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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

2 February 2024

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JCU undergrads travelling to Polynesia

After setting their sights on an international study adventure, six JCU students found a new perspective on the Pacific when travelling to Tahiti as part of a French language immersion excursion. Senior Lecturer Dr Florence Boulard, who organised the excursion together with the JCU Global Experience team, shares some highlights.

French Polynesia is a group of 121 islands located in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between New Zealand and South America. “To get to the main island of Tahiti generally requires to hop on three planes. It’s actually quite fast – a two hours flight from Brisbane to Auckland and then four and a half hours to Tahiti. Much closer than travelling to Paris,” Senior Lecturer in Humanities and Education, Dr Florence Boulard says.

After submitting applications to JCU’s Global Experience team and being selected in a competitive process, six students were successful in receiving the New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility grant and travelled to Tahiti to gain valuable language skills. They were accompanied by Florence, a native French speaker, who supported the students as they met local students from a number of different schools and universities.

All students were undergraduates from different degrees, and Florence says she was glad that they were travelling as a multidisciplinary group. “I had two education students, an engineering student, an urban planning student, a medical student and a marine biology student. Together, we were a team ready to answer any question on a trivia night,” Florence says and laughs.

Welcome cocktail organised by the Australian consulate at the Chamber of Commerce (CCISM) in French Polynesia (supplied: Florence Boulard).

Learning more about Polynesian culture

Given that the focus of this trip was to immerse JCU undergraduate students in a different culture and language, Florence says that the group spent a lot of time with people from the local community.

“It was very important to me that everyone was able to form their own opinions of Tahiti, not just by reading about the place but also by talking to people from a range of institutions and different ages,” Florence says.

“Through speaking with people, students get a better understanding of what life is like in these places. Then students can make up their own mind and see whether what they read in books or see online is actually a reflection of the realities that form part of the everyday lifestyle in French Polynesia.”

Florence says that the group met with local students in primary schools and high schools, but also with TAFE and university students. “We wanted an exchange that allowed local people to tell us about their culture, and in return, the JCU students would share what life is like in Australia,” Florence says.

Sharing what makes North Queensland special

The JCU student group also endeavoured to make their hosts more aware of North Queensland. Florence says that, when travelling overseas, people from Polynesia would generally choose to travel to New Zealand and sometimes also to Australia.

“But not many people really knew where Cairns and Townsville were,” Florence says. My group did a wonderful job sharing information and experiences of Townsville and Magnetic Island to our hosts. Through our visits, we were able to put a little pin on their mental maps.”

Learning the local language

The main languages spoken in Polynesia are French and Tahitian, and Florence says that most of her group hadn't studied French before they travelled to Tahiti. “It was a new experience for them. In the first few days, they all had their little book that they were reading from when meeting people,” Florence says.

“Sometimes, my students wanted to say things that they couldn't say, but they were helping each other as well, because some of them did have a bit more French. But towards the end, not only did their pronunciation improve, but the students were also introducing themselves without reading from their book.

"That was really nice to see their progress. It takes a long time to learn a second language, but our JCU students did a great job. I was very proud of them.”

Being a student in Tahiti

Florence also says that the trip to Tahiti was an eye-opener for her group. “My students, who lived on their own, realised that a lot of Tahitian university students live with their parents,” she says. “Polynesian students are also not working when they are studying, in contrast our students.

“That's because the university timetables in Tahiti don’t allow them to work. There is no time, and it's also not really part of the culture to combine studies and work.”

JCU NCP Mobility Grant recipients at Maison de La Culture in Papeete, Tahiti

Connecting through the arts

Florence says that it was clear that the Tahitian hosts wanted the JCU students to feel welcome. “Every place we have been to, we were greeted with amazing performances. Children were playing instruments, and there was also lots of singing everywhere,” she says. “That's something that was quite powerful, and we could learn a lot from the Tahitian communities here in Australia in terms of connecting with people via music and the arts."

The JCU group learned a song in Tahitian as well. "That worked really well in terms of connecting with people through singing, even if they spoke different languages,” Florence says.

Florence says the two-week immersion excursion to Tahiti has left a lasting impression on the JCU students. “They now understand that the Pacific is more than just a big blue patch of water. I am still hearing them talk about the friends they have made, and that they are still connected with some of these friends via social media.”

Coming up: Vanuatu and New Caledonia

Florence says that she has been taking JCU students on immersive study experiences – supported by scholarships – for the last decade. “We have already travelled to New Caledonia, Vanuatu and French Polynesia. That's always been funded by the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grants through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 2023, our trip was also funded, in part, by the French Embassy. I am extremely grateful for these transformative learning opportunities. Continuing to grow Pacific-Mindedness within our communities is a responsibility that I take very seriously."

Florence already has plans for a new excursion later this year. “The plan is to take ten JCU students to Port Vila on Efate Island in Vanuatu. We already have secured several New Colombo Plan Mobility Grants," she says. "Recently, I have also been informed that our application has been successful to allow us to take 12 JCU students to New Caledonia before January 2025.”

Florence adds that eligible students also need to financially contribute to the excursions, with the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grants contributing $3,000, and another $2,000 to be paid by the student. She says that from July 2024, JCU undergrad students can begin applying for the Vanuatu and New Caledonia excursions.

JCU Mobility Grants

The New Colombo Plan is a signature initiative of the Australian Government which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacifc in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to undertake study, language training and internships in the region.

Want to learn more about New Colombo Plan Mobility Grants or gaining an immersive study experience abroad? Read more on the JCU Global Experience page or get in contact with the Global Experience team.

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