When 12 School of International Training (SIT) students in the Study Abroad program for spring 2016 spent five days in American Samoa last week, they based their activities at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), and were hosted in the homes of members of the ASCC Alpha Epsilon Mu chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society. The SIT students’ activities while visiting the Territory included special tours of significant Tutuila locations, observing ASCC classes and inter-active sessions in which they experienced our culture firsthand.
SIT Study Abroad, a program of World Learning, prepares students to be effective intercultural leaders, professionals, and citizens, and fosters a worldwide network of individuals and organizations committed to responsible global citizenship. SIT Study Abroad fulfills this mission with field-based academic study-abroad programs for undergraduates. One of these programs, called “Samoa: Pacific Communities and Social Change,” focuses on the social, economic, and political impacts of westernization and globalization in the Pacific Islands.
Students in this program begin their three and a half month journey with an orientation in Hawaii at UH Manoa and the East West Center, before proceeding to their base at the University of the South Pacific – Alafua Campus in the Independent State of Samoa. They spend a week experiencing traditional Samoan village life in Lotofaga, as well as a week in Savai’i before proceeding on to American Samoa and Fiji.
Following their midday arrival on Monday, and a brief orientation around Fagatogo, the SIT students met their PTK hosts that afternoon on the ASCC campus. For the remainder of the week, their activities included sitting in on a number of ASCC classes, including Introduction to Philosophy, taught by Mrs. Lillian Temese, and Pacific History, taught by Mr. Evile Feleti. Several special lectures were arranged for the SIT group, such as “Architecture and Social Change” by Dr. Micah van der Ryn, and “Understanding American Samoa” by Tapaau Dr. Dan Aga. During a session in the Art Room with professor of the Arts Reggie Meredith and her students, the SIT group learned firsthand about local art forms like siapo and elei. A few activities took place off campus, such as an invigorating hike to Vatia with the National Park Service.
In addition to their formal schedule, much of the true cultural exchange took place after-hours when the SIT visitors spent time in the homes of their PTK hosts. “I got along very well with my guest and we engaged in many intelligent conversations,” said PTK member Hadassha Tofilau, who hosted Oliver Mesmer from Massachusetts. “I felt fortunate sharing my culture with someone so eager to learn about the Samoan culture and language. There is a strange complexity that comes with getting to know another person from far away, and yet in four days we were able to form a bridge between two separate parts of the world.”
“American Samoa was a wonderful experience for me,” reflected SIT student Sophia Higginbottom of Cleveland, Ohio, who, along with Emily Gove of Massachusetts, stayed with PTK member Louisa Faulkner. “I truly felt like a part of the family that I was so lucky to stay with for four days. American Samoa is like the best of many cultures merged together. Along with Samoan and American culture, I met many individuals from places such as Hawaii, Colorado, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, and Western Samoa. All of the individuals that I met helped to shape a fantastic experience full of learning, love, and kindness.”
SIT guide Jackie Faasisila, who has led a number of previous SIT groups on their visits to American Samoa, expressed her appreciation for the openness and acceptance the visitors always receive from their PTK hosts. “Members and new initiates of PTK are to be commended for their willingness to host SIT students,” said Mrs. Faasisila “The ways in which SIT students are welcomed into their homes and families truly exemplifies Samoan hospitality. The exchange is mutually beneficial and the activities of the week are more and more driven by students. Well done, PTK.”
Other PTK students and their SIT guests included Oina Leo, who hosted Jakaimy Caceres of New York; Tabitha Tuigamala hosted Margret Doemland of Connecticut; Anasthesia Ah Futu hosted Lindsay Feeney of Massachusetts; Amber Ropeti hosted Elise Lee of New Jersey; Vaimalu Vaiau hosted Remy Jennings of Georgia; Elizabeth Leo hosted Darriel McBride of New York; Gavin Seumalo hosted Zachary Magin of Connecticut; Faavela Ah Sam hosted Azure Reid-Russell of New York; Maria Ionae hosted Jaimee Walsh of Rhode Island; and Tamara Bailey hosted Jackson Whitehouse of Ohio.
For more information on the School of International Training, visit www.sit.edu.