“I look back with a year’s perspective, and I don’t even recognize that person I was before.”


Last month, Amber DeBardelaben’s time as a volunteer in American Samoa came to a close. In her last hours on the island nation she calls home, Amber reflected on how much she has grown during her experience with WorldTeach. Read on for an enjoyably witty look at the bonds, bugs, tattoos, teenagers, and dance crazes that have changed Amber as a person forever. Thanks for sharing, Amber!




How can it be over?


I still have to post about prom and graduation and the last few week of school, but I leave Samoa tonight, so now is the time for Part One of my reflective entry on Samoa. Part Two will come after a couple of week in the States, when I can more accurately judge my time here objectively.


First of all, let me just say that right now, I am an emotional wreck. I haven’t made up my mind if I am coming back next year, and I just can’t stop thinking that this may be goodbye.


I’ve had some students over to the house in the last few days to help me clean and eat all my extra food (two Samoan talents, lol), and we’ve been chatting about how I am now and what I was like those first few weeks of school. The general consensus is that back in August, I was this scared white girl who didn’t know how to handle the cheekiness and insanity of everyday life teaching at Leone. I knew no Samoan. I had the Mainstream kids and I HATED them. I envied Abby her little Proficient Freshmen and Sophomores. EVERDAY after First Period I wanted to cry. I couldn’t control my students, I didn’t like most of them, and I wanted to quit and leave Samoa because I was never going to be able to do this.


I look back with a year’s perspective, and I don’t even recognize that person I was before.


Yes, I’m still white. But this palagi now has a Samoan tattoo, wears flowers in her hair and rocks the lavalava in public. (“Miss, you are getting a little more Samoan every day.”) I use Samoan in everyday conversation. I love Leone High School, and I would never want to teach anywhere else. Leone is one of the only places I’ve truly felt at home (the others being Texas, Western Pennsylvania, and Montana.) I was SO HOT when we got here last summer, and now I put on a sweater is the temperature drops below 80.


But most importantly, much more importantly that all of that, is how I have been changed by my students. Abby can keep her proficient kids. Give my little hooligans any day. Those very kids that made my life miserable in August? I love them now, and I know that they love me right back. Some of my favorite students have admitted that they went out of their way at the beginning of the year to try and break me. But they didn’t, and I’ve become a far stronger and caring person that I ever thought possible. I’ve said it before on Facebook, and I’ll say it again on here: Who would have ever thought that a bunch of punk-ass Samoan seventeen and eighteen year olds would completely change my life?


Sometimes when I break down my life in Samoa, it seems a little insane. What have I done during my year in Samoa?

· I joined a gang. (TAP BOYZ!)

· I broke up some fights.

· I learned how to swear in Samoan.

· I got a tattoo in a rusted out shipping container.

· I’ve eaten eggs that have sat out in the store unrefrigerated for a couple of days.

· I’ve poured out a bowl of cereal, seen that there were ants in it, shrugged, and ate around the ants.

· I shook my thing to the Pussycat Dolls in front of an entire school.

· I learned how to Wobble, and have failed miserably at doing the Dougie.

· I learned how to open a coconut on a door jam.

· I am no longer fazed in the least by seven-year-olds running around carrying machetes.

· I got a neurotoxic disease caused by eating poisonous fish.

· Consequently, I’ve learned not to eat the red fish.

· I’ve gotten scars on my legs because open wounds never really heal here.

· I’ve learned the proper way to tie a lavalava.

· I’ve become absolutely immune to rain. Like, sometimes I don’t even notice I’m standing in it.

· I’ve created a Sweat-o-meter, which 1 being a normal amount of sweat for your average summer day of grueling work in the States, and 10 being OH MY GOD MY CORE TEMPERATURE IS 300 DEGREES AND I AM GOING TO MELT.

· If I feel something crawling on me, I casually look down, and as long as it’s not something deadly, I generally ignore it.

· I’ve accepted that expiration dates are really more like suggestions.

· I’ve full on beat dogs with umbrellas, sticks, and rocks to keep them from biting me.


Of course, I’m not the only one who has changed. I’ve seen Abby eat around a bug that was baked into her donut. Quinn can now expertly judge when a banana plant is ripe for the picking. I’ve heard Amanda debate how exactly how smelly a shirt must be before it is TOO smelly. I’ve seen Rosa barely raise an eyebrow after being informed that the boat from Aunu’u might sink and she might have to swim to shore.


Actually, that last one pretty much sums up life here.


This is Samoa. Sink or swim.


Read more about American Samoa

See all WorldTeach Blog posts