ASCC/SSI hosts students from abroad
As part of its Mission Statement, the Samoan Studies Institute (SSI) at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) emphasizes community service as a means of maintaining the Samoan culture. As one unique form of community service, the SSI facilitates cultural exchange between ASCC students and off-island visitors who wish to gain firsthand experience of life in our islands.
Such an exchange took place in late March when the SSI welcomed 19 students from the School for International Training (SIT), who spent three days getting to know American Samoa through SSI activities, while during the evenings they each took part in the home life of a local family who volunteered to host them.
The SIT students, mostly in their early 20s, come from a variety of academic backgrounds, but share an interest in learning about Pacific cultures and societies. The SIT Study Abroad program, itself a part of the organization World Learning, prepares students to be inter-culturally effective leaders and professionals, in the hope of fostering a worldwide network of individuals and organizations committed to responsible global citizenship. The group currently enrolled in the 15-week SIT program called Pacific Communities and Social Change began their journey with an orientation in Hawaii, before traveling to the Independent State of Samoa with their Academic Director Jackie Faasisila. Their itinerary consists mostly of time in Samoa, but in addition to their just-completed visit to American Samoa they will also travel to Fiji.
Activities organized by the SSI for the SIT visitors included an indigenous art session with cultural artist Patrick Mafoe, a discussion with special guest and renowned author Sia Figiel, an ethnographic video by Micah Van der Ryn, participation in a class taught by SSI instructor Sia Achica, an overview archaeology in American Samoa by Dr. David Addison, a hike to Fagatele Bay, and a lunch time cultural exchange with the Student Association for Faasamoa. SSI instructor Nunuimalo A. Toleafoa acted as the visitors’ local liaison, arranging their schedule while here, placing them with local host families, and accompanying them to most of the activities.
Faasisila, who has been involved with the SIT for 16 years, reflected on how culturally illuminating experiences such as these fulfill the SIT mission. “The students learn about Pacific cultures and life in communal societies,” she explained. “At the same time, through interacting with these students, Pacific islanders broaden their understanding of the world and hopefully realize that their cultures are important because young Americans want to learn about them.”
Several SIT students commented on how ASCC mixes western education methods with local priorities. “ASCC has a beautiful campus, and the college seems to offer a variety of majors for its students” said Valerie Falconieri, currently majoring in Anthropology at Ithaca College in New York. “It’s great that there is a Samoan Studies program, and that there are supportive staff members and lecturers. We visited one class and exchanged research related to our Independent Study Projects, which was a great experience. We all learned something new and were able to laugh and bond with one another in a short amount of time. The students are very friendly and sociable.”
Yesi Pedro-Vicente, another Anthropology major from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, took note of our Territory’s unique American/Samoan cultural mix. “In terms of the culture, it was interesting to see a combination of American and Samoan lifestyles and foods,” she recalled. “I would walk into a supermarket and see American brands along with brands I see in the market in Apia. I think that American Samoa is an example of the future of Pacific Islands if globalization and development continue in their current direction, with the introduction of large companies and western popular culture. While this has its positives and negatives, I hope that Samoan culture, especially the importance of the aiga, remains strong in the lives of the people of American Samoa.”
SSI Director Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila said that hosting groups like the one from the SIT students provides local students with a valuable opportunity to, first, practice the role of cultural ambassadors, and second, gain a perspective on how those from outside the culture view all things Samoan. “Sometimes we don’t realize the value of the way we do things until we experience a situation where others do things very differently,” she explained. “Visitors always remark on the Samoan emphasis on family and the related characteristic of closely working together. Americans mostly value independence, whereas we remind them of the advantages of inter-dependence. That’s not a bad thing for them to think about when they return home.”