Seven days in tropical paradise gaining leadership skills, visiting islands and snorkeling all while experiencing a new culture — the school holidays couldn't have been better for two Ōtaki College students.

During the first term holidays Year 12 students Jess Mcarley and Damien Doyle participated in the Future Leaders NZ Advanced Student Leaders Course in Fiji.

Both hold leadership roles at Ōtaki College and applied for the leadership course in the hope they would be able to gain insight into what it takes to be a great leader in preparation for their last year at college and going into the future.

Partnering with students in Fiji, mostly from the capital Suva, Jess and Damien were part of a group of 20 New Zealand and 20 Fijian students who spent a week doing leadership-based activities together.

Jess Mcarley, front, second from right, with some of the group in Fiji.
Jess Mcarley, front, second from right, with some of the group in Fiji.

Normally run in Wellington, this year's course was run in Fiji thanks to connections of one of the leaders who is from Fiji.

Working with two local schools, planting trees with the students as part of a local project, working with Lifeline Fiji and doing beach clean-ups were some of the activities on the course.

"It was all about growing our leadership as everyone who went were already in leadership roles," said Damien who is a Kia Kaha Buddy at Ōtaki College.

"The main idea was to help us build our confidence and develop our leadership skills which it definitely did for me as there were simple activities they showed you that showed you what you could do if you did it properly.

"The activities showed you what worked for you and what didn't. They took us out of our comfort zones as soon as we got there," Jess said.

"We first met everyone at the international terminal of the airport and on the bus ride from Nadi to Suva we got to know each other.

"For me as one of the quiet people on the trip when I was leading a group it was hard to voice what I wanted to be done sometimes. It helped me to become more vocal and confident.

The trip was Jess's first time overseas which added to the learning experience.


"The whole time we were staying at places that by New Zealand standards would be considered run-down.

"One of the places we stayed had one cold tap and no glass in the windows so when we got to the last day and got to go snorkeling that was like the fun part of the trip."

"We got to experience a kava ceremony and the culture was really cool," Damien said.

"Learning how to be respectful in their culture was interesting."

Despite it raining most of the trip, Future Leaders NZ managing director Jethro Gilbert said they built resilience and character learning how to look after themselves, especially in the damp, humid, conditions.

"All the students came from different backgrounds but they all had great leadership potential.

"There was no difference between the Fijian and New Zealand students.

"They were all just as capable and confident as each other."

Taking the group to Fiji instead of sticking to their normal programme in Wellington, Jethro said it was about taking the course to the next level.

"We wanted to give the students an experiential learning opportunity that was a bit different."