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Fiji : 1A • June 15-July 1, 2016

"It's Not Goodbye, Its See You Later"

June 30, 2016

Today is the day as leaders and students we hate the most. The day we all have to say goodbye. Luckily our trip ended with a day spent island hopping on a catamaran. Really ending the trip with a bang. We spent the morning cruising through the beautiful pacific listening to music, eating fresh fruit and reminiscing on all of the incredible experiences we all shared on this trip. We thought back to the first days where things were awkward and the group was still hesitant to come out of their shells. When Marshall, Ruthie and Izzy still had to facilitate group games to encourage everyone to open up. A time that seems unrecognizable now, especially after last night’s karaoke, weird games, inside jokes, late night stories and endless belly laughs. We thought back to the village and the amazing cultural exchange we were able to experience there. And finally scuba diving where we were all able to see some of the most amazing things in an environment completely foreign to us all.

After checking bags at the airport, we gathered on the floor of the airport for our last moonup all together. Talking about qualities we appreciated in each other and things we learned on the trip we want to continue back home was the focus of this moonup and enabled us all to positively remember and reinforce all the aspects of this amazing trip. Saying goodbye was rough but as they told us before going through security many times, “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.”

This trip has been an incredible experience for all of us and we thought no better way to communicate that than from the students themselves, so here are some shout outs from them.


Hey family! Scuba diving had been super amazing. I truly believe I am now a part of the aquatic Fijian life.


Shoutout to the Fijian reefs.. They have filled my eyes with bursting color!!!!!


Hey fam! We went scuba diving and swam with sharks it was so cool! Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it! See y’all soon.


Hey! Scuba diving was the coolest experience ever and I can’t wait to tell y’all about it!!


We went scuba diving and now we are coming home. It was a fun time.


We went scuba diving and we saw a lot of cool stuff. I can’t wait to see y’all.


Bula family, scuba diving was fun, see y’all soon.


Hey!! I got scuba certified and we went scuba diving for the past couple of days. For the first time ever, I got chills because it was so awesome like how dad gets them at Duke games. Can’t wait to tell y’all more about it soon!


Bula! I am finally 100% SCUBA certified. We got to dive with sharks yesterday. I had tears in my eyes when I jumped off of the boat, but it ended up being one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! See y’all soon!!!


The Land Down Under

June 30, 2016

Bula Bula!

The past five days we have truly been in the land down under- the deep blue! We began our SCUBA certification diving by learning some techniques in the pool. Many of the students had previously been SCUBA diving, and those provided extra comfort to those of us who were justifiably nervous about breathing underwater, such as Ruthie and Izzy. Marshall, who was certified prior to Fiji, acted as a great mentor and instructor throughout the entire SCUBA process. On the second day, we ventured out into the ocean to practice our newly attained SCUBA skills in open water. Underneath the water for our instructor we each practiced taking out our regulator, clearing our mask, clearing our regulators, using a compass, tired diver tow, emergency accent protocol, and more. We were even conducting the process of constructing and deconstructing our air tank to our BCD, vest, before and after diving- an immensely important responsibility. After our 2nd dive on the 3rd day, which was our fourth dive practicing protocols in open water, we climbed back onto the boat as certified open water SCUBA divers! While the first two days of open water diving provided interesting views of coral and fish, we had no clue of the wonders we would see the following two days.

As a certified SCUBA diver, we were now all allowed to bring GoPros and cameras with us underneath the water. Drennen, as always, did not want to miss an opportunity to snap some good videos and pictures. We watched as he zoomed in and out of caves and pointed out neat sights continuously. With his keen eye, Marshall and him saw a large octopus. Izzy, Gus and Meredith saw a sea turtle swimming around. The coral was bright and the swim throughs felt like something out of National Geographic.

The more we dove together the more we could recognize each other underwater despite the wetsuits and all the gear. Gus could always be seen with his wild movements and swift swimming as he checked out anything and everything. Patrick always wide eyed, soaking in everything around him and capturing it all on his go pro. Bebe and Sarah could always be identified by their flowing long hair, Sarah always leading the pack. Meredith was actively trying to catch fish in her hand with no fear or hesitation. Caroline could always be seen with her white mask in the front fearlessly scoping out every swim through and cave. If you ever were wondering where Paige was, all you had to do was look up. She was always lingering about five feet about making sure we were all safe and the group was together. Katelyn while hesitant about some of the dives, overcame some of her fears and could be seen with a huge smile on her face keeping up with the group. And as always, Drennen was making sure to get every angle, snapping pictures we can’t wait for him to share with the group.

