Samoan trip by Rachael (reflection seven)

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Industry Study Tour students and the Women in Business (weaving) community, Saavi’i, Samoa

On the second phase of the trip I have spent time on Savai’i (an island near Samoa’s main island – Upolu) which takes 45 minutes by ferry to reach. I met Gillian Stewart who is now living on Savai’i, working with Women in Business. I received a very warm welcome and felt right at home.

Students and I received a tour by car of the island, stopping to meet social impact business women who are working for Women in Business such as certified organic farming of vanilla and coconuts and those who make the special art work from a large stick. I was lucky enough to see how coconut oil is extracted from the coconuts and watch students taste the oil as soon as it was extracted. I was also lucky enough to visit and see the women who weave the traditional Samoan mats. These women spend every Wednesday together as a community and weave the extraordinary resource intensive mats. It can take up to a week to just weave a small section. The mats need to be 12 hands long and 9 hands wide. Organisations and individuals can sponsor a mat making process via Women in Business with a particular artist and pay it off by installements. The mats are time consuming, delicate and have certain criteria to meet in order for a mat to be classified (1, 2 or 3) with strand 1 being of the highest quality. Mats sell for $4000 Tala.

Savai’i is a beautiful island with a simple and welcoming village approach to living and completing your daily work commitments. We saw some amazing beaches and swimming holes. The only negative for me was that I was challenged by some of the accommodation, as the bookings were lost on arrival (no confirmation of our bookings when arriving late into your accommodation is always a challenge at the best of times). The standard of one of the accommodation options was an issue with less than desirable bedding and holes in the mosquitos nets. However, by using humour and laughing about the situation that I found myself in with other students (thanks Nic!) I was able to overcome the various issues and problems successfully (only just!). In the bigger scheme of things, this was a minor set-back compared to the overall experiences I’ve had on Savai’i such as talking to Gillian about her work with Women in Business, and the challenges of managing cultural diversity and expectations from a Western perspective.

Students have also completed their presentation assessments while in-country. Each student group was expected to work as a team and present their learning, the group’s employability skill development focus and their personal learning outcomes (so far) via a team approach that illustrated collaboration. The students were a bit nervous (who wouldn’t be when you have me sitting in the background taking notes!) but they were also glad to get this part of the assessment process finalised.  Well done team!

I have endeavoured to complete regular reflective seminars with students and to include CERES when appropriate. Our final session was a few days ago and two students led this process for the group; which was just so great to see and be a part of. Adrienne and Bryney, you hit the nail on the head for your facilitation role, well done!

My time here as been cushioned wonderfully by how many of the students are really improving upon their employability skills around communication and teamwork. Students are articulating their individual learning growth and personal employability improvements, wonderfully. I am honoured to be a part of such an experiential learning adventure with the Swinburne students in an international context.

I won’t lie. I have had my challenges and I am constantly being tested both professionally and personally. I don’t always get it right, I make my mistakes and often. However, one thing I know I am good at is making sure that the integritity of the academic program remains at a high standard and continually meets students’ learning requirements for the credited Industry Study Tour unit for Swinburne as part of the Swinburne Advantage.

I have also tried to focus on making sure that I listen to students’ voices and continually look at how I can improve my own practice as a Senior Lecturer during complexity in order to support the group as a whole.

I love Samoa!

Written by Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson