Teaching in Samoa by Laura Smith
My arrival in Samoa
After spending five years developing my analytical skills working in an office, I decided that I wanted to take a career break to spend some time teaching. After some online research, I settled on going to Samoa as I knew it had good weather, good rugby and an interesting heritage.
Armed with my small backpack and a pack of coloured pens, I set off on the evening of my 26th birthday, 29 June. After quite an intense set of flights and stop overs, I finally arrived in the morning of 2 July, very excited and in need of a good shower!
My host family
I was welcomed by a huge hug from my host family’s children – Gedlaya, Sakura and Tua. My host parents were so generous and welcoming; I ended up having some wonderful evenings with the family – listening to Sakura’s half-English half-Samoan stories, watching Samoa StarSearch (the Samoan X-Factor) and singing Disney songs.
The family were also heavily involved in the local Teuila festival, and we went to watch the dancing and singing preparations. I have some very fond memories of sitting in the colonnade of the outdoor fale, being brought mugs of pure cocoa hot chocolate, and watching the village learn the moves to group dances representing Samoan legends.
I also had the absolute fortune to live with my host sisters and brother – Margaret and Jenna from America, Lotte from Australia, and Steven from Switzerland. They were so supportive, and I felt like I really did have my own family 9,500 miles away from the UK.
Meeting the students
Having never taught before, I was a little apprehensive on my first day. I turned up to the class, not really knowing what to expect – and was greeted by 30 of the happiest children I have ever met! It certainly wasn’t always easy teaching in thirty degree heat with only one textbook available per class, but it was the best experience of my life. I received so much help and support from Emma, our volunteer coordinator, and the staff at the school.
I learnt so much during those four weeks, and I really wish I could have stayed longer. I do have a genuine respect for teachers; trying to engage a class of thirty pupils for a whole day is exhausting – but so rewarding.
I ended up being able to teach my own class of 10 students, covering English, Maths and Science. I did have some challenges – carefully preparing an entire lesson on sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock to realise that of course the children hadn’t covered all the necessary vocabulary in English. Acting out being a volcano, a fossil and the sea bed definitely brought a bit of joy to the day!
I also learnt some wonderful life lessons from the children – who were always so happy, polite and always positive. I have learnt quite a few Samoan phrases – from “nofo ‘i lalo, fa'amolemole” which means sit down please, to the old favourite “aua le pisa!” or “be quiet!” – the children always kept me on my feet but were such wonderful characters and I genuinely still really miss them all!
Visiting the Island
As well as working at the school, I was able to take some time out to visit some of the most beautiful areas on the island – we visited To Sua ocean trench, we sampled the nightlife of Apia – there are some very talented dancers out there – and went on a group trip to Lalomanu beach.
I also went on a drive around the larger island, Savai’i, where I was welcomed by everyone I met. I was offered a lift to the ferry terminal by a lady visiting my hostel – in Samoa everyone takes the time to make sure you are OK, and there is absolutely always a friendly face!
The onward journey
On the evening before my last day, my students all made me leave early. I was very suspicious, and did slightly worry what state the classroom might end up in... Coming in the next day, I realised I probably shouldn’t have worried – the students had swept the floor, pushed back the tables and had put a banner around my desk, with a message on the blackboard saying “We will miss you, my best friend.” Needless to say, it was a very emotional last day.
I knew how much the children loved singing so I had printed out the lyrics to some of their favourite chart topping hits and we had a great time singing them through. I have a wonderful video recording of us all really going for the high notes (some of us reaching them, some not so much – I will practise in advance next time).
After finishing up at the school, I left Samoa to travel around the other Pacific Islands, and I’m not ashamed to say there were so many tears! I met some absolutely amazing volunteers, who were like brothers and sisters to me, and I was always looked after by my host family.
I am already working on saving up to be able to go back to my Samoan family and hopefully see how my former students are getting on. I cannot explain how easy it was to fall in love with the country and to feel at home among the amazingly generous and welcoming Samoan people – I miss them all to this day!