“Palau? Isn’t that, like, from Star Wars?”

by Connor Jackson

“Isn’t that, like, from Star Wars?” That seems to be a pretty typical response when I tell my friends that I am spending my summer abroad on the distant islands of Palau and Guam. I must admit, when I first heard about the trip, even I was unsure of where we were heading on the map.

But really, Star Wars isn’t that different. For a freshman living in Los Angeles, an escape to Micronesia is just as far-fetched as living in a George Lucas film. Instead of trying to sleep amongst the sounds of South Figueroa, bustling angrily with its helicopters, police sirens, and traffic, I will instead be conducting my course work in a comparative paradise, with the only the sounds of ocean waves to distract me.

I tell my friends where I will be spending the summer — they can’t believe it. While many are returning from their first year of college eager to share stories of their freshman year, I will be embarking on an even greater adventure. I guess college changes you for the best, and for that reason this trip is a unique privilege with huge responsibilities. Instead of returning to my old job as an Old Navy sales rep, I have the opportunity to dive in some of the best and most pristine reefs in the world. Instead of facing relative minimal responsibility this summer, I am now conducting research that will hopefully help to preserve some of the most fragile and beautiful places on Earth. It’s a truly life-changing experience.

It is an even greater feeling to know that I am so close to leaving on the journey. Currently, I am sitting 50 meters away from the Catalina Island waterfront at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. We have been here since Monday finishing our final training and preparing for the weeks ahead. An hour ago, I was in 12 meters of seawater in Fisherman’s Cove establishing a transect to record the density of sea-grass in the area. It’s pretty easy to say that this is a lifestyle I could get used to. We only have a couple more dives until our group is finally ready to head to Guam and Palau, and believe me, we can’t wait. Diving into 50 degree water in full wetsuits only reminds us of the 80 degree reefs around the corner. Talk about the trip of a lifetime.

I can’t wait to keep you posted once we’re in Guam and Palau. Until then, bon voyage! Or as they say in Guam…buen biahe!

Connor Jackson is a freshman from Southern California majoring in Environmental Studies. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors, working toward a cause, and, of course, diving.

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