Australian students in Samoa for “transformative experience”

A group of students from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne are in Samoa to connect with locals and learn from the experience of travel, rather than a lecture in a classroom.

They are here with academic supervisors, Dr. Claire Dyson and Nicola Fish, and two guides from CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne, Emily Connors and Chloe Horner.

The 23 students are from a range of disciplines and stages in their study, and the students will use their experience to some degree in their research.

Dr. Dyson, who is the Academic Program Coordinator of Work Integrated Learning said the students are being exposed to as many different sides of Samoa as possible, from government to non-government organisations, farmers, artists and private sector.

“The idea is that all of these experiences coalesce and these guys work out what is relevant for their discipline. It is really about transforming the individual.”

Innovation and Design student Steven Wang said the experience really has been transformational, pushing him out of his comfort zone to try something new.

“I’m more of a city person,” he laughed.

“Every time I travel I go to the Gold Coast and I stay in nice hotels. I don’t usually go out and experience nature, or talk with people.”

Rentia Britz, is studying Design, and said she is learning to relax into ‘Samoan time’ – a contrast to her rigid Melbourne routine.

“This ignites passion, I guess, instead of learning in a classroom. I feel more passionate to do different things than before,” she said.

During their trip, the group visited SkyEye, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, Tiapapata Art Gallery and Samoa Victims Support Group. They will also go to Savaii.

“What we want is people who know who they are and know what they are passionate about but also have a clearer sense about their professional purpose – and that is a life goal,” Dr Dyson said.

Gaby Borne said the learning from experience has been a “breath of fresh air” from their laptops, books and study of the previous semester. 

Jessica Capel, studying Digital Media said she has been writing down all her experiences in order to capture them for when the academic world comes back and they have to submit assignments on their trip. 

The disciplines range from design, health sciences, communications, to technology.   Olivia Crook is studying Computer Science, and said their session with SkyEye really caught her attention. 

“The work he was doing to bring technology here up to first world standards was really impressive,” Ms Crook said.

“The challenges he had like how slow processes can be, and how he goes around that because he is so passionate, was really cool.”

Fatima Mohamud is studying Health Science. She said the educational experience has been teaching her about herself, and how quickly she managed to adapt to Samoa.

“I really came to appreciate different cultural contexts.

“Even though we are not that far in proximity, there can be such various cultures and it is just amazing to see.”

CERES’ Chloe Hooper said her organisation has been building connection in Samoa for seven years, as part of a cultural exchange.

“The main purpose of these global trips is to build empathy, and shared understanding around some complex issues, but most importantly it’s about friendship. 

“What I really appreciate [about the students] is that they are not going in with solutions. They are going to listen, to understand.”

CERES partners with different universities to help organise various kinds of trips to Samoa as well as all over the world. 

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