Cultural Immersion and Personal Growth

“Our son left for Samoa practically kicking and screaming—he was really angry about the decision to send him there.  But while he was there, something changed in him.  He knows it too.  Just the other day he turned to me and said, ‘mom, I’m going back to Samoa.’” –Maureen C.

In Samoa, cultural immersion and personal growth are really the same thing.   While every aspect of life at Coral Reef Academy is steeped in fa’asamoa, we also provide specific opportunities for all students to deeply experience life as a Samoan.  Because Samoan culture welcomes all visitors unconditionally as extended family members, all of our students experience the warm, protective embrace of family even when far from home.  This experience occurs on campus with staff and off campus with community members.  We further deepen the family experience by providing each student with home-stay experiences so that they can participate fully in Samoan life as an insider. 

“Cultural exposure gives students a jumping off point for discussions, values, morals and an understanding of their own culture.   What results are very sophisticated conversations about race and cultural difference.” –Karen Nelson, Ph.D.

In addition to home stays, our students spend time working, playing and volunteering in the community, and are expected in that setting to take on the role of Samoan young men.  Our Samoan mentors model this behavior—which includes showing respect, gardening, participation in rituals, cleaning, traditional cooking, Samoan dancing and community service—so that our students learn through relationship and through example.

Formal cultural immersion includes the following:

  • Food: Students learn traditional fishing, farming and food gathering, as well as cooking using the traditional umu, or pit oven
  • Aiga: Extended home stays give our young men incredible cultural exposure to Aiga—Samoan family life
  • Faalavelave:  Students participate fully in Fa’alavelave—or Samoan ceremonial life—including:
    • Ava welcoming ceremonies
    • Ava farewell ceremonies
    • Graduations modeled after traditional Samoan graduation ceremonies
  • Gagana Samoa: Students learn, and earn academic credit for, the Samoan language
  • Traditional Art: Students learn and practice traditional island arts
  • Matai:  Boys learn to become leaders and men through participation in the fa’amatai—a chiefly system of maturity and social rank in which leadership is earned through service—“Ole ala ile pule ole tautua”
  • Dancing and Singing: Dance and song are important recreational and ceremonial activities, and our students learn and participate in both, often while wearing traditional Samoan clothing
  • History: Our academic program and our cultural immersion program includes instruction in the history of the Samoan Islands and the Samoan people

But immersion at Coral Reef Academy is just that—immersion.  Exposure to the fa’asamoa is not limited to formal activities; it’s a part of every conversation with staff, every trip to town, every meal and every social interaction.