First, a word about the site title:
In 2011, my husband (The Beard) and I decided to quit our jobs, rent our home, and volunteer as teachers in American Samoa. We loved living and teaching in the Manu’a island group of American Samoa so much that we decided to do it again for another year or two. This blog was initially intended to keep friends, family, and all you internet stalkers in the know about our idealistic plans to live a little more deliberately. Traveling with Matches was meant to be a bit of a play on the saying “education is not the filing of a pail but the lighting of a fire” and on verses 2 Timothy 1: 6 (“fan into flame the gift of God”) and Hebrews 12:29 (“our God is a consuming fire”). I have since written about why I think the title is still relevant to our lives, even as we have taken a break from international travel.
Frequently Asked Questions about our time in American Samoa:
What are your living conditions like?
We live in a fale palagi which is just like a regular old, Western style house. We have running water (cold only) and electricity that works 99.5% of the time. The Dept of Education rents our house for us from a wonderful landlord who takes very good care of us. Our house has three bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a large living area. We have an in-door shower and toilet. We do our laundry at a very generous friend’s house (in a washing machine) and hang it to dry on a line at our house.
What is your diet like?
The diet here is very basic. We eat a lot of processed packaged/canned foods that we either buy on the main island or have shipped from the States. Bananas, coconut, breadfruit, papaya, guava, taro, and limes grow abundantly but you can only eat so much of that before you long for a pizza. The Beard sometimes spears fish and lobster; we buy the occasional yellow-fin tuna from fishermen in the village; and our neighbors share their umu/bbq with us a lot, but mostly we eat canned food and rice. So much rice.
Did you enjoy volunteering for WorldTeach? Do you recommend it?
I loved our WorldTeach year. Yes, it would’ve been nice to have just come to AmSam as contract teachers from the start, but the transition from the US to AmSam was made so much more seamless because of our time with WT. WorldTeach prepared us for the major cultural differences and curiosities and for the classroom. I loved sharing the experience with the other 22 volunteers (even though most of them were on the main island and we didn’t see them much). I highly recommend the program but I will warn that the field staff changes from year to year, as does the group of volunteers. Our experience in 2011-2012 was incredibly different from the 2012-2013 groups’, which was markedly different from the 2013-2014 groups’. During my year with WorldTeach, none of the 23 volunteers quit the program. But the following year, 5 of the 30 quit. Before you volunteer, please think about what you’ll do if you get to where you are going and it’s miserable. Living abroad is not all roses and rainbows; it can be very difficult. We don’t have substitute teachers. If a volunteer quits early, the education of their students will suffer for it. There will definitely be times when you hate absolutely everything; a good volunteer will stick it out regardless.
WorldTeach is a wonderfully supportive organization and I would recommend them to anyone interested in teaching abroad as a volunteer. However, like all international aid agencies, there are serious downsides to temporary placements of westerners in skill- or education- based positions. I highly recommend reading When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity before you decide to sign up for anything.
If you are interested in a longer commitment, or a paid position, you can contact the Department of Education and ask about signing a contract. Although the pay is good for contract teachers, it’s not always easy or convenient to deal with the Department of Education. And–just a warning–you may not be well taken care of by the DoE (this might bean not being paid for months at a time, or even not being able to secure housing). With WorldTeach, you will have a field director to handle all of the details for you before you arrive in country.
If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email.