Kathryn Hopkinson - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Samoa
My name is Kathryn and after graduating I worked for a year before deciding to pack my bags and volunteer. It was a daunting prospect being the first ever Projects Abroad volunteer in Samoa and being told on arrival that I was now to be a legend was even more daunting.
I had chosen Samoa on a whim really. My older brother had been with Projects Abroad to Cambodia and, on learning of my wish to travel, told me to go for it! I wanted to see more than one place and it made sense to put Fiji and Samoa together. Samoa is not a place many people know and there was a sense of adventure in going somewhere completely new.
Arriving in Samoa
I landed in the early hours of the morning having said an emotional goodbye to Fiji, the country where I had spent my first volunteer month. In all honesty my arrival was somewhat a blur having been awake for what seemed like an inhuman amount of time. The one thing that stands out however, even now four months later, is the incredibly warm welcome I received.
Samoa the country
Once I had settled in with my host family (now just an extension of my real family) I could see that Samoa was a beautiful, lively place. One thing to note before you go to Samoa is their love of food. Food is not just a meal for Samoans but an integral part of their culture. I was welcomed into my host family's ancestral home with a feast which was incredibly touching. I didn't just end up with a mum and siblings, I had a grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins and some family friends. Religious or not, I would advise visiting the church with your family (if they go). It is here that you can see the true meaning of family and familial tradition in Samoa.
My Teaching Placement
My placement was a challenge to say the least. Never having taught before, my volunteer experience was a quick learning curve. The biggest thing that strikes you about Samoan children is their confidence and this makes teaching here so unique. I spent a lot of time teaching singing and drama whilst at the school and I have some wonderful memories of all the performances the students put together. As well as the performance classes, I taught other curriculum subjects such as Art, Physical Education, English, Math and Reading.
In a week I would move all round the school, from kindergarten to the thirteen year olds, and each class would greet me with a cheer, excited that I would be there for just an hour or so. One of my best academic classes was when I created and brought a massive clock where the children could move the hands by themselves. It was so much fun for them to learn in a different way. We all sat on mats on the floor around the clock and everyone had a turn. Even though I had only limited time with the children, it was when a child could come up and tell me that it was lunchtime on the clock that I knew I had made a difference.
Traveling in Samoa
Traveling in Samoa is something I would recommend to all volunteers. A must is a trip to the other island, Savaii. Savaii is where you can experience the untouched Samoa that you think of when browsing vacation ideas magazines.
Whenever I now need a calm moment I just remember waking up in my own beach front fale under the trees. I also spent a day traveling round the whole of Savaii Island, a tourist experience like no other. You don't know adventure until a slightly toothless Samoan shows you a hole in the ground, an entrance to the dwarf caves, and asks if you want to go first. There are also the amazing lava fields and unbelievable blowholes, like nothing I'd ever seen.
I gained so much from my experience. Not only are there the memories from my teaching and the difference it made to the children. There are also the personal memories from my time. Tirza, another volunteer and I relaxed, ate, sunbathed and partied our way through our free time, all the while becoming more and more Samoan without realizing!
Before going I had come to a point in my life where I didn't feel I had much direction. Going to Fiji and Samoa was a way to get away and re-evaluate originally but it became so much more than that. It was an experience of a lifetime and something that has shaped my life since. Samoa is where tradition meets the modern world. They place incredible importance on family and their ancestry but are still striving to move into the future. Most of all, they know how to cook!