On our second to last dive the whole group was lucky enough to see a two nurse sharks, a white tip shark and lemon shark swimming below us on the ocean floor. The last dive was said to be the coolest of all the dives, with unbelievable fish, a cave to swim through, and beautiful coral colors. They were all so intrigued in the sights and wonders that each one expressed interest in receiving further certificates of diving, such as an advanced open water diving certification.

We had become frequents at a local restaurant in the town and on our last night in this town, a few went on stage and performed. Gus and Drennen performed two songs with the Blues band while Paige and Patrick alternated playing the drums. Ruthie sang Proud Mary as Caroline beat the drums. The owner of the restaurant even gave us a discount!

As we sat on the dock beneath the stars for one final night time Moonup, our last LODS, Paige and Meredith, lead the group in ending the Moonup in a meaningful and memorable way. Each of us was handed two stones, one representing something we learned and would take with us back home and the other representing something about ourselves we wanted to leave behind in Fiji. Quietly we all lined the edge of the dock and threw each stone into the water.

Surfing Fiji Style!

June 24, 2016

Once upon a time, a group of students lived traveled to Fiji and stayed on a coconut plantation. To be honest it’s actually better than any dream we’ve ever had. Picture this: the sun setting on the horizon, the tide is out, and 9 little Moondancers are playing in water trying to snap a picture of this dream. The past few days have been a welcome change of pace compared to our busy community service section. Our days have been filled with surf, sun and sand. Then, in the afternoons, we’ve been able to enjoy the community around us and all the amazing activities it has to offer. Our home these days, Fiji Beach House is stocked with every activity you can think of, and our group has stayed busy swimming, surfing, fishing, paddle-boarding and playing every game imaginable.

Game masters, Gus and Paige were always the ones to initiate group volleyball games. We even learned a new rule from Paige, that you can kick the ball to save it from going out of bounds! Meanwhile, Drennen found a dark blue star fish that fascinated the group and led the photo shoot we had at sunset. He’s been taking incredible pictures throughout the trip, and taking advantage of every opportunity to explore our magical surroundings.

On the surfing front, Patrick caught some real crazy waves, which was incredible as it was his first time surfing. He and Katelyn were our Leaders of the Day and their dynamic duo was one of the reasons we had such a productive Moonup, with some of our favorite and most thought-provoking conversation. Caroline showed amazing Expedition Behavior (EB) when she bravely retrieved a surf board from floating out in the surf while Meredith absolutely killed it at surfing. When asked about her favorite part of our stay the last two days she said “swinging on the swing is my jam.” Sarah and Bebe stayed on the water the entire time- we couldn’t get them out! Although they were surfing beginners, we were so impressed by their ability to crush those waves.

Last night after an intense game of up “Chicken” (a game where the object is to pass a coin secretly from one another without the detection of the other team) we gathered for Moonup on the beach under the stars. Staring into the night sky we counted 10… yes 10 shooting stars!

The past two days have been relaxing to say the least, but we are gearing up for our SCUBA section. Stay tuned for more underwater stories!

Service in the Land of Smiles

June 22, 2016

It is with a heavy heart that we said good bye this morning after only three days of staying in the village doing community service.  Everyone in the village was so welcoming that we really felt like family by then end of our stay. The first day after rafting we were all tired but we still went swimming, played rugby and enjoyed a game of tag with the kids. During the opening and closing ceremonies Gus brought our group to tears both times not only with his sincerity and kind words.

Ruthie’s favorite part of our trip so far was going to the school in Winebone village (another village down the road). She really enjoyed the kids in our village but said making a connection with the friends of our local kids was extremely enjoyable.

Katelyn and Patrick were our leaders of the day for our first day of community service and they were both fabulous models of peer leadership.  They never stopped to take a break when we were shoveling gravel or when we had to take the stones up the hill.

