The tiny island nation of Samoa floats blissfully smack-dab in the middle of the Atlantic. Halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, Samoa is sets itself apart, not with spectacular beaches, volcanic craters or lush jungle (although all they're all pretty nice), but the fa'a Samoa or Samoan way.
Tradition remains strong in Samoan life and politics, visible in many aspects of daily life. Despite centuries of European involvement, Samoa retains its historical customs, social and political systems, and language. Traditional tattoos, dance and architecture can be seen everywhere on the paradise island. Students that study abroad in Samoa will get to taste the exceptional culture and history of this extraordinary nation.
True or False: there are people willing to give you money to help you travel. True! There are tons of scholarships out there.
How to Choose a Program
While studying abroad in Samoa, students should look for a healthy mix of academics and cocoanut-based drinks. Here are some factors to keep in mind as you look for a program.
Samoa offers students a rare view of an intact Polynesian culture, but even this secluded nation is dealing with issues of globalization and integration. Students interested in the effects of eco-tourism, cultural integration and nationalism will be fascinated by modern Samoa.
Most any independent program providers will also include excursions in their program fees to complement students' learning experiences. These trips can range from a day trip to a dormant volcano to a longer excursion to the nearby island of Fiji. Regardless of the excursion, most students find these activities to be a highlight of their study abroad experience (besides, there's really only so much you can learn in a classroom!).
The language of instruction in Samoa is usually English. However, students who venture beyond big cities will find it very useful to learn a couple words of Samoan. In smaller villages few people speak English. Look for programs that offer courses in the local language. Soon you'll be chatting with your new Samoan friends!
You probably won't be living in a traditional Fale, a traditional open round-domed structure made from woven thatch--but you can still have a real Samoan experience. Many programs offer Homestays, where you can spend a few days or weeks integrating into the daily life of a Samoan family. Other housing options include small homes or dorms on the Alafua campus of the University of the South Pacific.
Planning Your Trip
Samoa is made up of nine volcanic islands, two of which - Savai'i and Upolu - make up more than 99% of the land.
The capital, Apia is located on the island of Upolu. Although it's a bit sleepier than Manhattan, there's still plenty to keep you entertained. Check out the Robert Louis Stevenson's House, built by the author during the final years of his life. Or hike to one of the countries many spectacular waterfalls!
Take a ferry to the island of Savai'i, often called the "real Samoa." It is certainly less developed with single road with a series of small villages with people living in traditional huts. Visit Alofaaga Blowholes-- lava flows created a series of tubes connecting the cliff top with the ocean that then shoot water high into the air! Many caves also pepper the island, including the kilometer long Dwarves' cave. Legend states that this cave is home to a race of small people, a claim that has never been proven or disproved because the end of the cave has apparently never been reached.
Social Life and Student Culture
Adjusting to the relaxed pace of island life is difficult for some. Samoans are never in much of a hurry to do anything and the best lesson you can learn is to go with the flow.
No significant gathering in Samoa, whether official or for pleasure, is complete without the 'Ava' (or kava) ceremony at the beginning. The 'intoxicating pepper' is used in many Polynesian cultures to produce a mildly narcotic drink that is passed around meetings following strict rules. If Kava isn't your style however, the local beer is Vailima beer. It's cheap and you can buy it everywhere.
'Tattoo' comes from the Samoan word tatau, and while you'll certainly see some impressive ink in Samoa, be wary of getting tatted up yourself. The traditional process is considered the most painful method of body art in the world.
Contributed by Julia Brady