Lost in Paradise or Paradise Lost?

As my semester has come to an end, I am able to look back on these past three months and see how much I have learned and see all the fantastic experiences I have had. It is impossible to sum up a whole semester of experiences in one blog post, and therefore, I will not even try. However, over the semester I have learned a lot, and I feel that I have grown in many ways. Below are a few things I noticed about my host country, my own country, and myself.

1.) Paradise does not exist. Samoa is beautiful. It has the most vivid colors I have ever seen in my life; emerald greens, sapphire blues, and fiery reds. The natural landscape is equally stunning, made up of ancient, jagged volcanoes, crystal waters, and palm frindged beaches. And Samoan culture is wonderfully preserved and adapted, and is truly unique. Yet, all of this exists side-by-side with poverty, urban sprawl, overflowing rubbish, underdeveloped resources, and lack of opportunity. The South Pacific has been romanticized and fantasized over the years,a and many people only see it as it is portrayed in the media, not in reality. I am not saying this to be harsh on Samoa or Samoan people, but there are serious issues in Samoa, just as there are in the US, or any other country. Samoa, like anywhere else in the world, has good and bad, and to label its landscape, people or culture as “paradise” is too simple an explanation to describe Samoa and the “fa’asamoa,” or the “Samoan Way.” The only way to really understand Samoa is to see it in person. I really have come to love Samoa dearly, and hope to return in the future. I will not be going to the Samoa of romantic fiction, but to the one I know and have come to love just as it is; with all the good and bad that comes with it. It truly is an intriguing place with things for everyone to see. Visit Samoa and see the beauty of the country and the culture, as well as all the complexities that come with it!

2.) You can survive without technology and creature comforts. OK, so before this trip I liked to believe that I wasn’t attached to my phone, iPod, internet, Facebook, etc… However, after this program, I am able to see how untrue this really is. Mass media has become such an important part of main-stream American culture, that I hadn’t even noticed all the little ways it affected my life. I survived just fine without being on my phone all the time (in fact, it was hardly ever on), without Facebook or much internet (Facebook was only available at night, and only IF the internet was working that day), and even without the comfort of a hot shower every morning or many choices for leisure/food. I made it just fine throughout the semester, and in fact, I feel that I was able to do many things BECAUSE I wasn’t constantly connected (like reading over 15 books just for fun, or seeing sites in Samoa others may not have had the chance to see).

3.) The best way to learn is to do it yourself! During study abroad we were able to have quite an array of learning experiences. We has class lectures, readings, and discussions. However, the most helpful mode of learning was to just go out and do things. As part of SIT, we took many excursions to different locations in Samoa and the Pacific, and even just day trips to neighborhoods and organizations in Apia. Either way, I learned the most from these experiences. It is one thing to sit around and talk about aspects of Samoan culture (like the traditional Pacific art forms), but it becomes personal when you go out and experience it firsthand (like learning traditional and contemporary Samoan dances and seeing the role they play in today’s society). And by experiencing these things I am better able to understand what the lectures and readings relate to, and I appreciate it much more. I am so glad that SIT was set up in a way that offered many opportunities to go out and do things, and I attribute much of what I learned to the time I spent on excursions, home stays, and outings.

I had a fantastic time on study abroad, and would do it again in a heartbeat. And to study abroad in the South Pacific was a dream-come-true for me. I learned a lot, and it was not easy. But I feel that studying abroad should not be easy, but challenge you to think and reinterpret your surroundings. I really enjoyed my time in the Pacific, and I look forward to a time when I will be able to return. Until then, I highly encourage anyone interested to go and check it out. There is so much to see and learn, and there really is something for everyone. Tofa Soifua, and safe travels to everyone. Have a great adventure!

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