Examine the social, economic, and political impacts of globalization, westernization, and climate change in the Pacific Islands.
Enjoy a weeklong orientation in Hawai‘i.
The semester begins with a weeklong orientation in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s East-West Center (EWC). Orientation in Hawai‘i will help you transition between mainland United States and Pacific cultures, politics, history, and social change. You will examine the diverse challenges Hawai‘i currently faces, including having a tourist-based economy that has commodified traditional culture and made it dependent on food imports. Indigenous Hawaiians currently face a rising cost of living, sovereignty issues, and social and economic struggles.
During your time in Hawai‘i, you will hear lectures from Hawaiians, Samoans, and other Pacific Islanders with extensive experience in the Pacific; tour a traditional taro plantation; visit the renowned Bishop Museum; and spend a day touring Oahu to experience some of the diversity in landscape and activities in an island environment.
Hear diverse perspectives on social change and transition in the Pacific from Pacific Islanders.
The program is based in Apia, the capital of Samoa. Traditionally considered the cradle of Polynesia, Samoa was the launching point for the wider settlement of Polynesia, the last region to be settled in the Pacific. In 1962, Samoa was the first Pacific Island nation to achieve independence.
Educational excursions within Samoa include rural Samoa and Savai‘i, Samoa’s largest Island, as well as the Pacific Island nations of American Samoa and Fiji. These will provide opportunities to observe and discuss issues with Pacific Islanders themselves. You will be encouraged to compare and contrast issues in Pacific Island communities and to connect meaningfully with a wide array of individuals. You will hear diverse perspectives, particularly in relation to social change.
Spend significant time interacting with young Pacific Islanders.
For most of the program, you’ll live at the University of the South Pacific Alafua with students from Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Kiribati, and other islands. You’ll also spend five days in the home of an American Samoa Community College student. These interactions will introduce you to get to know the issues young, educated Pacific Islanders face in their countries.
Observe the Samoan tourism industry during a weekend stay in a beach fale.
Spend seven days in Fiji, where you’ll see Suva, Fiji’s cosmopolitan capital, and stay with indigenous and Indo-Fijian families.
Learn traditional cooking, weaving, and dancing during a seven-day village stay.
Visit the National Park of American Samoa.
Hike to waterfalls, volcanoes, and sand dunes.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- Climate change and environmental vulnerability and security of Pacific Islands
- Changing values and perspectives on wealth and poverty
- Economic, social, and political challenges for Samoan women
- The church and social action in Samoa
- Education and social change
- Varying perspectives on communal, individual, and human rights in Samoa
- Freedom of religion and how it plays out in a traditionally Christian society
- Social, economic, and health issues youth face
- Creative expression and the views of authors, artists, and poets on traditional society and contemporary social issues
- Changing land use patterns and the development of indigenous business
- The changing matai system and the rule of law
- Changing definitions of social class, wealth, and poverty
The program’s thematic seminars provide students with a broad understanding of contemporary life in Samoa and of the physical and historical forces that have shaped the Pacific Islands region at large. The courses focus on the interplay of social change, climate change, and development and examine the impacts of westernization and globalization on small island states. The Research Methods and Ethics course introduces culturally appropriate, ethical field research methodology, in preparation for the Independent Study Project. Language study opens a window into Samoan culture, aids in field projects, and gives students the opportunity to engage more fully with their homestay families.
The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.
- Traditional Societies in Transition – syllabus
- (PACI3010 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- This course explores the ways in which traditional societies have adapted to development and change and the challenges small Pacific Islands now face from climate change. The course examines key aspects of traditional Pacific societies as well as the physical and historical forces that have shaped the Pacific Islands region at large. This course focuses on culture and the ways in which traditional societies have adapted to development and change. The components of this course are brought to life through lectures, and excursions in Hawai‘i, Samoa, American Samoa, and Fiji.
- Globalization and Contemporary Issues – syllabus
- (PACI3020 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- This course examines the social, economic, and political impacts of westernization and globalization on small island states as well as social change in Pacific communities. Development and the future of Oceania are other areas of interest. Lectures and discussions are conducted in conjunction with the University of Hawai‘i; the East-West Center; the National University of Samoa; the University of the South Pacific in both Alafua, Samoa, and Suva, Fiji; and American Samoa Community College, with additional support from local professionals.
- Samoan – syllabus
- (SAMO1003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- The Samoan language course emphasizes beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Everyday communication forms the foundation of this course. By the end of this course, students should be able to engage in everyday Samoan conversations that facilitate interactions during the Independent Study Project (ISP). Bilingual surveys can assist with data collection during ISP.
- Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
- (ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- This course introduces students to learning across cultures and field experience, which prepares them for their Independent Study Projects (ISPs). Topics include cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. Students also develop contacts and find resources, practice observation and information gathering skills, organize and communicate research findings, present a mini-ISP, and maintain a work journal.
- Independent Study Project – syllabus
- (ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
- The Independent Study Project is an opportunity to conduct independent research in an appropriate location in Samoa. Sample topic areas: sustainable agricultural practices and their impact on local villages; youth culture, social change, and globalization; adaptation and climate change, microfinance, social networks, and local impacts; poverty and hardship in Samoa; perspectives on religious freedom; human rights, law, and Samoan traditions; the role of coconut products in the Samoan economy; indigenous business development.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
On excursions, you’ll see the Pacific’s exceptional beauty. You’ll also observe the impacts of westernization, development, social change, the environment and climate change, and tourism on different Pacific Island communities.
During a week on Savai‘i, Samoa’s largest island, you’ll learn about plate tectonics and the formation of volcanic islands, then visit the most recent (1906–1911) lava flows and blow holes and hike across the 1906 lava flow. You’ll also see how siapo, traditional bark cloth, gets made and spend a weekend at beach fales (traditional thatched huts), visit a volcanic crater to watch for flying foxes, swim at Olemoe Falls, and take a coastal tour that includes blow holes and sea arches.
You’ll stay with an American Samoa Community College student on this five-day excursion. You’ll see how fast food restaurants and American products have affected Samoan health and learn about efforts to address drinking, drugs, and teenage pregnancy and suicide. You’ll also learn about the role of the US military from different perspectives.
Lectures will compare the two Samoas and the issues that the two island countries face. Other lectures may examine archaeology, indigenous art forms, and ethnographic video productions. You’ll also get to participate in an indigenous art workshop, in which you’ll work alongside young Samoans.
You’ll take in the gorgeous scenery of a small island famous for the beautiful and strategic harbor Pago Pago. You will also visit the National Park of American Samoa.
The weeklong stay in Fiji gives you the chance to put new cross-cultural skills to use. You’ll visit Suva, Fiji’s capital and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Pacific, and experience the multiculturalism of Fiji during homestays with both indigenous and Indo-Fijian families.
Travels on Viti Levu island will let you see diverse landscapes and smaller towns. You’ll visit a traditional mountain village whose livelihood is eco-tourism and an Indo-Fijian settlement near the renowned Sigatoka Sand Dunes. The visit to Fiji is an opportunity to think about the impact of westernization, development, and environmental change on Pacific Island nations.
Student Video: Complicating Paradise: Images and Interviews from Samoa
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Jackie Fa’asisila, Academic Director
Jackie has a BA in education and an MA in history from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She first went to Samoa in 1972 as a Peace Corps volunteer. She has been a teacher trainer, associate Peace Corps director, and cross-cultural training manager in Samoa, the Cook Islands, and Niue. She taught social science at Primary Teachers’ College and educational studies at Secondary Teachers’ College. She was orientation coordinator for Australian Volunteers International and UN Volunteers in Samoa, and was language advisor/instructor for SIT in Samoa for several semesters before becoming the academic director in 1996. Jackie lives in Apia with her family, including four children and seven grandchildren. She started writing poetry in 2012 and published her first collection, Endless Circles: South Dakota to Samoa, in 2015.
Lise T. Higgs Tafuna, Student Affairs and Excursions Assistant
Originally from Savai‘i, Samoa’s big island, Lise migrated to Utah in her early teens. She has a BA in psychology from Columbia College in Missouri and has worked as a rehabilitation services counselor for troubled and at-risk youths in Utah. As a certified law enforcement officer, she conducted public awareness programs in cognitive restructuring, anger management, and cultural competency for law enforcement agencies. She volunteered with the American Red Cross and Salt Lake County Mayor’s Council on Diversity Affairs. In 2011, she returned to Samoa and has worked as a social worker/counselor at National Health Services and clinical counselor at Fa’ataua Le Ola, a suicide prevention organization. Lise is a member of the Alcohol and Drugs Court of Samoa steering committee, Samoana Jazz and Arts Festival, and GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
Lecturers for this program typically include:
Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio
Jonathan, a professor at Kamakakokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i, teaches history, literature, law as culture, music, and indigenous research methodologies. An advocate for Hawaiian self-determination, he has attended and organized protests opposing American and other imperialism. He is a composer and singer and has recorded Hawaiian music since 1975.
John Mayer, PhD
John is associate professor of Samoan and chair of Indo-Pacific Languages and Literature at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. He founded the Samoan language program in 1976. He was a Peace Corps volunteer and trainer and holds two Samoan chiefly titles (Fepuleai from Savai‘I and Lasei from Manono), an MA in ESL, and a PhD in linguistics. He is a charter member of the International Samoan Language Commission formed in 2000.
