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Social and Environmental Change in Oceania

Discover the social, economic, and political impacts of globalization, westernization, and climate change in Oceania.

At a Glance





Language of Study


Courses taught in



Feb 7 ‎– May 22

On Site Component

Feb 7 ‎– May 22

Program Countries

Samoa, United States

Program Excursion Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Identity & Human Resilience

Identity & Human Resilience Icon

Climate & Environment

Climate & Environment Icon


Why study social change in Samoa?

The launching point for the settlement of Polynesia, in 1962 Samoa became the first Pacific island to achieve independence. After a weeklong orientation in Hawai‘i—where you will meet members of Hawaii’s indigenous community and visit the Bishop Museum—travel to Samoa where you will live in Apia, the cosmopolitan capital and the program’s base, and study social justice issues and efforts to protect the environment across the Pacific. Hear perspectives on social transitions, conservation, and resilience from Hawaiians, Samoans, and other Pacific Islanders and interact with Samoan university students. Visit Samoa’s largest island, the volcanic island of Savai‘I, to see the sea arches, blow holes and lava flows of the South Pacific. Journey to Fiji and witness how Oceania’s diverse communities are supported by the environment but impacted by development, tourism, and climate change. Experience a traditional taro lo‘I in Hawai’i and, if you choose, the slaughter, roasting, and serving of a small pig in Amaile, Samoa. In the final month of the program, undertake a self-designed research project on a topic of your choice with experts to guide you.


  • Hear perspectives on the human dimensions of climate change in the Pacific.
  • Swim the turquoise waters and explore the beaches and wildlife of Oceania.
  • Experience the Oceanic lifestyle in rural homes, as well as urban landscapes.
  • Study globalization issues in the cradle of Polynesian history and culture.





Travel to Savai’i, Samoa’s largest island, to learn about plate tectonics and the formation of volcanic islands. See the most recent lava flows and blow holes (1906-1911), and hike across the lava flow of 1906. Learn how siapo, traditional bark cloth, is made and stay the weekend at a beach fale (traditional thatched hut). Trek to a volcanic crater to watch for flying foxes; swim at Olemoe Falls; and take a coastal tour of blow holes and sea arches. Finally, study the impacts of climate change at Tanu Beach.


Journey for nine days to assess the effects of social and climate change in Fiji. Examine how the environment sustains Oceania’s way of life and trace the symbiotic relationships within ecosystems. Study the work of non-governmental organizations focused on ecological sustainability, disaster risk reduction, and gender justice.

Experience Fiji’s culturally and religiously diverse society. Visit Silana village in Tailevu province, where members of the indigenous community believe dolphins are their ancestors.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.



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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Climate change, vulnerability, and resilience in Oceania
  • Comparative studies and perspectives on Hawai’i, Samoa, and Fiji
  • Dynamics of habitat fragmentation in tropical ecosystems
  • Varying perspectives on communal, individual, and human rights in Samoa
  • Environmental, water, soil, land use, and agribusiness issues
  • Completion of customized, independent study project in Samoa

Pacific Communities in Transition

Pacific Communities in Transition – syllabus
(ANTH3010 / 3 credits)

This course explores challenges Pacific Island communities face as they transition from traditional societies to more modern globalized ones. It focuses on culture and values and examines how small island Pacific states have adapted to development, westernization, and, more recently, climate change. The course examines key aspects of traditional Pacific societies as well as the physical and historical forces that have shaped the Islands region of Oceania at large. Lectures are complemented by orientation in Hawai‘i and excursions in Samoa and Fiji.

Climate Change and Resilience in Oceania

Climate Change and Resilience in Oceania – syllabus
(PACI3020 / 3 credits)

This course examines the relationship between climate and environmental change and social issues in the small island developing states of Oceania. The economic, social, environmental, and cultural impacts of tourism and other aspects of development are also examined and refracted through the new lens of climate change. Homestays allow students to see and discuss these issues and examine mobility, urbanization, and agriculture, in particular. Definitions of concepts such as vulnerability, poverty, and resilience are explored in local contexts. Lectures and discussions are conducted in conjunction with the University of Hawai‘i; the East-West Center; the National University of Samoa; and with additional support from local professionals.


Samoan – syllabus
(SAMO1003 / 3 credits)

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

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

This course introduces students to learning across cultures and field experience, which prepares them for their Independent Study Projects. 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

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

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; the impacts of climate change on livelihoods, language and sustainable agriculture, microfinance, social networks, and local impacts; poverty, food security 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.

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
  • Impact of climate change on the Samoan language
  • 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

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Amaile, Samoa

Stay for five days in rural Amaile, a village on the eastern coast of ‘Upolu. Families are typically large and extended, but some are smaller families, with just one parent. Many families live subsistence lives and may depend on remittances from relatives overseas. Experience a traditional way of life with little privacy and few material comforts while learning agriculture, weaving, local diversions, and how to cook Samoan delicacies from local plantations, gardens, or the sea.


Between excursions, your home base for nine weeks over the course of the program will be in the home of a welcoming Samoan family in the urban Apia area. Study at the National University of Samoa Le Papaigalagala campus and socialize with local Samoan students. Enjoy a cosmopolitan environment in a Pacific Island setting while absorbing Samoan culture and traditions.

Other accommodations include hostels in Fiji, beach fales in Savai‘i, and dormitory housing at the East-West Center in Hawai‘i.

Career Paths

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

  • Intern doing human and indigenous rights work for a United Nations–funded project, Honolulu, HI

Faculty & Staff

Samoa: Social and Environmental Change in Oceania

Fetaomi Tapu-Qiliho, PhD
Academic Director
Juliana Sinu’u Tuimavave
Programme Assistant

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & 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.

    See Full Breakdown

    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Abroad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact for more information.

    Accessibility Overview
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Alumni Testimonials

Here’s what alumni are saying about this program:

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