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Dean’s experience in Fiji helping change the lives of Indigenous Australians

For 2022 New Colombo Plan (NCP) Indigenous Fellow Dean McCarthy, his time in Fiji has encouraged his passion for reforming the criminal justice system back home.

Photo of Dean McCarthy scuba diving underwater
Dean scuba diving off the coast of Nadi, Fiji. Credit: Dean McCarthy.

For Dean McCarthy, 2022 NCP Indigenous Fellow, working in the criminal justice system has been a lifelong dream.

“I have wanted to work in the criminal justice system since I was a kid, so this is fulfilling my dream. I am passionate about protecting our vulnerable populations and working with the community to create a safer Australia for everyone. That’s why I chose to study a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and to explore Pacific Policing in Fiji.”

Dean identified that Fiji and Australia were not dissimilar with challenges around policing, and discussed the significant challenges around policing communities which have existing local laws. With these comparable contexts, Dean found Fiji to be the ideal place to undertake this important study.

Now, Dean wants to take this knowledge and explore how Australia could do things better.

“I wanted to learn how the police in the Pacific interact with their Indigenous communities to see if we can improve the experiences of our Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.”

Photo of Fijian villagers in traditional dance outfits performing a welcome
A traditional Fijian village welcoming ceremony for Dean. Credit: Dean McCarthy.

When Dean arrived in Fiji, he was welcomed with open arms.

“I had read about how nice the people were in Fiji, but when I arrived the true experience was beyond anything I imagined. I have never felt so welcomed in a new environment than during my first month here. Beautiful people, beautiful lands, unforgettable memories.”

But the move to Fiji did not come without some cultural adjustments.

“I would say one cultural adjustment was talking to complete strangers. Regardless of where I go, it is common for strangers to greet me, which was very different to the cities back home. Another adjustment was learning to navigate the endless dinner invitations from locals. They always welcome people to come share their food.”

Dean’s tip to manage culture shock is to be open to new friends and experiences. Making strong connections early on combatted feelings of being out of place. These connections have contributed to some of Dean’s most memorable moments in Fiji.

“My favourite experience has been a cultural tour to the local village. I got to participate in the welcoming and kava ceremonies, it was a great insight into Fijian culture and practices of the Indigenous population. During my time here, I have also been scuba diving off the Nadi coast - the marine life is beautiful.”

Group photo of Dean McCarthy with other international students at the University of the South Pacific
Dean with other international students at the University of the South Pacific. Credit: Dean McCarthy.

With the Fijian community shaping Dean’s experience abroad, Dean has also been able to further develop his knowledge of the criminal justice system.

“The NCP has provided me with more experiences than I could have ever hoped for. The opportunity to live in another country and learn about other cultures and policing practices provides me with the confidence and experience to excel in my career within the criminal justice system when I graduate.”

Dean’s best tip for those considering applying for an NCP Scholarship is to tie it to something you are passionate about.

“My biggest piece of advice would be to follow your passions with the NCP journey. If you are pursuing study or work in an area you are passionate about, it makes the journey so much more rewarding. Not only does it help with the culture shock, but it allows you to take in so much from your trip and make it an unforgettable experience.”

Dean will spend the rest of his time in Fiji learning even more about policing of Indigenous communities and encourages his fellow First Nations students to pursue an NCP Scholarship.

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