September 5, 1996 * Vol . 7, No. 1

Fijiian field study provides experience of a lifetime for SFU student

by Jo Moss

This year, SFU undergraduate Marisa Beraldin spent her summer at the beach. She conducted academic research surrounded by waving palm trees and beautiful sandy beaches.

Sound too good to be true? While on an archaeology field school, Beraldin was part of an SFU team investigating the lives of the first Melanesian settlers on Fiji.

The program was organized by SFU's office of international cooperation through a partnership with the University of the South Pacific (USP). It earned Beraldin 12 credits towards her BA in general studies and she counts it as the experience of a lifetime. In all, 14 students spent two weeks on campus learning the practical techniques of archaeological excavation. Their next stop was Hawaii for a week of lectures and museum visits.

Then they boarded a plane for Suva and six weeks in Fiji, where their work on an archaeological dig in the Sigatoka sand dunes was supplemented by lectures at USP. Beraldin says it was a fascinating hands-on application of archaeology methodology and an eye-opening introduction into traditional Fijian village life.

"It's quite different to be able to study something and apply it immediately," she says, adding she felt lucky to have had the chance to work on one of the five skeletons the team uncovered on the dunes, one of the most important archaeological sites in the South Pacific. It meant being on her knees painstakingly removing sand to expose the bones and preserve them, as well as measuring and taking data for future analysis.

The day after they arrived, the students were invited to a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony, a ritual involving the preparation and serving of kava, a local beverage. They also visited one of the last villages where traditional pottery is manu-factured by hand to find out more about the manufacturing process and gain a better understanding of the pottery shards they excavated. "The average tourist wouldn't normally see these kinds of things," Beraldin says.

Beraldin, who works for Canadian Airlines, started her degree two years ago when downsizing in the airline industry made her think about broadening her options. Now, she's hooked. "I don't ever want to stop," she says. Her job as a flight attendant has taken her all around the world, but the Fiji field school gave her the chance to get to know a country's people and culture in quite a different way. "It's added to the understanding for my job," she says.

Beraldin believes broadening global perspectives is something that's important for everyone, "especially now, with the world becoming increasingly smaller," she says. "Going to university gives people a greater understanding of the world at large. As least it does for me."

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