Join our adventure in The Kingdom of Tonga

Night classes, Tongan jump ropes, and teaching to speak “Palangi”

In Tonga, class six students are expected to pass rigorous exams in order to go on to high school.  The test in English is quite crucial for future academic success… To help my students prepare, I have volunteered to teach night classes.  When I volunteered, I expected maybe five or six students to attend.  After a long day of school, I certainly didn’t think night school would be all the rage for 11 and 12 year olds!  You can imagine my surprise when I walked into the classroom and saw approximately 35 kids!!  Some of them were even from a different school in a neighboring village.  Perhaps their parents forced them to attend… I’m not sure.  Regardless, there certainly is a high respect for education.  I can’t say that all of my students are motivated to learn, but a majority of them take their lessons incredibly seriously!

It is so interesting, because rarely are my classes called “English classes.”  It is much more common to hear that I am teaching the students to “speak like a palangi.”  The word “palangi” is something we hear all of the time.  Children and adults alike yell the term (not maliciously, but rather as an observation) anytime Scot or I walk or ride our bikes past a Tongan.  The term basically means foreigner, but according to “Making Sense of Tonga: A Visitor’s Guide to the Kingdom’s Rich Polynesian Culture” the literal definition means “people from the sky.”  The book notes, “When Captain Cook sailed into Tonga, the locals thought the tall masts of the ship went into the sky so they called the people papalangi.  And since only white people came off the boat, palangi evolved to mean “white people.”  It is so bizarre to think that I am teaching students how to speak “like a white person or foreigner.”  Especially when you consider that English is not only language spoken by foreigners!

At the end of the day, the school lessons are often on how to make a Tongan craft.  Yesterday I watched students husk coconuts and braid the inner part of the dried frounds to make jump ropes!   The ability to use every part of the tree and its fruit was incredibly inspiring.  I am going to have to get a photo to honor their creativity and resourcefulness!


  Anne wrote @

So is there detention for the students that misbehave 🙂

Miss you!!!

  Katrina wrote @


I’m really interested in becoming a teacher in Tonga, preferably Vava’u. My parents are from Tonga, but I was born an American. Anyway, please feel free to email me if you know of any job opp.s in teaching or just working for the government in general. I’m hoping to come in early Oct. 😀

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