Emily in Samoa: Beginning the Adventure

Talofa! My name is Emily, and I am an Anthropology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) major at Richmond. I’m originally from Leominster, Massachusetts, where I grew up on my family’s vegetable farm. I am excited and honored to be sharing my South Pacific adventures with you, and look forward to your feedback and questions.

 

My dad at the corn wagon in the summer

My dad at the corn wagon in the summer

 

I leave for Hawai’i in five days, and will be staying at the Polynesian Cultural Center on ‘Oahu for two weeks of orientation (preceded by four days of solo exploration). As I shuffle around my New England home wrapped in a sweater, a robe, and two blankets, I am cheerily folding up my t shirts and shorts for warmer climes, and fawning over phrases on my information sheets like “bring your own snorkel.” As indicated by my blankets, I am a person who likes to be warm. But, as I will explain, that was not the reason I chose Samoa.

I chose this program much like I chose my majors, and much like I choose many things in my life. I started by looking at all the options and making an extensive, comprehensive, somewhat color-coded spreadsheet of what I was interested in, which turned out to be almost everything. When I decided on a major, items on the list ranged from performance classical oboe to poetry to physics. I then used criteria to narrow down my choices, which ended up expanding them. Finally, I disregarded the entire list, and went back to the things I had liked from the beginning. Simple, no?

 

The Study Abroad Spreadsheet- an excerpt

The Study Abroad Spreadsheet- an excerpt

 

Thus, my majors emerged sophomore year after bouts with a range of other classes, and I cast aside my list of programs abroad in favor of Samoa…and a few other places. Due to my indecision on a specific program, I have spent my year abroad, interning in India over the summer, and doing a food studies program in Italy in the fall. I realize that this suspiciously mirrors the book Eat, Pray, Love, but that was a happy accident, and I assure you that the year has been centered mainly on eating. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for my choosing Samoa, but two big factors were distance: it is quite far out of my comfort zone, and even further from anywhere I’ve lived or traveled.

 

My current situation: the farm post-snow

My current situation: the farm post-snow

 

With my decision made, I have spent my winter break learning Samoan, hunting down gifts for my host families, and reading about the islands I will be visiting. I will be based in Apia, capital city of Western Samoa (not an American territory), going on excursions to rural villages, as well as to American Samoa and Fiji.

It is easy to be led astray reading about Samoa, as it was home to one of the biggest names in anthropology. Margaret Mead, and served as her place of study in the 1920s. It is therefore known by the stereotypes she created for its people, more than what it really is. At the beginnings of Western anthropology, Samoa was seen as a place so isolated as to show an example of culture that was small and isolated—in a Pacific fishbowl, if you will. Mead’s book Coming of Age in Samoa describes the oft promiscuous sexuality of scantily clad Samoan girls that she observed, and was a best-seller in the US after publication.

 

Mead’s book, featuring one of “her girls” on the cover

Mead’s book, featuring one of “her girls” on the cover

 

That book has been a source of shame and disgust for Samoans ever since, who have worked to promote native anthropology, cultural analysis from those actually participating in the culture. Rather than the Other, they emphasize the Us, and the interconnection of a sea of islands instead of islands isolated in a sea. I am interested to learn more about new and emerging Oceanic identities, as well as how the islands are adapting to a changing world, which wants to connect with them through internet, economic exchange, and tourism.

There is so much more I could say, but I will save it for next time. Thanks for reading!

 

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