Monday, September 10, 2012

Advice to 84

Some people who were smarter than I was started reading blogs of current PCVs before they left, so they had a better idea of what to expect. If any of you reading this are coming to Samoa for PC service in October, this is my advice to you:

Wear sunscreen. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own, meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
But really – wear sunscreen. You have the rest of your life to get skin cancer; you don’t need to do it in two years in Samoa. And, despite all your best efforts, you will end up with a farmer’s tan.

Bring a headlamp. A flashlight is also useful, but it’s nice to have your hands free and have a light when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It is also infinitely useful for various other occasions.

Buy one of those sturdy plastic buckets as soon as possible. They are great for doing your laundry in (everyone will be asking to use your bucket while you are in the hotel for training), storage, and anything else you can think of to do with them.

Girls: I highly recommend getting two basic puletasi bottoms in addition to whatever other puletasis you might get – black and dark blue – they go with almost any top. It will save you some laundry time

Never go into the PC office without a flash drive

Athletic wear is very difficult and/or expensive to replace in Samoa (and also disappears most frequently from your clothesline), so I highly recommend bringing a two-year supply. This includes knee-length running shorts, socks, sports bras, and running shirts (cotton gets really hot really fast so stick to athletic wear that is designed for copious amounts of sweat). Shoes…that’s up to you. They are replaceable in Samoa, but selection is very limited.

At least 90% of what you bring with you to Samoa will not make it back to the States at the end of your service – or you won’t want to take it back, can’t be bothered, whatever. So if you can’t bear to part with it, don’t bring it.

The office is here as a required governmental presence; it is not here to help you. The sooner you learn and accept that, the sooner you can stand on your own two feet and get things done for yourself.

Remember how much legroom you had on the plane over – that is the most legroom you will have for 2 years.

Wait before making any drastic changes to your hairstyle. I’m a fan of being able to pull my hair back, and while it’s nice to have super short hair that never gets glued to your neck by sweat, I personally think it’s much nicer to be able to put it up.

Along with that, I highly recommend learning how to French braid. Very useful.

Get a hobby. I thought I had plenty of hobbies before I came to Samoa because I was always busy. Turns out, I was always busy because I had a busy schedule, and other than reading, I didn’t know how to fill my free time here. I’ve picked up needlepoint and cross-stitch, others have picked up painting, and we even have a knitter – boys generally pick up rugby or some other sport. Find something.

I have the PC cat, let me know if you’d like her as your pet for your time in Samoa.

Find something that makes you happy in your village. You spend the vast majority of your time there, and PCV life is hard enough even when you love everything. Get a pet, find people your own age (they do exist), weave with the women’s committee, find a spot for peace of mind, anything. This is not optional – you need it.

Bring a sweatshirt. You may only use it twice in your time here, but on those two occasions, you will be glad you have it.

Evaluate your intentions in joining Peace Corps. Seriously, this is a hard job and a harder life. If you don’t absolutely want to do Peace Corps because you believe in what you are doing, consider if you really want to do it. It sucks to get here and realize that for some reason it won’t work – just ask the people who struggled with the decision of leaving early.

If you don’t run, start now. The perimeter relay usually happens in September, and you’ll definitely want to do it.

Drink water. Lots of it. All the time.

Things to invest in: waterproof camera, two-year supply of athletic clothing, full-size microfiber towel, getting clothes made by a good seamstress (it’s SOOOO worth it to have good clothes)

Go on the river hike while you are here, as many times as you can. Best thing I’ve done in Samoa, hands down. Their names are Jane and Owen, phone number 7748759 (I’ll give them free advertising because they don’t do their own, only word of mouth. That’s how you know it’s good).

Seriously, skimp on the clothing when you pack. You don’t need that much of it here – there’s a wonderful thing called “The Free Box” in the resource room where you can find 80% of your wardrobe. Save your precious packing space for stickers or good tape or your favorite brand of toothpaste.

Same with books. Maybe bring a few you can swap with other people during training, but once you have access to the library in the office, you don’t need anything else. Although I love my Kindle because I have a Time magazine subscription on it. Which I also recommend.

Get well acquainted with KK and CCK. If you can’t find what you’re looking for (or some version of it) at either of these two stores, it probably doesn’t exist in Samoa.

Digicel vs. Bluesky. Well, Digicel used to be the “bigger, better network,” but their products and services then went to crap and now Bluesky seems to be more reliable. You’ll probably be best off getting a double-sim card phone so you can use whichever one is more convenient.

Above all, be flexible, patient, and willing to learn. You will make a million mistakes, get all your Samoan words mixed up, and be the source of endless entertainment for everyone else. But stick with it; the more effort you put in, the more you get out of it, and I sincerely think Peace Corps is a worthwhile experience despite all the bureaucratic red tape.


  1. Thanks for your post, Natalie! I love the practical advice-- just can't wait until this is all a reality!

    Looking forward to meeting you soon!

    Kiri =]

  2. This changed my packing list! Thank you so so much! I am very excited to meet you and everyone else! Less than a month away!!

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