Terence Wesley-Smith, PhD
Terence directs the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s Center for Pacific Islands Studies. A political scientist with degrees from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Hawai‘i, he edits The Contemporary Pacific journal. His articles have addressed self-determination and “failed states” in Oceania. Terence is co-editor (with Jon Goss) of Remaking Area Studies: Teaching and Learning across Asia and the Pacific (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010) and co-editor (with Edgar Porter) of China in Oceania: Reshaping the Pacific? (Berghahn Books, 2010). He received his PhD from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in 1988.
Brian Alofaituli, PhD Candidate
Brian is a PhD student at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s Center for Pacific Island Studies. His background includes environmental studies, Peace Corps experience in Jamaica, a master’s in intercultural studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, and serving as director of Christian education in the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa. His MA thesis, “Language Development Curriculum within the Samoan Congregational Churches in the Diaspora,” explores the potential role Samoan Congregational Christian Churches can play as language and cultural educators in the diaspora. His PhD dissertation explores religion and social movements in Samoa.
Gerard A. Finin, PhD
Gerard directs the East-West Center’s Pacific Island Development Program. He conducts research on contemporary social and economic issues in the Pacific Islands region, including projects focusing on governance and globalization. He has a PhD in urban and regional planning and Southeast Asian studies from Cornell University. His publications include One Year into Fiji’s Fourth Coup; Artifacts and Afterthoughts of American Colonial Policy; Coups, Conflicts, and Crises: The New Pacific Way?; and Small is Viable: The Global Ebbs and Flows of a Pacific Atoll.
Joshua lectures at the University of Hawai‘i Oahu West and the Center for Hawaiian Studies, and has taught courses on nonviolence, ecology, human rights, social justice, and media literacy. He has presented papers on the environment, women’s rights, and indigenous peoples’ rights and speaks at the United Nations and NGO assemblies on discrimination, women, torture, children, migrant workers, disabilities, and disappearances. He served on the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, linking human rights to climate change in Pacific and Asian states. He advocates with Pacific Island governments to protect and promote human rights.
Afamasaga Faamatala Toleafoa
Afamasaga studied at Samoa College and holds BA and postgraduate degrees in economics and marketing management from New Zealand’s Otago University. He’s been an economist at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in Noumea and in the Pacific Forum Secretariat (Suva), and spent 20 years in Samoa’s Foreign Service plus five years in Parliament. Afamasaga has consulted on child protection and child rights, village governance, reform and public policy, development, and public sector remuneration. He is a writer on public policy, a member of the Remuneration Tribunal, a board member of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (Port Vila), Chairman of Samoa Farmers Inc., and a founder of Men Against Violence.
Penelope Schoeffel, PhD
Penelope has a PhD in anthropology from Australian National University, specializing in cultural transformation in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Samoa. She has collaborated with her husband, Lesasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, on publications on Samoan history, including Samoa’s Journey 1962–2012 Aspects of History (2012). She taught anthropology and sociology at University of the South Pacific, University of New South Wales, and University of Auckland and was visiting lecturer at Thammasat University in Thailand and International University of Bangladesh. She has consulted on gender and social impact assessment for international development agencies. She lectures at the Center of Samoan Studies at National University of Samoa.
Warren, from Sydney, Australia, has lived in Samoa since 1982. He holds a diploma in gemology from the Gemological Association of Australia and a BS from University of Sydney in geology and agricultural chemistry; he studied geology in an honors year. He’s worked at oil fields in Canada and oversaw well site geology for Australian Oil and Gas. He’s done petroleum exploration in the Amazon Basin in Brazil, and has traveled extensively. Warren conducts educational tours for the Samoan Tourist Authority, emphasizing natural history, culture, and ancient archaeological sites. Warren’s acclaimed tours have been part of SIT Samoa since the program’s beginning.
My time in Samoa with SIT changed my life forever.
My time in Samoa with SIT changed my life forever. And almost 10 years later, I’m still close with the students and professors from the program.
The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.
The program offers four homestays: a seven-day village stay in ‘Upolu; a five-day stay with an American Samoa student; a two-night stay in an indigenous eco-tourist village in Fiji; and two nights with an Indo-Fijian family.
Families and accommodations vary considerably: they may include Samoan fales (traditional open houses), closed Fijian bures (cabins) with outdoor toilets and showers, European houses where the family eats and sleeps in one large room, or houses with individual bedrooms. Each experience offers you a closer look into Pacific culture, customs, identities, and issues.
Other accommodations during the program include student housing at a university in Samoa.
You will stay for seven days in rural Lotofaga, a village on the southeastern coast of ‘Upolu. Families are typically large and extended, often including four generations. Most families live subsistence lives, and many depend on remittances from relatives overseas. You will experience a traditional way of life with little privacy and few material comforts and learn about plantation agriculture.
