Day 11: The Road to Matanivusi (Cat’s Eye) and Julia’s 18th Birthday

Today is the lucky day that the chaperones get the opportunity to blog. We began the day loading onto a bus to head to our final destination in Fiji, The Matanivusi Eco Surf Resort. Everyone was excited for this well deserved “vacation” from a lot of hard work and learning.


We arrived and the students were mesmerized at this ecological rainforest paradise of a setting. The surfers, chomping at the bit got right into the water, while a large number of the non-surfers went stand up paddle boarding and snorkeling. Some retreated to their rooms, finally having personal space after ten days of dorm living. I had the pleasure of receiving many “thank you Hailey” cheers, as they roamed the premises or got into the water. This warmed my heart. I also had the pleasure of accompanying the surfers as they headed out on their maiden Fijian surf experience. Alex Lawson caught the first wave and my heart soared again. These kids, who live to surf, were on the waves in Fiji. Although mushy, windy and gigantic…the kids had an epic time. Later that night we celebrated Julia’s 18th birthday with a beautiful long table dinner, a cake, presents, and then a roaring beach fire. We are looking forward to a few last days of relaxation, water activities, a high school visit, spending time with the Vunaniu village kindergarten children and a delicious lovo feast with traditional dancing and a final kava ceremony.


This trip has been fantastic and the students have impressed all they come into contact with. Our Vinaka Fiji service coordinators boasted that they never had a group as respectful, unified and compassionate, as this group. They have made me so proud and honored as a teacher to experience this journey with them. It is not everyday in a teacher’s life that they have the complete satisfaction of knowing one’s lesson or message was internalized. Here, we have the honor to see not only core values in action, but the full assurance that the students are running with every lesson and opportunity provided, and they are surely getting every intended message. Here are just a few of the moments that will leave a permanent smile in my heart:

I am so impressed, in so many ways, with Neo. He jumps into all activities, despite some communication barriers. Watching him climb the ladders and master the art of hammering, as well as hearing him share from his heart around our sharing circles, has been special.

There is nothing that Dualta can’t do. This environment was created for him. From climbing trees, to opening coconuts with his hands, mastering painting and always volunteering to help, Dualta has been essential to our experience.

Rainier has brought great humor and great tunes to our adventure. Watching him swing the Soso village grade one children from his arms was a wonderful moment to witness.

Luis has been curious and engaged with all we have done. The children we have met quickly fall in love with him and I’m grateful we finally got him in the water today to scuba. He saw a shark and a barracuda, both of the animals he hoped to encounter.

Manny has shone as a leader. She pioneered the painting projects at the village and her creativity and ability to delegate left permanent beauty for the Soso RA-Memorial School. Manny made connections wherever we went and her humor, style and compassion was a model.

Rory is a warrior. She has been positive, active, inquisitive and helpful the entire trip. She jumps fully into all activities. I have witness Rory engaged in so many beautiful moments, it is too difficult to choose.

Rachel has been unbelievable. She has been positive and engaged and fully immersed each day. She was vital to our service, making sure the bathroom painting and safety sign making went smoothly and she made beautiful connections to the children we met each day.

Pedro has surprised me the most. He has made beautiful meaningful connections with every child, villager, resort worker and random person that he has encountered. The children practically chanted his name, and the village men called him into sit at their meetings as he walked by. Pedro was never satisfied with just doing our required tasks during service and he was always asking “what else?” and creating ways to improve and beautify the Soso village. He has had a smile on his face for eleven days and I am so very grateful he is part of this experience.

Alex S has had so many beautiful moments. Watching him jump from the high dive in the ocean with a big smile on his face or hearing him express the feeling ot success after completing his irrigation project, are just two of the many highlights of Alex’s experience. He has been impressive and I believe his is getting so much out of this experience.

Yoora is a champion. She has been so bold in all activities and essential to all projects. From laying cement, jumping off the high dive or snorkeling into caves to observe coral and marine life, Yoora has had a smile on her face and has shone.

Gianluca is a beautiful person. He has made incredible connections with the people we have met and watching the joy on his face has enhanced my experience. Whether strumming his ukelele, watching him teach Alex S, seeing him jump up whenever help is needed or witnessing his determination to get his service project complete, Gianluca has had a smile of his face and clearly is filled with compassion and a great love of life. I couldn’t imagine this trip without him.

Joao is another incredibly beautiful person. He has brightened our days with his desire to help, his impeccable attitude,his vast talents and his ability to live life fully and mindfully. From his ability to measure, saw, hammer and work with his hands, to his leadership abilities, Joao has endless talents. I truly believe that parts of the service project would not have been completed without his determination.

Jonas is a quiet giant. His ability to survey each aspect of a situation and then take action is admirable. He has been an ideal role model on this trip, showing the younger students shining examples of mindfulness, compassion, leadership and intellect. It was such an important moment for him to receive a college acceptance while here.

Julia has had a fantastic attitude throughout the trip. The children loved playing on the swings with her, dancing with her and being around her, in general.

Gabriela had a beautiful experience in the village and to watch her experience it was so meaningful to me. The children fell in love with her. Her kindness and smile welcomed them in and they were glued to her. “Madame Gabi” was heard over and over for many days and the children could not get enough of her hugs and her playfulness. It was truly beautiful to witness and she is truly a beautiful human being.

Matheus is a compassionate and intelligent young man. He made beautiful suggestions on how the village can monitor water, which will be shared with the chief. His thoughtfulness and ability to analyze information is immense.

Hitomi has incredible grace and determination. Whenever there was an activity to do or service to provide, Hitomi was present, both physically and mentally and usually with a smile.

