There might have been more system than culture shock for Minden resident Dominique Groffman, who spent her holidays with a Samoan family as part of a U.S. State Department funded program.
It was below zero when the 16-year-old Douglas High School junior left Carson Valley on Dec. 11 and in the 80s when she arrived in independent Samoa after a long flight, made seemingly longer by crossing the International Dateline and the Equator.
The flight across the Pacific took seven hours until she and her fellow students landed in Fiji, before traveling to Samoa.
The focus of the exchange was on nutrition and food security.
“Samoa is a developing country with restraints on food, and more poor families not getting as much food as other people,” she said.
With rocky soil, the islanders supplement their diet of taro and breadfruit with chicken and fish.
“They eat very few vegetables and whole grains,” she said. “There are lots of carbs in their diet, which is why the obesity rate is around 50 percent.
It wasn’t until Dec. 17 before Dominique moved in with her host sister, Fuaiupu Fulusia, and her family.
Activities were divided between the Americans and Samoan siblings doing things together, and family days.
“There were four other Americans living in the village,” she said. “On family days we did as our sibling did. My host sister was involved in the Methodist church dancing group. We would go to dance practice and sing. We performed on Sunday and Christmas Eve.”
On family days the Americans would live as the Samoans lived.
“Basically it’s something that tourists didn’t do,” she said. “We did some projects, and educational programs. We went to two organic farms on the island, and learned about methods of organic pesticides and how they were trying to grow plants more efficiently. We got to plant corn.”
While there were shops in her village, Dominque said big weekly shopping trips were reserved for the market in the capital.
“If you wanted to get there, it was an hour-long bus ride on wooden buses,” she said. “They were interesting.”
As part of the exchange the Americans and Samoan hosts would travel all over the island, visiting resorts, beaches and the markets.
“The last three days, we went to Savai’i, the big island, and stayed in a beach resort with Samoan siblings, having a relaxing couple of days,” she said of the 22-day trip. “Most of the trip was very high pace, seeing a million new things a day. It was a time to relax and meet with our siblings.”
Dominique said that while some Western things had been adopted, the Samoans were very proud of their culture.
“It was incredibly different,” she said. “Their culture is very rich. Parts of it have been westernized, such as government and religion. But the people are very proud of their Samoan culture. It was very beautiful to see a group of people retaining their ancestral beliefs and customs. The people were incredibly nice. They were very accepting of other people, and the island was amazingly beautiful.”
She said she learned how to prepare Samoan food and their dances.
“Their culture is much more based on community,” she said. “It’s not so much of an individualistic society. They seem more grateful for small things like getting food or seeing your friends.”
Dominique, a Carson Valley native, is the daughter of Louis Groffman and Anne Jeton-Groffman, who are 23-year residents of the Valley. The Youth Leadership Program she participated in is based out of the University of Wyoming.
“Because it is all paid for, they are able to be more selective about who gets to go,” Dominique said. “The 21 students who went were a really good fit, and it made it much more successful.”
Dominique’s grandfather was a U.S. diplomat.