In Lotofaga, you’ll participate in making a Samoan oven—a customary family activity. You will peel taro and breadfruit; get smoke in your eyes from heating stones; make palusami, a Samoan delicacy, using three kinds of leaves; roast and pound Samoan cocoa; and observe the slaughter, baking, and serving of a pig. You will witness labor-intensive food preparation and observe how Samoan families use resources in their environment. A typical Samoan meal may be prepared entirely with foods from local plantations, gardens, or the sea.
The visit to American Samoa is a chance to compare the two Samoas—one independent and the other an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the US. You will see different approaches to development and assess the impact of globalization. You’ll spend five days with a family and, on Tutuila, the largest island, attend lectures at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) and meet and spend time with ASCC students. You will see the blend of American and Samoan cultures and may be surprised by social and health issues that are a direct result. Of all US states and territories, American Samoa had the highest number of soldiers per capita serving in Iraq, and many ASCC students belong to ROTC.
You’ll spend two nights with indigenous families in rural Fiji, staying in an isolated inland village without electricity or shopping facilities. You’ll also spend two nights with Indo-Fijian families near the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, where you will be introduced to new tastes, customs, and religious beliefs. The homestays allow you to experience the diversity of Fiji and understand more about issues in a multicultural society very different from the homogeneity of Samoa.
When not on excursion or in Lotofaga, you will live in student housing on the Alafua campus of the University of the South Pacific (USP). You will likely share a room with another SIT student, but you will live near Pacific Island students. Housing varies from long dorms with shared facilities that open to a common veranda, to small six-bedroom houses with Pacific Island students, to a three-story lodge with en suite bathrooms shared with another SIT student. Living situations will be determined by USP staff based on availability and other considerations. You will be able to interact with Pacific students every day, and discover connections and differences among the island cultures. These interactions are a key part of the educational experience of young Pacific students who may never have spent time with Americans.
Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project
In the final month of the program, you will complete an Independent Study Project (ISP) in which you will pursue original research on an issue or topic of particular interest to you. The ISP is conducted in an approved location in Samoa appropriate to the project. You will work with advisors who have expertise in your chosen area of study.
Sample topic areas:
- The impacts and future of technology in Samoa
- Sustainable agricultural practices and their impact on local villages
- Attitudes of youth to tradition and change
- Resilience and adaptation to climate change
- Natural disasters and vulnerability
- Microfinance and the importance of social networks
- Poverty and hardship in Samoa
- Changing definitions of class
- Perspectives on religious freedom
- Human rights issues in Samoa
- The role of sustainable tourism development
- Indigenous business development
- Unemployment among Samoan youth
- Migration, remittances, and social change
Here's what alumni are saying about Samoa: Pacific Communities and Social Change:
The first two months of coursework offer breadth and introduce you to new mindsets, with speakers who come from various, and usually very prestigious, backgrounds. Samoa is small, and it is not unusual to find yourself in the company of prominent UN officials, university directors, or the head of state.
Emily Gove, University of Richmond
Samoa is truly a life changing experience. It challenges you in ways that you never knew you could be challenged, and exposes you to experiences that you would never otherwise be exposed to. I would definitely recommend this program to anyone looking for an unconventional study abroad experience! Thanks!
Margret Doemland, St. Michael’s College
I learned more about life, culture, problem solving and human interaction in four months in Samoa than I did in my previous four years at college.
Joe Casale, Commander in the United States Navy in Hawaii, BS in Chemical Engineering from Villanova University, MA in International Relations from Salve Regina University
All kinds of students with all kinds of majors have studied abroad in Samoa. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect to their experience abroad with SIT.
Positions held by alumni of this program include:
- Peace Corps volunteers in Samoa, Fiji, and Madagascar
- Graduate student and East-West Center fellow at the Center for Pacific Studies, University of Hawai‘i, Honolulu, HI
- Independent filmmaker and director at Making Waves Films, a documentary film company, Honolulu, HI
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and Scholarships
SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
- Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
- History and politics
- Geography and political economy
- Cultural anthropology and sociology
- Arts and humanities
- Research Methods and Ethics and Human Subjects Review
- Intensive language instruction in Samoan
- All educational excursions to locations such as Fiji, Savai‘i, and American Samoa, including all related travel costs
- Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
Room & Board: $4,450
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
- All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Apia), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend provided to each student or through the homestay.
- All homestays (seven days in a village on ‘Upolu, Samoa; four days in Fiji; and five days in American Samoa)
- All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student or through the homestay.
Estimated Additional Costs:
International Airfare to Program Launch Site
International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Visa Expenses: $140
Books & Supplies: $100
International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.