Study Abroad in Polynesia

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A Guide to Studying Abroad in Polynesia

Set sail for a great adventure; you'll be making waves studying abroad in Polynesia. With over 1,000 islands spread out across the central and south Pacific Ocean, these communities are no stranger to the sea. Follow the nautical miles of Captain James Cook amid coral reefs and tropical forests, or trek through an equally-diverse human population of histories, languages, and social practices. If you're fishing for a study abroad experience that's off-the-hook, Polynesia will quickly become your favorite catch.


Polynesia originates from the Greek words “poly” as in “many” and “nēsos”, meaning “island”. Drawn by the connecting points of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island, the Polynesian Triangle is comprised of both small and big island communities. The unique geological location in the South Pacific means you can study abroad on archipelagos like Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, or French Polynesia. Whether you choose to island hop or prefer to stay anchored to one shoreline, Polynesia won’t steer you in the wrong direction during your studies abroad.

The 118 islands of French Polynesia stretch more than 2,000 kilometers across the South Pacific. Surrounded by rich coral reefs, white- and black-sanded beaches, mountain peaks, and lush jungles, you'll discover plenty of authentic experiences (or as the Tahitian people say, Mana). The spirit of Mana connects all living things, and studying in French Polynesia will leave you feeling all of the these good vibrations.

Part of French Polynesia, Tahiti will lead you to more than rocking a bikini. Yachtsmen call the “The Coconut Run” (Tahiti to Australia) one of the world's most amazing trade wind sails. The capital of Papeete is an industrial port that doesn't offer much sightseeing, but you'll discover hints of its French charm.

Learn more and more in Bora Bora, located northwest of Tahiti. This island is where you'll explore marine life amid coral reefs, only a few steps away from your front hut door.

Study Abroad Programs in Polynesia

Get schooled by schools of fish! Polynesia's rich biodiversity and human culture have been significantly influenced by French colonies, but indigenous traditions still hold strong. The most popular study abroad programs in Polynesia let you experience sailing on a vessel and provide a set itinerary to explore the Polynesian archipelagos. You'll develop strong sea legs that will put Captain Jack Sparrow to shame and an all-hands-on deck attitude will build camaraderie, leadership, and your newfound confidence.

If you think life is better where it's wetter, environmental studies will give you the chance to take a close look at the ocean in Polynesia. An academic emphasis on marine biology and oceanography is present in almost any study abroad program in Polynesia. Scientists from around the world are lured in by the archipelagos' surrounding coral reefs, beaches, volcanoes, jungles, and mountains. Study abroad students will closely interact with scientists and enjoy an immersive experience studying in the field, conducting research and completing labs.

Polynesia’s serene natural environment has shifted significantly over time, and the human impact after the region was colonized by France, makes studying social sciences or communications a fascinating experience.

The best time of year to study in Polynesia is during the dry season, from May to October. The seas are calmer; more than likely, you'll prefer to get splashed by the waves rather than torrential rains. Classes are generally taught in English, but keen international students will have a chance to interact with locals and learn a few basic phrases of their native language (the most prominent being Tahitian, Sāmoan, Tongan, Māori, and Hawaiian).

Be cautious of getting “I’m On A Boat” stuck in your head while studying in Polynesia. Most study abroad programs in Polynesia include ample time learning aboard a ship while traveling to the next port, but specifics vary. Check the itineraries of your program and scheduled destinations for a better idea of the time you’ll spend studying at sea versus on land. These itineraries are typically set in stone and students might not receive much of break away from their classmates or time explore on their own.

Scholarships & Costs

The remote, rugged beauty of these archipelagos comes with high costs. However, the experience and views are worth every penny, so don’t let that discourage you. Like most island nations, importing food and clothing can be expansive. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant will make your jaw-drop with an average price of $20. It's possible to find cheaper eats at snack stands and by sticking to takeaway meals, like sandwiches, salads, grilled meat, or fish burgers. You can easily find roadside stalls that offer fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables around the major islands.

On a more positive note, most study abroad programs in Polynesia provide meals and sharing home-cooked dishes with your classmates will cut down the costs. Additionally, program costs generally include full room and board, meals and snacks, domestic transportation, required certification, and academic expenses (such as research, field trips, and lab fees).

When it comes to your free time, if you’re looking to try out diving outside of your program, the average cost starts at $100 per tank. Stick to free activities like hiking up the breathtaking mountains or cycling around rugged coastlines to entertain yourself and explore more of the islands.

If you think you'll need to find buried treasure to afford studying in Polynesia, most programs will guide you towards where 'X' marks the spot. Scholarship opportunities are abundant and students are highly encouraged to apply. Check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory to find a financial aid option that fits with your program and monetary needs.

Accommodation & Visas

One of the greatest rewards and challenges of studying in Polynesia is embracing the unique accommodation options. Most study abroad programs in Polynesia take place on vessels, which means you'll spend some nights being rocked to sleep by the waves and within tight corridors of your classmates. On shore, programs typically arrange dormitories or shared apartments for international students. Embrace the rugged sleeping arrangements, lack of alone time, and you'll fall in love with dozing off beneath a starry sky, and making new friends while studying abroad in Polynesia.

You might be required to get a visa to study abroad in Polynesia for more than 90 days, but certain EU countries are visa-exempt for any length of stay. Talk with your program provider or host university for more details on visa policies or check out GoAbroad's Embassy Directory to locate a Polynesian embassy near to you.

Benefits & Challenges

It’s hard to have a bad day in Polynesia. Even on a stormy day, the warmth of the locals is infectious. The beautiful landscape is the cliché of an tropical island paradise, remote islands with white-sanded beaches, mountainous wanders, lush jungles, and turquoise waters spoiled with marine life. If studying in Polynesia gets too stressful, it’s easy to take a break by breathing in the fresh air, chatting with smiling locals, and diving into warm waters.

The change in climate will change your mind. Climate change is affecting countries and ecosystems across the globe. The small, remote island nations of Polynesia are being heavily impacted, and how humans societies will function in the future given limited resources, growing populations, exponential increases in waste generation, and climatic disruption is a challenging question. You’ll be able to observe Polynesia’s history of colonial conflicts, cultural identities, and environmental justice. Being aware of the problem and how it impacts Polynesia’s environments is the first step toward making a difference.

Mark Twain famously said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.” We're pretty sure he was talking about Polynesia. Studying abroad in Polynesia will help you explore, dream, discover. You’ll delve deeper into the South Pacific's rich biodiversity and island culture. Take a risk; lose sight of the harbor in Polynesia and find yourself swimming, not sinking, during your study abroad adventure.

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Seamester: Transpacific, Tahiti to Australia - 66/80 days

Seamester offers unique educational voyages where students spend their time sailing between countries and continents. For more than 40 years, we have consistently delivered outstanding educational experiences for students. We design our programs to provide engaging learning experiences with real outcomes in ways that are impossible to replicate in the traditional classroom. Living as part of a ...