Dorothy Jantzi were determined to expose students to a New Zealand that would be a cross-cultural experience. The focus for the three months in New Zealand would not be Lord of the Rings scenery or fjords or bungy jumping or rugby matches. Instead, we would discover the New Zealand underneath the image.

The primary focus was on restorative justice. As a professor in EMU’s Conflict Transformation Program, Jantzi was familiar with New Zealand’s attempts to incorporate restorative justice into its juvenile criminal system. Judges, lawyers, social workers and youth justice officers explained how juvenile offenders are held responsible for the effects of their behavior on victims. A few fledgling programs in restorative justice are making their way into the adult criminal system such as a faith-based unit in one of the penitentiaries. One profound experience was a shared Sunday worship service with inmates in the faith-based unit, certainly a cross-cultural experience.

Another focus was tourism. What happens to countries when tourism is the number one industry? In Fiji, a visit to a Sheraton resort did not impress the students despite the marketer’s spiel. The women mopping floors and doing laundry looked too much like their host mothers who lived in simple homes and whose take home pay was paltry. Yet, students knew that if they had come to Fiji as a tourist, this was the kind of place they would have stayed.

In New Zealand, tourism has impacted daily life. Many tourist towns develop themselves around extreme sports—bungy jumping, paragliding, skydiving, jet boats. Businesses cater to tourists’ buying habits with prices to match. Consequently, locals find the cost of goods higher than salaries afford. Tourists fall in love with the countryside and purchase properties at what is exorbitant prices to the local farmers. Kiwis wanting to buy acreage can no longer afford to do so and so farming is no longer an occupational option. Prices for homes are more than locals can afford so families who have lived in a town for generations are forced to move away. Because many New Zealand towns are small, the influx of tourists is a hardship on such community services as garbage collection. Tourists produce amazing amounts of refuse but the locals are the ones who have to assume the costs for more garbage trucks, more employees, more refuse sites.

Another focus was on the fledgling Anabaptist community in New Zealand. New Zealand is a secular country and Christians are the minority. We discovered that leaders of the emerging church have a deep appreciation for Anabaptist theology. Again and again we heard the name of John Howard Yoder as the most influential Anabaptist writer. Students sampled a variety of faith expressions—Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, non-denominational, Catholic, Pentecostal. One unique church expression calls itself the Destiny Church, a Maori-led fundamentalist, conservative, right-leaning group whose sermons are laced with power language—“taking what is ours,” “assuming power.”

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A final focus was on environmental and ecology issues. “Clean and green” is the image most of the world has of New Zealand. That is an illusion. For example, there is no recycling (except in Auckland, the largest city) because the population is too small to support a recycling industry. Recycling bins are available most everywhere but only to keep the idea foremost in people’s minds. What most Kiwis don’t know is that the contents of recycling bins are dumped into regular garbage dumps.

Everywhere we went, we were asked when the next student group was coming. Our lecturers and hosts recognized that these were not the usual young adult tourists seeking adrenaline rushes and extreme sports venues. They appreciated the students’ sincere interest in ecology and environment, education and religion, criminal systems and agriculture issues.

—Shirley Yoder Brubaker