When we first moved to Guam, culture shock hit me hard. I would say to my husband, “the only souvenir we need from here is our son.” (Our son was born on the island.) The Chamorro (local) culture here is just so different from the life I was used to. The high cost of living, the limited everything, and the year round boiling hot weather were all too much for me to take.
Now, after two years on the rock, we are nearing the end of our time here. Much to my surprise, I have discovered that there will be more of Guam coming home with us than just our son and boonie dogs.
These are the life lessons that I had to move to a tiny island to learn and now hope to take with me when we go.
With island life comes island time. I thought the south was slow-paced, but it is New York City compared to Guam. Being a military brat, punctuality has always been important to me. Boy did that go out the window when we moved here. The first time experiencing true island time was when I scheduled a maintenance appointment for our house. The appointment was set for 3, but when 3 o’clock hit, there was no maintenance man to be found. At 3:30, I decided to call the office to see what was going on, and they assured me that the worker was on his way. At 4 o’clock, my doorbell rang, and there stood a maintenance man with a Burger King cup in his hand. When sharing my experience with long-time residents, they didn’t see the issue. Over time, I have learned that no amount of complaining, getting frustrated, or yelling is going to change anything. After 2 years, I just laugh in my head when someone says, “I’ll be there at 3.” Instead of stressing over time, I just assume the person will be late, which has forced me to learn the patience I have always been lacking.
2. We can survive without cable
One of the major downsides of being on Guam is the fact that there are only 3 cable providers, all of which have insane rates for service. Cell phones and internet are necessary to keep up with life, but cable is just a luxury. My time on Guam has been the only time in my 21 years when I have not had cable. I didn’t even know what to do with myself at first; you can only binge watch your Netflix shows so many times. We invested in Hulu, Amazon Prime, and took advantage of the apps on our smart TV and Xbox 1. Now, having cable seems like a thing of the past and just another superfluous bill.
3. Chamorro BBQ is amazing
Being a Southern girl, I have always been a dedicated American BBQ lover, particularly Kansas City and Memphis BBQ. International BBQ had never been on my radar because I assumed it was a pathetic attempt at replicating American BBQ. A friend of mine forced me to go try some local foods shortly after we got here, and I was hooked. It is a whole different type of barbecue, nothing like the American kind. It is usually pork and chicken cutlets on a skewer, not usually on the bone or pulled. The flavor is impossible to put into words besides saying that it’s absolutely delicious. My husband and I hope to steal the secret recipe to take with us, and I will take with the experience with me to remind me to not knock a food until I try it.
4. How to stay busy without power
Over the past year, Guam’s power plants have been slowly falling apart. At least once a week, we can expect the power to be out for an hour at minimum. At one point, we were having “scheduled” outages every day. But of course due to island time, the “schedule” was never followed. Before living on Guam, power outages were rare and short occurrences usually associated with storms. At this point, I don’t even bat an eye at a power outage. We learned to keep charcoal on hand in case we need to grill dinner. We learned to keep all phones charged at all times because they can be your only entertainment for hours. Mobile hotspot functions are life savers when you are in the middle of important work online (aka watching Netflix). The power being out is not the end of civilization like I assumed it was when I first moved here. You just have to learn to adapt (and keep a battery fan ready to go).
5. How to do without
For only being 30 miles long, Guam actually has more shopping compared to some of the other islands I’ve heard about. We have a Kmart, Macy’s, Ross, and the military members have their NEX and BX. While I am grateful for the stores we do have, they almost all carry the same products. So if the NEX doesn’t have the item and Kmart doesn’t have the item, you are not going to find that item on the island at all. Online shopping is usually our last resort, but sometimes the shipping just makes it not worth the money. As a family, we’ve had to figure out what we really need and what we can do without. Back in Florida, I could go from store to store and usually find whatever I needed by the 3rd one. I used to be incredibly frustrated by the lack of basic things – I once visited 6 different shops just trying to find clear school glue (which I never did find). Dealing with this annoying aspect of island living has forced us to be creative and find swaps for things. There’s no better way to wean yourself off Starbucks than literally having no way to get it. I hope that once we move, we will remember that we can live without everything we think we need.
6. How to appreciate the winter
I still remember one of my professors in college telling me that all he ever wanted in life was to move to Tahiti so he never had to shovel snow. When you’re staring outside at two feet of snow, it is easy to wish that it was summer all year long. Let me tell you, that wish will come back to bite you in the ass, my friend. Living where it is 90+ degrees all year is fun for the first year or so, but you will miss the snow. Growing up in Florida, we didn’t see a lot of snow, but we had cold winters with nights dipping into the lower 30s. I used to curse scrapping my window off at 6am to go to work, but I am anxiously awaiting this seasonal change again. For those who do well in the heat and love it, this point may seem moot to you, but it’s more the feelings that come with winter that I’ve missed. It is hard to enjoy a hot chocolate and watch Christmas movies when it is 105 degrees outside.
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We don’t know where our next adventure will be, but I will be leaving Guam a different person. Island life has a way of teaching us things even when we don’t want to learn them, and for that I will always be grateful.