University of Guam
I’ve been living in Juneau for about ten or eleven years and as a friend of mine described it, it is like “growing up in a post card.” I love Juneau for so many reasons, but Juneau is one of those places that you love and hate at the same time. I felt that I had been in Juneau for way too long and I was losing my concentration and enthusiasm towards school. I was tired of the rain and the grayness. I desperately wanted sunshine and something else to do so I decided to look into the National Student Exchange (NSE) program.
Honestly, I told myself that I really wouldn’t go through with it. I was freaked by the idea of going somewhere where I didn’t know anyone or anything about the place, especially after living in such a small community. I saw the University of Guam (UoG) as an option for exchange. A friend of mine has family there so I had heard a little bit about it but in all honesty, like many people, I had no idea exactly where Guam was. People confuse it with Guatemala or think it is in the Caribbean, but I did some research and found out it is in the South Pacific, kind of in the middle of nowhere. An eight hour flight just from Hawaii! It is closer to the Philippines and Japan than the states. I researched as best I could about the island and the university. It sounded very interesting and super sunny and I liked the idea of the lifestyle and community being different from the states.
You can choose up to five different schools through the NSE program and at first Guam was my second choice - Florida was my first. Then I suddenly panicked at the thought of living in a huge city like Miami and traded in Guam for my first choice. I honestly did not believe that I would get my first choice - Guam; I had heard that sometimes universities are more difficult to get into so I set myself up for being sent to Florida or California.
Then in March I heard I had been accepted to the UoG. I went through a million different emotional stages: surprised, scared, terrified, then finally calm and okay. I got to the point where I just talked about it. Then suddenly I found myself in my room with all my stuff packed realizing I was about to fly thousands of miles away by myself and I wasn’t coming back for a year.
The whole flight to Guam I cried uncontrollably then became really positive and felt good about it. Then I’d cry again. But since the very night I landed on the island of Guam, I felt like it was the BEST decision I ever made. I missed Juneau a lot, the mountains, the snow (sometimes), my friends and my parents. But I have never second guessed or wondered “what if I stayed in Juneau?” I know that a change is what I needed to revamp my life and get me interested in the world around me again.
So, what did I do while in Guam? I went to school, of course! I also got my scuba diving certification. I visited some awesome WWII wreck dive spots (Japanese and American tankers, planes etc...). I traveled to and dove in Palau. Palau is deemed one of the best diving spots in the WORLD. I saw sharks (nearly 20 at one time), sea turtles, giant lobsters, eels, and so much more. I went to Jellyfish Lake which is a famous fresh water lake that has thousands of jellyfish in it. They range from micro to larger than palm sized. The best part is that they have been contained in this fresh water for so long that they don't have the ability to sting anymore. So you swim with just your snorkel gear. You cannot avoid touching the jellies and it’s amazing to just watch them swarm you.
I also had visitors - my parents! My dad 'revamped' his scuba diving license and went diving with me and my mom got comfortable with snorkeling and saw sea snakes, beautiful fish and corals. They invited my friends and I over to their bunk house for a traditional Guamanian/Chamorro meal and shared salmon, cod, halibut and reindeer sausage that brought from Alaska so that my friends could try it.
I traveled to the island of Saipan for part of Christmas break. Saipan is bigger and more populated than Juneau. It is absolutely beautiful and hot- hot- hot. I toured the Japanese Bonzai and Suicide Cliffs, and some natural wonders like Forbidden and Bird Island and the Botanical Garden.
I took a 30 minute ferry over to the island of Tinian. Tinian is VERY small and VERY green. You can drive around the island in probably 30 minutes. Tinian is where the planes took off with the bombs that were dropped on Japan. Lots of WWII history on the surrounding islands.
I also worked for UoG Green which is an organization that is trying to maintain sustainability, recycling, while promoting green ways of living. The group opened a few new stores and gave out reusable bags and quizzed people on recycling, using less energy and garbage control. The group also monitors what people throw away. But the general duties included recording energy use, recycling accessibility and the like. It made me feel good to be doing ‘green’ stuff. I really felt like the group could help this island and the university.
Academically, I took five courses. The classes were as unique as the professors. The computer teacher is from China and is a little loopy, but knows so much about computers. The nutrition professor is from the Ivory Coast and is so excited about what he teaches that he inspired me every class period. My Sociology professor pushed us hard and required a final project on the military buildup on the island. The result of his encouragement was that I actually got to present the project results at an international conference in Hawaii!
I lived the life of a college student: I was broke; I ate interesting mixtures of food. I lived in a very small space with a lot of other people, shared a bathroom, share a kitchen and all that good stuff and I loved it.
I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to Guam but now I cannot imagine myself anywhere else in the world. Living in Alaska is different for young people because we always have to travel extensively to get just about anywhere, so I felt like I was pretty ‘worldly’ or at least well traveled. But after making the giant journey to this island and experiencing this way of life I realize that there is so much more out there that I not only wanted but NEEDED to see and experience. And yeah, NSE opened up that door for me and more. The little bout of nervousness and a few ‘I miss home’ tears were WAY worth the experience.