"A large part of why I specifically chose to go to Samoa on this internship was I wanted to better understand my own Samoan heritage. My mother was born and raised in Samoa, however, since her moving to America, I grew up accustomed to American culture. Sometimes, it has been difficult to identify with my Samoan culture being so far from its language, food, and people. For a long time, Samoa was always this magical, faraway place to me. I once told someone I was Samoan but when he understood that I didn’t speak the language responded, “Oh, then you’re not Samoan.” I was crushed, and this became a moment I frequently pinpointed when faced with a part of me that I didn’t understand. Over time, this led to an unrealistic vision of what Samoa really was and who the people really are. This type of skewed vision is equivalent to seeing people as objects - or less than their reality. For most of my life, I saw this perspective of the people and even myself as wrong.
The biggest indication of this came to me when I began to understand that the people in Samoa live a simple life. The cares and concerns are not nearly as materialistic or egocentric as what I grew up with, but more need-based. However, this does not by any means lessen the degree which they feel joy, happiness or love. I had always assumed that people with less were less happy; but that is untrue. Their simple lifestyle is also not due to not knowing any better - it is that they truly see people as people, and there is no such thing as “better”. When we learn not to draw defined lines according to cultural lenses, humanity takes on a whole new meaning. I’ve struggled for a long time to connect with a culture that was far from me, but I visited and discovered something I didn’t expect: countries, cultures and boundaries don’t define who you are. People are people across time zones, skin color and languages. It comes down to understanding that we all share the same needs, wants, fears and dreams no matter who we are. I’m still doing my best to learn, love and understand just like everyone else. The more time I spent in Samoa, the more the thought occurred to me, “Oh, what a beautiful people.” Then I remember that I am one of them. Yes, ultimately our circumstances make us unique and individual, but how human are we if we use them as limitations or superiorities? Be true to who you are and celebrate the differences you find in others.
In late 2017, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “Anyone who claims superiority under the Father’s plan because of characteristics like race, sex, nationality, language, or economic circumstances is morally wrong and does not understand the Lord’s true purpose for all of our Father’s children.” I am grateful for our Peacebuilding Program here at Brigham Young University - Hawaii that allowed me to have this introspective experience. I may have come to this realization later in life but having experienced the wonder and awe of so many cultures outside my own within Laie, I think diversity is key to conflict resolution. When we connect deeply despite our distinctions, we touch Zion."
Written by Bella Bigley