Bryan Williams - 2014 Program Participant
Why did you decide to travel abroad?
I went abroad to gain the experience of living outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn more about other cultures, viewpoints, and ways of life, all while stretching my limits.
Why did you pick WorldTeach?
I chose the WorldTeach organization because of its highly reputable background in providing pre-departure and in-country support. Once I knew I was going to use WorldTeach, I chose American Samoa because the scenery looked beautiful and the island lifestyle seemed enchanting... plus, it’s fully funded. Once I knew I was going to American Samoa, I chose to be in an outer island placement in the Manu'a Islands. I knew this would provide the biggest test for living outside of my comfort zone and being immersed in a new culture and community.
Manu'a High School, Home of the Segaula, Ta'u, American Samoa
What was your favorite part about living in Samoa?
The fun! Songs, dancing, Sivas, fishing, snorkeling, hunting, coconut husking. The Samoans know how to have fun and get exercise while doing it. Internet was slow (if it was ever on), and it gave us volunteers a chance to experience the real Samoan lifestyle as much as is possible.
What made your teaching experience unique?
Being on the outer 'Manu'a islands is a totally different environment than being on the main island of Tutuila. There were only four of us foreigners living in our village, and only seven total on our island of 1,000 people. I have never (and probably never will again) experienced a quiet and calmness like I got while visiting our neighbor islands, Ofu and Olosega.
How much did you interact with the local staff? How did they impact your experience?
Local staff (and the country as a whole) has a very positive view of WorldTeach and the WorldTeachers. They tried to adopt us as much as possible, while still respecting our American mentality for personal space and privacy.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have stayed longer!
Describe a typical day in your life in Africa.
Wake up at 7 a.m., with a few mosquito bites. Teach until 2 p.m. Walk home (one hour) or catch a ride (five minutes) and get super sweaty. Jump in the ocean to snorkel, cannonball, fish, or play catch. Husk some coconuts and watch the old ladies play bingo. Have a Vailima with some Samoan buddies and roommates while playing board games or watching the sun go down. Head to bed and do it all over again tomorrow.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hiking and spear fishing were incredible. Seeing turtles, rays, reef sharks, and rays were especially cool. Hiking was fun, as long as you didn't spook a wild boar.
What was your accommodation like?
Our house was perfectly comfortable. It had a large communal space, where we could host friends and have fun. I just wish the mosquito screens on all the windows did not have holes in them.
Do you have any words of wisdom for future program participants?
To be on the outer islands, you need to be comfortable with relaxing and having a very limited social circle. You have to make an effort to have friends and be accepted by the community.
This can be a tough place to adapt to, but it is totally worth it.
What was the hardest part about teaching abroad?
The most difficult aspect of being abroad is getting used to different cultural expectations. These expectations can fundamentally go against your own beliefs and convictions, or just be a nuisance to the freedoms you are used to having. Either way, it is important to be flexible and understanding; volunteers are guests in their communities, and the communities deserve the utmost respect.
What surprised you most about American Samoa?
I had no idea there would be so much dancing. Samoan culture loves dancing and celebrations that include the entire community. I have no rhythm, but my students and community were kind and refrained from openly mocking my lack of ability.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before arriving in American Samoa?
I wish I would have known how easy it was to get supplies while on the main island. I would have saved a ton of space and weight in my luggage, had I just purchased toiletries and medicines once I had already landed in Tutuila.
If you could teach abroad again, where would you go?
I think I would like to go to Southeast Asia or back to Oceania. Oceanic cultures are an absolute joy to be a part of. Although patriarchal and sometimes seemingly archaic, they are absolutely authentic, fun, and welcoming.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to American Samoa?
Save space and buy as many supplies as you can on the main island. Bring surge protectors to protect all your electronics. Get something that will help keep your clothes dry or prevent them from rotting when you have two weeks of rain with no available dryer, especially on the outer islands. Bring unique present and gifts for your students and the families that help take care of you. They will love the gifts and show them off to volunteers for years to come.
How has your time abroad changed you?
It has made me appreciate more of the small things that I used to take for granted. I do not find myself complaining as much as I used to, and I am more willing to go out of my way to meet people from different backgrounds and different social circles. I have become more confident and independent as a result of living abroad.
Would you recommend WorldTeach to others? Why?
I recommend the WorldTeach organization to everyone looking to go abroad. The American Samoa program I enjoyed. The culture is not as progressive as many of the volunteers are, but they still expect volunteers to abide by their cultural expectations, even if it is not written in the law. If you are willing to adapt and assimilate, you will gain friends and memories that you will frequently think back on with a grin on your face.