Samoa: Pacific Communities and Social Change

Key Features

"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."

—Haynes R. Contee, BA, Trinity College, JD, George Washington University

Students in the SIT Samoa program gain a broad understanding of the physical and historical factors that have shaped life in the Pacific as well as an appreciation for the region's rich cultural traditions and insights into how Pacific communities historically have responded to and continue to respond to a myriad of social changes caused largely by external forces.  

Orientation in Hawai'i
The semester begins with an orientation at the East-West Center (EWC) in Hawai'i, one of the last places of the Pacific to be settled. Students are introduced to the program and some of the diversity of landscape and activities in an island environment. They examine the varied challenges Hawai‘i faces as a Pacific Island with a tourist-based economy that has commodified traditional culture and made it dependent on food imports. Indigenous Hawaiians face a rising cost of living, sovereignty issues, and social and economic struggles. The orientation in Hawai'i includes Hawaiian, Samoan, and Pacific Island lecturers from the University of Hawai'i’s Center for Pacific Studies, a visit to a traditional taro plantation at the Center for Hawaiian Studies, a visit to the renowned Bishop Museum, and a tour of Oahu.

From Apia and Beyond: Immersion in Island Communities Across the Pacific
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 and was the last region to be settled in the Pacific. Samoa was the first Pacific Island nation to achieve independence, and it celebrated 50 years of independence in 2012.

Educational excursions in rural Samoa, the big island of Savai'i, American Samoa, and Fiji help students understand more about social change in the Pacific. Students compare and contrast Pacific Island communities, see and hear diverse perspectives on development and change, and  connect meaningfully with a wide array of individuals.  

Exploring Contemporary Topics Facing Samoa
Topics for consideration on the SIT Samoa program typically include:

  • Indigenous Samoan values and how concepts of individual human rights may differ from the values of communal traditional societies
  • The role of Christianity and how freedom of religion may be interpreted by a Christian society where the majority of people attend one of the three mainline churches: Congregational, Catholic, or Methodist
  • Perspectives of young Samoans on issues such as sexual health, teenage pregnancy, and abortion as well as attitudes toward traditional culture and the role of youth in cultural preservation efforts
  • Creative expression and the ways in which authors, artists, and poets express their views on traditional society and contemporary social issues
  • The role of education in preparing future generations to balance culture and social change
  • Changing land use patterns and the development of indigenous business
  • The changing matai system and the rule of law
  • Poverty and hardship in Samoa

Student with her advisors after her ISP Presentation

Engaging with Pacific Students
Students live and interact socially with Pacific Islanders from Fiji, Tonga, the Solomons, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Kiribati, and other islands on the University of the South Pacific’s Alafua campus. They form personal relationships with Pacific Islanders near their own age and learn more about the issues young, educated Pacific Islanders may face as they return to their home countries and begin to contribute to the development of their respective nations.

Independent Study Project
In the final month of the program, students complete an Independent Study Project (ISP). Each student pursues original research on an issue or topic of particular interest to them. The ISP is conducted in an approved location in Samoa appropriate to the project. Students work with advisors who have expertise in their chosen area of study.

Sample topic areas include:

  • Vulnerability, environmental security, and adaptation awareness
  • Challenges to women in political leadership
  • The church and social action in Samoa
  • Special education and social change
  • Understanding wealth and poverty in Samoa
  • Attitudes of youth to tradition and change
  • Perspectives on religion, religious freedom, and conversion to minority churches


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Apia

Language Study: Samoan

Prerequisites: None

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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