Interview with Antoine Esteban, the Embassy’s Regional Attaché for Cooperation, Culture and Sustainable Development

A desire to gain more overseas experience led to the submission of his application for France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs volunteer scheme, Volontariat International en Administration (VIA).

Now, 2 years later, Antoine Esteban looks back with no regret at how far he has come since.

Join us as he shares his journey.

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Antoine Esteban in the bell tower of the French built, Nailili Catholic Church; during an official site visit.
(Photo : French Embassy)

Q. When did you decide to become an international volunteer?

A. I decided at the end of my studies.

Q. If by design, what or who played a significant in influencing your decision?

A. I graduated with a Master’s Degree in International Politics from the Institute of Political Studies in Lille (North of France), during which I had the opportunity to undertake two internships overseas: one in Argentina and one in Togo (West Africa).
I wanted to get another work experience abroad, in order to get more experience in the development/international relations field. I had heard during my university time about the international volunteer scheme of the ministry of foreign affairs (in English, the term of volunteer has a slightly different meaning, as the French volunteer does get a salary/allowance. It’s more some kind of Junior Programme Officer, as the UN does for example).

Q. What volunteer scheme are you here in Fiji under? How do people get into it?

A. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a website with all the openings for this programme - Volontariat international en ambassade. After registering, French nationals under 28 who hold a diploma relevant to the position can apply online (CV + cover letter) for different positions (a one year contract renewable once). It is a very competitive scheme and usually hundreds of people apply for a given position.

Q. Did you choose Fiji or was it chosen for you?

A. I had applied to different postings all over the world (South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific), and I got selected for an interview for this position at the French Embassy in Fiji.
I had this interview at the ministry in Paris, and, a couple of days later, they called me to tell me I got the job. I flew out two months later, after completing all the necessary administrative proceedings.

Q. Where were you born? Does it have any cultural, social or geographical features that are peculiar to it?

A. I was born in Rouen, capital city of Upper-Normandy. Normandy is famous all over the world for being the main centre of impressionism (famous Claude Monet used to live there, and made his most famous paintings based on the Normandy landscape, especially the water lilies at his place), as well as for being the place where the Americans and their allies landed in June 1944. It’s also really famous for its cheeses (including the ‘camembert’) and the Mont-Saint-Michel.

Q. When did you arrive and how long is your term in Fiji?

A. I arrived in Fiji in November 2010, and will leave in a couple of weeks. After two years, it will be hard leaving this amazing country, I now sometimes consider as my home, to go back to Europe.

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(l-r) Pr Rajesh Chandra, Vice-chancellor of USP, Antoine Esteban, Morgan Tuimaleali’ifano, Dean of the School of Social Sciences during the official hand over of 2 Pacific Fund Projects.
(Photo : French Embassy)

Q. What are your main responsibilities at the Embassy?

A. My job title is Regional Attaché for cooperation, culture and sustainable development. The main target of the French Embassy Department for cooperation and culture I work for is to promote the cooperation between Fiji and the different Pacific States covered by the Embassy – namely Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu – and their French neighbours: New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis & Futuna.
In this context, I’m especially in charge of the files/topics focusing on this regional cooperation. This task involves that my activity covers many fields for a better development of the whole Pacific: environment, health, education, research, culture…

For example, I am in charge with my supervisor of the Pacific Fund. This fund aims at supporting the regional integration of the French Pacific territories. During 2011/2012 the fund supported the first vehicle charging solar station at USP. I also accompanied a group of French Senators on a visit to Tonga last year – this was the first time there was ever such a mission to the Kingdom. I’m also in charge of the Fête de la Musique / Fiji Music Day, organized every year with the Alliance française de Suva on 21st June.
It’s a really good post as it provides me the opportunity to tackle several issues involving different Pacific countries and French territories.

Q. Do you enjoy your work?

A. It’s a great opportunity for a junior like me to gain experience, as my activity is really diversified and tackles different countries. I also really enjoy working with my colleagues here – both French and Fijian - as well as with our different cooperation partners.

Q. What goals do you hope to achieve by the end of your time in Fiji?

A. As I’ll be leaving really soon now, there is no specific goal I still need to achieve. I will just try to properly farewell all the people I’ve been lucky to meet up with during the last two years, as well as the city of Suva itself. I really appreciate to living in Suva. (I have been to many countries and territories in the South Pacific, but there is no city I would like to live in but Suva).

Q. How do you find Fiji and its people?

A. As a European, after adapting to local specificities – especially the famous ‘Fiji Time’ – I really enjoyed Fiji and its people.
Especially, I like how welcoming the Fijian are, how smiling and greeting they are to foreigners (I have stopped counting how many times people greeted me with a ‘bula’ in the street). It makes it really easy to adapt to the country.
I’m also really interested – both personally and professionally - in the Fijian culture and tradition. I studied Fijian for a year when I arrived at the Alliance française of Suva, in order to be able to better communicate with Fijians and understand their culture.

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With French Embassy colleagues (l-r) Eddy CHOW, Rakesh PRASAD, Isabelle HURSTEL, Coline LORANG & Loic RAIMBOULT on the French military vessel, La Moqueuse in Suva.
(Photo : French Embassy)

Q. Please add any other information/comments you think might be relevant.

A. I think I have been really lucky to spend these two years in Fiji. Professionally, it has provided me with a first hand experience in a country which is at the moment quickly developing and facing important political and economic challenges. I also had the opportunity to travel a lot, in the region (I have been to 10 South Pacific countries and territories) and in Fiji (except for Rotuma and the Lau group, I have been almost everywhere).
I also tried to ‘give back’ by helping the Fijians in my own small way. For example, with my workmates, we donated clothes for the victims of the flood which affected the west of Viti Levu earlier this year, and I took part in the ‘WOWS Shave or Save campaign’, aimed at raising awareness and money for kids with cancer (I got my hair shaved; it has finally grown back).
I have also met alot of people, Fijians obviously, but also Pacific Islanders and from overseas.

If I had to conclude, I would say it has been an amazing experience, and I’m really grateful to the French Embassy and to the Fijian people to make it unforgettable.

Ni sa moce Fiji, it’s been wananavu.

For more info:

The VIA scheme is available to young French nationals aged between 18 – 28 years and allows them the opportunity to work abroad for the French Government – at a Consulate or an Embassy.

Published on 05/11/2012

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