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Tonga: Tongan Culture and the Island Environment

A University of Utah Study Abroad Course  

Tongan Culture and the Island Environment

2016 Dates TBA (Timeframe is May-June)

The Kingdom of Tonga is a peaceful tropical island nation with an economy based on subsistence horticulture, cash-cropping, fishing, limited marked and wage labor and a large remittance economy. While monetary aid from neighboring nations has provided amenities such as water tanks and some market infrastructure, household economies are primarily based on yields from agriculture, kinship relationships and remittances from overseas.

This course will provide instruction into the culture, history and language of Tonga while further involving students in the collection of ethnographic data. Since studying cultures not only involves documenting the beliefs and behaviors of individuals but also the environment in which they live, much time will be spent introducing students to Tonga's natural environment. Former student Daniel Hernandez made this video about his experience:



Course Instructor

The students will be taking four credit hours of University of Utah anthropology course 4960/6960 with Dr. Adrian Bell as the primary instructor. The general topics to be covered are: the island environment, subsistence strategies in a mixed economy, labor markets, kinship relations, and Tongan cultural evolution at home and abroad. For four weeks student will conduct anthropological research in three three major groups of islands: Tongatapu, Ha'apai, and Vava'u. During this time the program director will guide research activities and review student progress.



Contact Information

Program Director: Dr. Adrian V. Bell (

Center for Learning Abroad (

Learning Abroad Peer Advisors and available from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, Monday through Friday to help students answer questions and assist with the application process. You can visit room 159 in the Olpin Student Union Building to speak with a Peer Advisor.



Students will earn four Anthropology 4960/6960 credits. Participation in the program will fulfill the Bachelor degree International Requirement (IR).


Approximate Program Dates

2016 DATES TBA, Announced each year during the Spring Semester.  See Center for Learning Abroad Website for deadlines and complete details.




Excursions and Activities

Excursions on the islands will include important historical sites such as the royal tombs, other lithic structures, and wildlife viewing. Because Tongans rely on a wide variety of marine resources, students will become familiar with the marine environment. Whale watching, snorkeling, scuba diving (if certified) will be conducted under the guidance of trained instructors/guides. Kayaking and out-rigger canoeing will also be available to students.



Students will be staying with host families in local villages for the majority of the program. While studying on-site at 'Atensisi Institute, housing will be provided by that host institution.


Pre-Departure Orientation

Learning abroad orientation is conducted on-line. If you are accepted into the program, you will receive information about orientation. In addition to on-line orientation, there may be program meetings on campus. Participants will be contacted when this information is available. In meetings and on-line orientation, participants will receive course information and travel details as well as information about the University of Utah's policies for learning abroad. All students should read the Learning Abroad Handbook found in the Student section of the Center for Learning Abroad website before departure.


Program Cost

Estimated cost: Around $2,800, varying depending on enrollment. This amount includes the following:
Tuition, lodging, ground transportation, entrance fees, and international health insurance.  This fee does *not*include: Airfare to/from
Tonga, passport, personal expenses (souvenirs, for example).


A $500 initial program payment is due at the time in which you submit your application. The fee is put toward the total cost of the program. Instructions for paying this fee are found in the online application form. Billing statements are sent to your Umail account during the semester before departure. Although not anticipated, the program fee may change due to fluctuation of currency exchange rates and contracted agencies, or number of participants.

Scholarships are available! Contact the Center for Learning Abroad for more information.



Eligibility Requirements

Minimum age of 18. A minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 must be met at the time applications are reviewed and sustained until departure. Course pre-requisites must be completed before departure. Students must be in good academic and judicial standing with the University. Open to ALL majors.

Students at other colleges or universities, alumni and qualified members of our community are welcome to apply to participate in U of U learning abroad programs.

All students must attend one short information session with Learning Abroad. 

Application Deadline

Application deadline for 2016: February 15, 2016

Apply online on the Center for Learning Abroad's website. Late applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis with an additional non-refundable $100 fee, up to 30 days after the initial deadline or until the program is full.



Last Updated: 11/28/16