Rosanna Bellisio - Teaching Physical Education in Samoa
My first impressions
My first impression of Samoa, before even arriving at the airport, was that this would be a very special nation. The flight I took to get to the island of Upolu included a connecting flight from Auckland, New Zealand. The flight I was on prior to this connection was late arriving into Auckland and I was extremely anxious to get to the gate as fast as I could. Sprinting through the terminal building past many passengers and airport crew, I finally made it to the correct gate. It was here that I had my first experience of ‘island time’.
As I stood there breathing heavily, I gradually found time to look around at the people who sat near the gate. I noticed welcoming smiles on everyone’s faces and an elderly Samoan lady made room for me to sit down next to her. She was delighted to hear that I had chosen to do a voluntary project in Samoa and began to teach me some important phrases that I would need to know in Samoan. Above all, this lady was most worried about whether I was going to be picked up from the airport in Apia, “if you get stuck, come and find me and I will make sure you get to your village safely” she said reassuringly and patted me on the shoulder (I was later picked up at the airport safe and sound by the Projects Abroad staff!).
It was then that I began to notice a group of Samoan’s walking towards the gate, slowly and completely un-phased. This group was the same family that I had previously been sitting next to on my flight to Auckland, and there they were, casually strolling through 20-minutes late… welcome to island time!
My arrival in Samoa
Upon landing in Samoa, I was lucky enough to realize that I had been sitting directly behind Alama leremia, the head coach of the Samoan Rugby Union Team and ex-player for Western Samoa and the All Blacks! As a huge Rugby fan myself, I didn’t hesitate to introduce myself to him and he very kindly invited me along to the Samoan Rugby Team’s training ground, which I quickly accepted.
My host family
Staying with a host family in Samoa was a once in a lifetime experience and allowed me to gain a first and lasting impression of Samoan traditions and culture. The family that so brilliantly brought me into their home was active with involving me in all areas of their family life. As with many Samoan people, my host family was extremely caring and approachable any time I had a question or needed some local advice.
My fondest memory of being with my Samoan host family was on one Sunday. Samoan’s definitely know how to do Sundays! We awoke at 5.30am to begin helping with the Umu, a traditional means of cooking food in Samoa which is done by heating up rocks and then covering the food with banana leaves. My particular job for this Umu preparation was to grate the inside of the coconuts using a special tool that had been devised. One of the nephews of the host family was extremely patient in explaining the correct technique for coconut grating. Although my Samoan isn’t that good, I like to think they were saying that I had mastered it by the end!
After Umu preparation was complete, we made our way to church for just over an hour before returning back home. This was where the Samoan way of life really shone through… it was a feast!! After devouring our Sunday lunch with almost 15 members of the family, we all retired to the TV room and swapped stories before falling asleep. Definitely one of the most memorable Sunday’s I will ever have.
My voluntary placement was teaching sport at a Primary School. The previous job I had before travelling to Samoa was as a sports coach in Primary Schools in the UK. Therefore, it was extremely interesting for me to draw up a number of contrasts between Samoan and UK primary schools.
One of the first things that I became aware of was that pupils take part in Physical Education (PE) with bare feet, whereas in my previous employment, one of the most challenging things was to get pupils to remember their trainers! The most inspiring realization I had on my placement was that the pupils we took for PE really wanted to be there, as opposed to attempting to get out of the lesson which can be an ongoing issue in some schools back home.
Although my knowledge of the Samoan language was extremely limited, the pupils were consistently cooperative and understanding. Most of the kids also had an excellent understanding of English. In order to overcome the language barrier, I adapted my teaching style by making it more visual, using expressions and gestures to help explain activities. The teaching staff at the school were very pleased with the work that was completed on the placement, as well as the school receiving a generous donation from Amber, who was working with me on the same voluntary project. This contribution was put towards sports equipment and a new rugby kit for the school team. Amber was a brilliant teammate to have and helped to make the placement even more memorable.
Traveling around Samoa
Travelling around Samoa in the free time that I had whilst not working on the school project highlighted the many things that make this country so unique and breath-taking. The numerous sandy beaches are great areas to explore and spend some winding down time. On one occasion, I sat on the beach after doing some snorkeling in the crystal clear water, when a local man tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a free coconut to drink… welcome to paradise! From bumping into the Prime Minister of Samoa in the gym at the national rugby training center, to the beautiful trench and the most incredible waterfall adventures I will ever go on, you will definitely not be short of adventures when visiting the brilliant islands of Samoa.