Each group will have a French speaking teacher go with them. You will have the teacher’s mobile number in Tahiti. If you are desperately unhappy, coming home early may be possible, but changing your mind back again will not be. The accompanying teacher will not insist that you stay against your will, but will expect you to know your own mind.
There are dogs and roosters everywhere, so you may need earplugs at night. Mo’o, geckoes, on the ceiling are no threat. They eat mosquitoes. There may be centipedes on lawns, so wear sandals to avoid painful bites.
It’s good idea to keep one, but don’t spend hours; it’s considered rude to be apart from others. Writing critical comments about your host family is potentially very embarrassing and hurtful if they are found and read, as they may be.
Take a pocket-sized French and English dictionary. It can be a huge help.
Diarrhoea is the most common illness of travellers, so be careful with personal hygiene. If you do get a runny tummy make sure you keep well hydrated. Drink boiled or bottled water and add electrolyte powder. Match the consistency of what you are eating to what is coming out; clear soup or soft foods for the first 24 hours while your gut expels the bacteria. If it persists you may need to get medical treatment. Don’t be embarrassed about telling your host mother what you have.
Men and boys of your age and older shake hands with most other men and boys, and they kiss men on both cheeks as a ceremonial arrival greeting and leaving ritual. They also kiss other men in their family and just about all women and girls on both cheeks. Women, girls and younger boys kiss like this all the time within families.
Make sure you greet all family members when you first see them in the morning. Failure to do so will have your host family thinking you are upset or unwell. People are generally much more demonstrative than NZers. Do not misunderstand simple affection or social convention as a sexual advance.
Modern western cultures are unusual in placing the rights of the individual before the good of the group. Remember that in Polynesian and Chinese families each person counts only as a part of the group, so the group’s activities or tasks will always come first.
Avoid taking sides when disputes arise among family and friends. Whatever side you take will always prove to be the wrong one. Be everyone’s friend.
In Tahiti girls wear little makeup. It doesn’t stay on long in the heat.
The currency is the Pacific franc (XPF) and the exchange rate at the time of writing is about $NZ1:XPF70. Typical pocket money there is F5000-F10000 per week, so $150 per week will be plenty, plus maybe some more to cover any Fapelec activity costs.
Expect most prices to be twice those in New Zealand. When you get the list of activities, work out how much you need to set aside, then budget the rest of your money by dividing it into four and don’t spend in anticipation of your budget. If you have money left over on the last day you can buy something special. We suggest you take your money in euros, as there is no commission charged for changing them into Pacific Francs at the bank. Or your bank may advise you on a debit card option. But take money for the first few days in cash in Pacific francs.
If you have a Visa or Mastercard debit card with Cirrus or Plus logo and a PIN number, you can get cash from some ATMs, but there is a charge each time, so don’t get small amounts too frequently. If all else fails, with a credit card you can get a manual cash advance at the main branch of one of the three banks in Tahiti. (Don’t forget your passport for ID.) If you need more money sent, your parents can wire it to your host family’s bank account and they can give you the cash, if that suits them, but it can take up to a week, and the bank charges are high.
This tropical paradise is 35 minutes and F1210 return for students by fast catamaran. It is a great day trip and some families have a holiday place there.
These colourful wrap-around garments are essential for the beach. Take two with you as bedding when you stay away overnight. You can buy them quite cheaply at a supermarket when you arrive, or you may have the opportunity to tie-dye your own on one of the organized activities.
Take photos of your friends and family with you. It’s much easier to show pictures than to describe people in French. And take plenty of photos while you are away.
on’t be dogmatic; many people earned their living directly or indirectly from nuclear testing. Many others have mixed feelings about independence from France.
Take lots of small presents. Teeshirts, baseball caps, calendars, jams, CDs (Chocolate has to be refrigerated), souvenir pens and pencils. You can find lots of light weight gifts from the dollar discount stores. Take a more substantial thank-you present for the host parents from your parents – a kete or a bottle of sauvignon blanc, a piece of pottery or some kauri salad servers.
Starts at 7:30 am and it is compulsory. You will be in school for about half of your stay. You will find things very hard to understand to begin with, but it does get easier and your French will make big progress, even if school isn’t always too much fun.
The marché municipal is a must (don’t forget to check out the crafts upstairs there) and the Carrefour supermarkets have the best prices for most basics. Because most things are imported and there is only indirect taxation and no income tax, prices are very high, so stock up on sunblock, toiletries etc. before you leave home. However, you may find such things as French biscuits and Tahitian soaps and coffee good presents to bring home.
Crossing the street involves some care, especially for the first few days, until you are used to looking left, then right, then left again, as cars drive on the right.
The town water is OK to drink, except after very heavy rain. Boil your own and take it with you. Mineral water is also available everywhere. Water rates and bottled gas for water heating are expensive, so have short showers.
