Letter from Guam
Rebecca Cummings (History ’04)
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Cummings.
Rebecca Cummings (History ’04) wrote this account of her days on Guam, at her father’s request, as a Father’s Day gift. She left Guam in September and is now teaching windsurfing in Hawaii.
Guam is a tiny tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And by tiny, I mean it’s 13 miles wide and takes a little more than two hours to drive around. To drive somewhere 30 minutes away is considered a trek and many people there have never been off of the island. Closer to Asia than it is to Hawaii, and because the economy relies heavily on Japanese and Korean tourists, the locals almost know more about the different Asian cultures than about American culture, even though Guam is a United States territory.
Before I went to Guam, the farthest from home I had ever been was Hawaii. Approximately a 12-hour flight from the East Coast, Hawaii certainly seemed far enough away. Guam, however, is seven hours farther, across the International Date Line, and therefore 18 hours ahead. Moving there to work at a resort, The Pacific Islands Club, after my graduation from the University of Virginia, I was definitely excited but had little idea what to expect. My dad had been stationed with the Air Force on the island 30 years earlier, so I had heard of it. Nevertheless, I had to look it up in an atlas to figure out exactly where it lies. My job, which would consist of teaching windsurfing, taking guests snorkeling and lifeguarding the pools, invoked jealousy from friends and family, but Guam got a different reaction. Though everyone thought I was amazingly daring and adventurous for taking such a big step, I received warnings about the brown tree snakes that had overpopulated the island, the fact that I spoke neither Japanese or Korean and the island fever I was bound to encounter from being on such a small place. My impression was that everyone thought it was great that I was doing such an original thing but that no one else would ever consider it. Flying into the unknown, I was overwhelmed with feelings of excitement, nervousness and anticipation — butterflies, amplified a thousand times.
Immediately, I was taken by the island and its people. Expecting to be greeted a bit standoffishly by the locals, I was surprised to be received in the opposite manner. From the beginning, I was invited to barbecues and local fiestas, on excursions around the island and out to bars and clubs at night. I loved the tropics, the palm trees, the lizards that abound and can be found all over the place all of the time, and the fact that I was amidst all of this during the winter months when my friends and family were freezing. It would be difficult to express in words how much I appreciated everything. I have come to believe the Chamorro people — people from the Marianas Islands — are the most welcoming, open and hospitable people in the world.
While I made friends easily, I did miss my friends from home and school. Friendships formed during high school and college are hard to replace. I kept reminding myself that my closest friends were no longer all in the same town, in a five-mile radius of one another, so even if I were back there things wouldn’t be the same. I realized that I had definitely taken for granted my education and the experiences I am blessed to have had. To compensate I began reading voraciously, and I studied Japanese whenever I had the time.
I learned so much in Guam about myself and other people. I learned Japanese and windsurfing, which led me to a new job in Hawaii with Kailua Sailboards. I learned about Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese cultures and people on the other side of the planet. I know that I will always have a home in Guam if I return. The bottom line is that it was a wonderful experience and I truly enjoyed my time on the island. I did not once see a brown tree snake, or any snake for that matter. I did encounter some island fever, and I saw more lizards than I ever expected to see in my entire life. I got to do something few people ever do in their lives. That is all I could have asked for or expected.