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, 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 in Hawai'i at the East West Center (EWC). Lecturers from EWC and the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa share their in-depth understanding and passion for Pacific issues. Hawai‘i was one of the last places in the Pacific to be settled, and its history differs from other Pacific communities.

Students examine the  diverse challenges Hawai‘i currently faces as a Pacific Island  including having a tourist-based economy that has commodified traditional culture and  made it dependent on food imports. Indigenous Hawaiians currenly face a rising cost of living, sovereignty issues, and social and economic struggles. The orientation in Hawai'i includes lecturers from the 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, which illustrates the diversity in landscape and activities in an island environment. Lecturers include Hawaiians, Samoans, other Pacific Islanders, and professionals with extensive experience in the Pacific.

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, Savai'i, American Samoa, and Fiji are instrumental to understanding social change in the Pacific. These excursions help students compare and contrast Pacific Island communities and also connect meaningfully with a wide array of individuals. Students hear diverse perspectives, particularly in relation to social change. 

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

  • Human rights in Samoa and how concepts of individual human rights may differ from the values of communal traditional societies
  • Freedom of religion and how this concept is interpreted by a Christian society where the majority of those who attend church belong to 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
Living and interacting socially on campus with Pacific Islanders from Fiji, Tonga, the Solomons, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Kiribati, and other islands, students form personal relationships with Pacific Islanders near their own age. Through this engagement, SIT students learn more about the issues young, educated Pacific Islanders may face as they return to their respective countries following their education and begin contributing 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:

  • Sustainable agricultural practices and their impact on local villages
  • Attitudes of youth to tradition and change
  • Microfinance and the importance of social networks
  • Poverty and hardship in Samoa
  • Perspectives on religious freedom
  • Human rights issues in Samoa
  • The role of village communities in sustainable tourism development
  • Indigenous business development
  • Reevaluation of brain drain from the Samoan perspective of service to family
  • Remittances and their role in social change


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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