These are mostly black sand on Tahiti, and access is often barred across private property. Your host family will know how to get to the best beach nearby.
Take some reading with you. You may get little opportunity, but if you need reading material, you probably won’t want to grind through books in French. Swap them with other exchange students and offer them to your host brother or sister when you leave.
FAPELEC will organise some. Check with your host family before signing up, because they may be planning to do some of the same things with you anyway.
They may be palatial or basic and often noisy with the television and the radio always on. Polynesian houses may have separate buildings for living, sleeping, eating, washing. People never wear shoes inside.
Look out for small things to help around the house and don’t wait to be asked. Families may tell you not to help through politeness, but observe what needs to be done and help by clearing the table or drying up, sweeping or tidying. You are a member of the family. And always make your bed and keep your things compact and tidy, even if you don’t at home.
There may be only a cold-water or solar heated shower – not a problem in the heat - or even a tap and bucket for washing. People are very clean and everyone washes at least once a day, usually at night, because they make such an early start in the morning. Because of the rush hour traffic jam on the one road into and out of Papeete, some people leave home at 4 am.
You will meet a lot of this, but it may be offered shyly or in an offhand manner, and you may not always understand the language around it. Return others’ generosity with your own by means of smiles and your willingness to cooperate.
This is bigger than Christmas. Everyone stays up very late and eats delicious things. You may be offered a glass of champagne. Check with your parents before you leave, to make sure they agree to you toasting the New Year, or learn how to politely decline the offer.
Take a book with photos and statistics to leave behind. If the family is on line, then you can Google their questions to answer them. Take cassettes or CDs of NZ music. Be prepared to leave them behind too.
The most common concern expressed by Tahitian host families is that their “Néo” doesn’t talk much. It can be hard, when much of what you hear zooms over your head and you can’t easily formulate a contribution, but there’s nothing wrong with using a combination of English, French and sign language; it is a normal stage in managing in a new language. Use you dictionary as much as you like.
Get your parents’ permission first!
This delightful and uncomfortable transport system has largely been replaced by air-conditioned buses. Public transport starts early in the day and finishes early. The fares are from F150 up, depending on the distance. You pay either getting on or getting off.
All calls are expensive. Even local calls are charged by the minute. Phone numbers that start with 2 or 7 are vini (mobile) numbers and calls to them and from them are very expensive. Make calls short and when you call home, always talk just long enough for your folks to know what number to call you back on. Each year there are Tahitian families who are resentful of the big bill their “Néo” runs up. But do not call home the first week. Let your homesickness subside and the news add up. Remember that internet time is expensive too. There are several internet cafes that charge typically F300 for 15 minutes.
Many families speak it among themselves, and this can exclude you, however unintentionally. If you speak Maori, you will understand a lot and usually be understood.
Min 25°, max 32°, with very high humidity. It is cooler the higher up you live. You will find it gets easier to put up with the heat, though the first few days can be very trying.
Tourists go somewhere to blob out and be waited on; travellers get involved with the local people and culture. Remember you are a traveller on this trip, not a tourist.
Take your cue from those around you. The best travellers are observant, sensitive and adaptable. You are there only for a short time.
Take plenty of photos. You’ll be interested in them for the rest of your life.
If you are there, Christmas Eve is the big celebration. Christmas Day is a quiet family day. You will probably want to have some small gifts for immediate family members (see Presents).
Light, surf gear: shorts and teeshirts or sleeveless tops, tidy skirt/shorts/trousers and top/shirt, at least one pareo (lavalava), which you can buy there, sandals (especially sports sandals), sweatshirt for airconditioned spaces on ferries, plenty of underwear, old running shoes or reef shoes to wear on coral reefs, hat. You won’t want to wear any fabric but cotton in the heat.
Wear shoes on coral, disinfect and cover all coral scratches and cuts, or they will get infected. Don’t be offended if someone offers to pee on your coral scratch. It will reduce the likelihood of infection.
Read the information sent by the travel agent. Don’t take honey gifts. No honey products are accepted into Tahiti: no honey, no honey-based hand-cream, no honey based sweets. On the way out, no fresh food or fruit is accepted into New Zealand. Shells and wooden objects must be declared. Wooden objects may be quarantined.
We will set up a Facebook page for the Outbound group. We encourage you and your family at home and your host family in Tahiti to join, as we will use it to share important information before and during your exchange. It’s also a great way to keep up-to-date with what your fellow exchange students are doing. But don’t spent too much time online. You are there to experience life in a different culture.