Kai has endless energy. He quickly had the reputation of the fastest runner in our group and he was challenged to a borage of races, of which he complied (and beat all the children). Kai was super helpful in all activities and while quiet in many aspects, he seemed to be taking it all in and downloading memories.

Alex L is simply a pleasure to be around. He is such a person. From his constant smile and positive attitude, to his sense of adventure and endless talents – Alex is golden. The village children loved him and his worked tirelessly to complete his projects. His love of the water was so evident every day, as he took every opportunity to merge with said water in any way.

Augie’s sense of humor has been essential to this trip. But he is far more than just funny. Augie is super helpful and made beautiful connections with the children. Augie worked with a sense of compassion and urgency and made beautiful improvements to the Soso village. It has been a pleasure to get to know him.

Martin has done an outstanding job throughout the trip. It was epic to see him running and playing with the village school children. They loved him. Martin and Neo participated in many firsts this trip. Martin tackled the water, snorkeling, boating and kayaking. I am so proud of him. Martin has also been very helpful, offering his services whenever needed. He has been communicating well and it is great to catch him laughing and smiling in so many moments.


You don’t know what you don’t know… This saying has been a reoccurring theme for me throughout the entire trip. I have never been to Fiji before, nor traveled with this exact group of 25 individuals. Thus, I did not know what to fully expect from this Field Academy. Now with only a few days left it has become more clear what I did not know almost two weeks ago.

Fiji has an abundance of beauty and optimistic vibes. The landscape and water contrast to form such a surreal and positive atmosphere. The people here are so welcoming, fun and prideful. To see the love and passion they have for their home is really inspiring. Everywhere we go it seems as though we are right at home – the people greet and treat us so well. For someone that has never been more than five feet into an ocean before, it has been quite the experience to snorkel, swim and boat around such open waters. I did not know first-hand what the underwater world had to offer until now – wow!

Spending over two weeks with teenagers from all different backgrounds and experiences can be a daunting task. But after a positive experience last Field Academy, I was excited to travel again this year. The makeup of personalities and skills has made this group more than just a group, but rather a community.

Each of the students has been so impressive in their own ways. What they have demonstrated goes beyond just understanding Ross Core Values. The students have demonstrated the ability to apply them authentically and appropriately. It has been such a pleasure to see each of them mature as the trip continues and solidify the community that has been established.

Some students I coached during basketball, others I traveled with last Field Academy and a few I have met for the first time. Regardless of my prior experience with any student, I can confidently say that each of them has played a vital role in my personal well-being on this trip and the success we are all having.

A constant message that I have tried to express throughout the trip has been to explore and be open to new experiences – because you don’t know what you don’t know. This world has so much more to offer than we can experience back at home. Our lifestyle is not the same lifestyle others have – and the students are learning what truly is important in life. Being able to put everything into perspective, especially for a young adult, can be challenging. However, building toilets and providing running water for a village that has never had that before can certainly help build perspective.

To see the smiles on our students faces and raw emotion during various parts of this journey has been a blessing. As educators, our ultimate goal is to provide students with a meaningful and worthwhile experience. In order to do that we must challenge them in ways that push them beyond their limits – because they don’t know what they don’t know.


I’ve been so impressed by all the students’ dedication to the completion of the service projects at Sosa, willingness to engage with their Yasawa High School peers, gratitude to the Vinaka Fiji and GLA leaders and the confidence/perseverance to get out of their comfort zone throughout the trip. Truly amazing, one and all!!


As a relative “outsider” to the Ross School community, I am forever grateful for the acceptance, respect, and trust bestowed upon me by the group. Being a chaperone of just 23 years of age, the kids were able to find a sense of comfort, a resonance of respected mutual equality that formulated into a very conducive environment for the kids. The students, young adults in my eyes, were able to confide in me with their troubles, whether being future anxieties or present conflicts, knowing that I too have recently walked down a similar path. I have learned so much about each and every student and would like to think that I have positively influenced them; with the notion that you can have fun and be silly, all while maintaining a stern sense of discipline and maturity, whether it be revolving around academics, athletics, or social interactions…there is a time a place for everything. I am happy to say that no serious injuries have been sustained, just minor cuts and bruises that the kids so willingly let me treat. I was happy to be able to share my passion for helping others by both medical and philanthropic service, and by simply extending an open hand. Throughout the trip I was constantly enamored by the teamwork and unity displayed by the group, no one ever leaving a man (or girl) behind. I was particularly gratified by the work done in Soso village, the students truly went the extra mile to fulfill their duties to better the community. Lastly, to touch on the aquatic side of things, I was stoked to see all the students be so mesmerized by the coral reefs and all of the dazzling creatures zipping around. I found underwater caves that I cautiously lead a few of the more marine inclined students through. I found lobsters under deep coral shelves and lead the students to see their long “feelers” poking out, to then swim down and see the crustaceans tucked into the nooks and crannies of the jagged yet beautiful reef. This was actually a check off the bucket list for one of the Brazilian students Joao, who just so happens to be a excellent waterman and freediver. As for the surfers, I have never seen such amp before. The definition of “frothing” was an utter understatement. The boys were screaming and hooting, their voices cracking with excitement, on the first day of surfing as we motored along the outer reefs to our desired location chosen by our Australian surf guide Dane. I actually think I saw Kai shed a tear out of pure joy. Even the scraps from the sharp reef didn’t stop them, especially John Luca who filleted his foot two days in a row and just kept charging! The many faces of satisfaction, happiness, exhaustion, hunger, satiation, and pain from squeezing lime into reef cuts will be forever imprinted into my mind. I am proud and honored to have been a part of such an amazing trip, and for that I thank you.



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