Katelyn said by far her favorite part of the trip so far was getting to spend time with a little girl named Grace last night. Throughout the trip Katelyn has waved and spoken to Grace but she has always run away shyly.  Last night Grace opened up and refused to be put down. Katelyn danced, sang and laughed with her all night.

Caroline really enjoyed playing with the kids and seemed to constantly have a smile on her face when in their presence.

Sarah says she’s never been around people that were so friendly or that had such gracious attitudes.

Drennen had never played rugby before and excelled at it scoring three times for his team. He has also become incredibly adept at the card game president which our river guide Pedro taught us on the second night.

Bebe really seemed to make an impact on one child in particular named Mala.  Bebe taught her to dance and Mala taught her to sing a song called “dance Selena.”  They were a great duo and a constant source of entertainment for the whole group.

When asked, Paige said the villagers had taught her to always keep an open mind and heart, to completely indulge herself in someone’s culture, to truly be happy, and, at the end of the day, it pays off when relationships are made with the most unsuspecting of people.

Meredith was by far our hardest worker and was constantly exemplifying every aspect of Expedition Behavior – something we hold in high esteem here at Moondance. Meredith was continually asking if she could help.  She was the first to volunteer when one of the leaders or guides would ask if a student wanted to try something and was a master of positivity when the work got tough in the heat of the day. She is most definitely a star at trying new things.

Patrick enjoyed the rafting but said that riding the boat was more fun because we went fast and he had a chance to really see the environment.  He said the speed gave him time to slow down and enjoy the view.

Marshall really enjoyed smoothing the cement with a pallet knife.  After spending 30 minutes perfecting a single spot no bigger than 2 feet he stood up and walked right through it with both feet. Woops!

At moon up Gus said something that really stuck with the group: “a community is not made of sidewalks, parks, roads or buildings but instead of the people who make it their home”.  What an amazing insight to round off an incredible time in this very special community. We ended our rafting trip by going to the largest water fall in Fiji it’s over 12 stories with a width of a school bus. Our kids slid down the apex of the falls and then jumped off a cliff into the pool below. It was a cherry on top of an already amazing experience.  Now on to the next!

Bula from Fiji!

June 17, 2016

Bula families! The students have arrived in paradise! On our travels from Los Angeles to Fiji, we crossed the international dateline, which is as close to time travel as we will ever get.

The Moondance summer has finally begun although it took a few days of travel to get there. The journey began on airport day as one by one students starting arriving to the Los Angeles airport. Katelyn arrived first with a smile and helpful hands as we picked up Moondance baggage that had been left at a connecting flight in Chicago.

We quickly learned maneuvering the LAX airport isn’t always the easiest, but this group of professionals took charge and quickly mastered this complex airport. Carlyle and Paige were most impressive as they carried their bags all the way to the international terminal skipping the shuttle all together!

As both Fiji Moondance groups arrived, we joined together at the gate and it took no time at all for students to start mingling, getting to know each other, playing games and getting excited for the next 17 days together. Getting off the plane at 5:30 AM Fiji time, we were all tired but excited to step foot in Fiji and meet up with Marshall, one of our leaders who had traveled the day previously, who met us with open arms. We met for a breakfast and Patrick and Gus took it upon themselves to order for their leader, Ruthie. Who knew you could order spaghetti and toast for breakfast?

When we arrived at our place to stay for the evening, we were again met with warm welcomes and open arms. That night, Caroline stumped us all with her clever riddles, while Meredith impressed us all with her ability to solve them so quickly. We were finally able to get our feet wet, quite literally, by swimming in a channel in the Pacific Ocean. The contrast of the crystal blue waters and the vibrant green foliage has us all in awe. Even more impressive were Sarah, Bebe, and Drennen who lead the group in jumps into the water below.

Every evening on Moondance, we come together as a group to talk about the day, share stories, quotes and passages, and to ask each other questions and listen carefully to the answers. This Moonup tradition is something we were excited to implement on the first evening and as we sat by the ocean, we met for our first Moonup as a complete Moondance family. We shared laughs and goals and prepared for our community service beginning tomorrow with our Leaders of the Day (LODs), Katelyn and Patrick. We are eager to see what the next few days hold as we venture into the remote riverside villages on the Upper Navua River. Stay tuned, folks!

Izzy, Ruthie and Marshall