First Impressions of Tonga | Mint Green Sewing Machine: First Impressions of Tonga

Saturday, August 11, 2012

First Impressions of Tonga


As some of you know, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga from 2009 to 2011. Of course, it was a major life experience which shaped me in so many ways and I think about it often, but in the last few weeks I've found myself thinking of Tonga more and more lately. I think it's because over the last few weeks I've had reunions with three of my best Peace Corps friends, Marie, Sarah, and Toru, which of course always involve a lot of catching up and reminiscing.

 I also realized recently that three years ago in 2009, right around this time, I finally received my country assignment and actually knew I was going to Tonga. It's mind-boggling to think how much my life has changed in the span of those three years. Like most Americans, I had only a vague idea of where Tonga was and only vague notions of what it was like. I knew it was part of Polynesia, and that brought forth images of tropical beaches and palm trees and big, friendly people. Of course, like any stereotype, all of these impressions are partly true, but suffer from a lack of dimension and nuance, and my understanding of the complexities of Tongan history and culture grew deeper and deeper over the course of my two years living and working there. 

Right now, I'm remembering my first days getting to know Tonga and her people, the images that stuck in my mind, how simultaneously beautiful and ugly it was, and how rapidly my world and my mind expanded in my first few months there. Here are some images of my first impressions of Tonga, all taken during our group's pre-service training, that bring me back to those first few months.




  1. Hi Melissa - good to see your blog, very interesting. I was a New Zealand volunteer teacher In Houma, Tongatapu many years ago. By coincidence I have been thinking about my first time in Tonga recently, too, and set up a blog:

    Great photos, too. Where were you? Best wishes - Roger Cowell

    1. Hi Roger, Thanks! I checked out your blog too. It's interesting to compare the volunteer experiences at different times- there's a lot that stayed the same but of course a lot of changes in Tonga since 1969. I was at St. Andrew's School in Nuku'alofa. Happy blogging!

    2. Hi Melissa. Yes, much has changed and much the same. I have returned about 5 or 6 times over the years, and will be there again for a week this November. I knew several people who worked at St. Andrew's back then, too. Tonight on hearing of Neil Armstrong's death, I was reminded of my original year in Tonga. My parents sent newspaper articles about the Apollo 11 moon mission, and I put the photos up on the school room walls. The children in my class were very excited and interested by these pictures and crowded round to examine and discuss who was who, what they were doing.