Semester in ‘paradise’ offers unique experience

by Emily DavisGuest Columnist

Iaorana (hello) from Tahiti!

Sebastian Hoffmann and I are the first Simpson College students ever to study for a semester at the University of French Polynesia! Sharon Wilkinson, associate professor of French, has been working very hard for the past couple of years to establish a partnership with UPF in order to establish permanent semester programs like those in Germany, London and Thailand.

The first official Simpson group will be following us in the spring, but we are here under a “direct exchange,” taking all of our classes with other students at UPF in a variety of different subjects, just like the students who are currently studying at Simpson from UPF.

UPF is the only university in French Polynesia and is located on the island of Tahiti. Since French Polynesia is still a colony of France, we have had the unique opportunity to learn about both French and Tahitian culture during out time here.

Between studying in paradise and in the Midwest, Sebastian and I have definitely made a few comparisons.

One of the first things we noticed was the difference in educational systems. Students here choose an area of study and then their year determines which classes they take for the whole semester.

This means that the schedules for these students can be changed on a days notice without causing conflicts. However it has been a little difficult for us to coordinate, as we are taking classes from all the areas of study and all different levels.

The classes here are lecture-based, and there are no textbooks. I never thought I would say this, but I MISS textbooks! Here you are expected to take perfect notes on everything the professor has said, but when this is in another language, things tend to get complicated.

Despite these differences, there are some familiar scenes. The library is always full of people studying and students hang out in the courtyards. The cafeteria and a café are similar to the grill, except the deck faces the Pacific Ocean and the neighboring island of Moorea as opposed to Buxton Park. Just the view itself reminds us every day that we really are studying in paradise.

In addition to gaining a whole new outlook on what it’s like to go to university in another country, we are also experiencing all the perks which come with living on a tropical island for three-and-a-half months.

Sebastian has been on a tour of the mountains and interior of the island. I have been kayaking and snorkeling with fish that are straight out of Finding Nemo.

We recently went on a tour of the island to see quite a few of the famous spots all the way around Tahiti Nui, the larger section of the island. We saw ancient Marres (outdoor temples), waterfalls and famous surfing beaches.

We have also been fortunate enough to makes some friends that are showing us all around Papeete, the capital of Tahiti where I live. Eating at the roulottes – restaurants on wheels that serve anything and everything out of a little van that carries all their cooking supplies, tables and chairs inside is something you can’t miss.

While there are many differences, I think the hardest thing to get used to is getting out of the American (or for Sebastian simply “Western”) mind set of always having a plan or schedule.

We are definitely learning to be flexible, slow down and take things as they come instead of trying to plan in advance.

I think I speak for Sebastian and I both when I say getting the chance to live in such a beautiful place among genuinely welcoming people is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.