Polynesian families are usually large and people do things together. You’re almost never alone. You are an honorary family member, so discretion and consideration are essential. There is a huge potential for embarrassment if you repeat private matters. The host parents’ authority counts. Fathers can often be very authoritarian and lack of language subtlety (yours and theirs) can lead parents to appear bossier than they really are. If the accompanying teacher or FAPELEC organisers have to go against them, you will probably have to leave their house. You will find some families much stricter than your own is. You are there to appreciate a new culture; not to have a wild time. To change your family, organisers will need to judge that you are not safe.
People eat more fish than in New Zealand and many eat fewer vegetables. Vegetarianism is little understood. Polynesians often eat with their fingers. Observe what others do and copy that. Try everything once and don’t carry on about it if you don’t like it. You must not expect your family to change its eating habits for you or prepare special food for you.
Don’t give up. It does get easier, and amazingly quickly, if you persevere.
Stay with your host and their friends and don’t turn down activities. But you may need your New Zealand friends if your family is a bit distant with you, as sometime happens.
Cuts and scratches easily turn septic in the tropics. Take band aids and antiseptic cream and always disinfect and cover each injury, no matter how small.
Mosquitoes are the enemy. They carry Dengue fever and Zika, which can make you feel quite unwell. The key to prevention is to avoid mosquito bites. Cover up to reduce the area of exposed skin, and use repellentsSome people take Vitamin B1 (100 mg a day, starting a month before you leave home) to make themselves less tasty to mozzies. You must take plenty of Deet-based tropical strength repellent with you and apply it to exposed skin. If you do get bitten apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion. Never scratch a bite, as it will almost certainly turn septic and leave a scar.
Nonos, small transparent insects, are on most smaller islands. They attack at dusk and early morning, and their bites are itchy, but short-lasting. There are lots of flies around animals and there are cockroaches, especially outside and at night. Many houses have residual insecticides sprayed around them to minimise insects.
Don’t take expensive equipment or jewelry with you. The excess is $100 and items are depreciated, so losing or breaking a camera worth $200 a year ago is not worth a claim. The usual doctor’s fee is 8000 francs and each prescription may cost more than that. Tonsillitis or an ear infection can cost as much as F20 000. Try to pay for yourself and claim when you return. If your host family pays, arrange to have your parents reimburse them when you get home. Make sure any receipts are in your name, or you may not be able to claim insurance on them afterwards. The accompanying teacher has claim forms or you can download them from email we send to all exchange students.
OK, but don’t cut yourself off from others. It is considered rude.
If you are hosted on an outer island away from the lights and entertainments of Papeete, you will probably have a different, more family-oriented experience, but it will not be the less for that. Water is rare and precious on atolls and the diet is likely to be largely fish and rice, rice and fish.
If you travel to other islands you will have an experience few New Zealanders will ever get. Don’t refuse opportunities.
There are no reliable street deliveries, so everyone has a PO Box (Boîte Postale). If you are writing to your host family, send your letter to the BP address.
Postcards are reasonable to mail home, but posting airmail letters is expensive.
Papeete is hot and noisy, but lively; other places can be isolated, but friendlier. Every location has advantages and disadvantages. Other islands can be the hardest and yet the most rewarding places to be lodged.
Depending on the airline you have booked with, if you are flying from places other than Auckland may not be able to check your luggage right through to Papeete. Check with your travel agent. Weight: NZ airports very strict: no hold item greater than 23kg per person, cabin luggage: one item, no more than 7kg. (You are also allowed your computer bag and camera bag: these are not included in the 7 kg allowance. And a handbag for ladies!)
However if you are lucky enough to be travelling to an outer island your luggage will need to be lighter still. You will need to pay any excess baggage charges for your luggage. Remember you are travelling to the tropics, and will be staying in a family so you don't need to pack lots of (heavy) clothing and you will be able to keep it freshly laundered.
Your passport and your return airline ticket are your most precious belongings. Guard them jealously. A small backpack makes an excellent carry-on bag for the aircraft and is ideal for excursions and days at the beach.
You are going in the rainy season. Weather on the high islands becomes overcast, and that is followed by warm rain, then a day or so of fine weather. It is drier on atolls. Take a folding umbrella. A tropical storm or cyclone is possible some time during your stay. It can rain solidly for a week or more, making everything damp.
Many families go to church, so go with them. The singing is wonderful. Polynesian families are most likely protestant; French and Chinese families will probably be Catholic.
– Burn very fast, so cover up, wear a hat and smear on a good sunblock every hour. Keep out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm and, if you are fair-skinned, don’t go by what Polynesian and Mediterrranean skins can take. Take an extra teeshirt when you go somewhere without shade. You can wet it and wear it over your head to protect your head, neck and shoulders. Looking cool is less important than avoiding sunstroke and melanoma. A tropical tan is acquired very quickly and fades very fast.
It can be hard to sleep, with noise and heat and sharing rooms. Don’t worry if you get behind in sleep; your body will make sure you get enough sleep over any period of two weeks or so.