by Raquel Rodriguez
One of the most memorable aspects of this trip that I will bring home with me is the generosity of the Chamorros and Palauans. I’m not going to lie, I was a little apprehensive being an American tourist in such a large group of students. I didn’t want our group to be looked down upon as intrusive or obnoxious with our vivacity of excitement. I quickly realized how wrong I was, as everyone we met and spoke with was so kind and helpful. Whether it was a free ride back to the hotel or directions to the nearest ATM, everyone was more than willing to help our group in the most sincere manner.
Kim, who traveled separately from the group, met a local resident on the plane who fell in love with the idea of how USC students were visiting to do scientific research in support of environmental conservation. While we were in Guam, she met up with us at the hotel to bring us cases of water and snacks for the boat between dives. She and her family even had all 24 of us over for a true Chamorran cultural dinner in her beautiful home. We all were so grateful to be recipients of this generosity and I overheard many students saying how they want to “pay it forward” when they were back in LA.
When on the island of Peleliu in Palau, the group found a stray puppy that was abandoned and in much need of care if it was going to survive. Instantly, we fell in love with her and named her Peleliu, after the beautiful island that was once destroyed by the effects of WWII. With all of us being animal-lovers, we had to take her back with us to the hotel to see if it was possible to get her veterinary attention and take her home to the U.S. One of the guides from Sam’s Tours, Malahi, was kind enough to take me on her day off of work to the veterinarian and animal shelter. Even though I was very sad to hear Peleliu wouldn’t be able to be taken to the U.S. unless she was quarantined for three-and-a-half months, I was reassured that she would be adopted or at least found a foster home. Sherman, the veterinary assistant said that because “everyone knows everyone” on Palau, they wouldn’t adopt her out to just anyone, but rather someone who is responsible and will provide a good home for her. Sherman gave me his contact information and said he would update me with pictures while Malahi assured that she would check up on the little puppy and make sure she was doing well.
Thinking that I missed the kayaking trip through the Rock Islands since I went to the vet that last morning in Palau, I definitely wasn’t expecting a personal boat ride from Sam’s Tours so that I could meet up with the rest of the group. On the boat I talked to the captain who told me a little about Palau’s history and how the small island population allows the people to keep one another in check for the most part. Even though there are problems of “betel nut chewing and laziness,” the captain said not one resident is homeless in Palau. Listening to him speak about a culture so vastly different from my own was intriguing and made me even want to live here one day just to experience this type of culture and lifestyle.
The locals we encountered did not have to go out of their way to do any of this. It’s difficult to describe their passion, generosity, and sincerity, but it was definitely felt by all of us. I believe this trip gave everyone a new perspective on other cultures and taught us much about giving back to others — in addition to all of the learning experiences diving and performing research on the reefs of Micronesia. This trip is one that none of us will ever forget and was by far the most memorable experience of my life that I will cherish forever.
Raquel Rodriguez is a senior in environmental studies in USC Dornsife.