Humans of UP: When you live so far away, after grad plans become a bigger decision.
By Nicola Plate, Eli Stanphill, and Tyler Zimmerman
It’s that time of year again: with graduation less than a week away, seniors are getting ready for the big move away from college and on to the next step in their lives. Walking across that stage means walking into the real world.
But the real world does not always immediately mean living independently after leaving the Bluff. According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of college graduates ages 18 to 31, were living at home with their parents in 2012. For the many seniors without jobs lined up, living at home seems like a reasonable option and often an easy choice to make. When you consider that over 50 percent of the students at this university are from either Oregon or Washington, and 22.2 percent are from the Portland area alone, returning home for a little while seems like a reasonable option for most students.
But for others, the choice does not come as easily. “Going home for the summer, for us, basically means you’re going back home to stay,” says Anthony Sholing II, a senior marketing major at the University of Portland. By “us” he means students from the US island territory of Guam. Due to distance, cost, and cultural challenges, the choice of whether or not to move back home to Guam is far from easy.
What is Guam?
Guam is a U.S. Territory surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea. Sitting 5,675 miles from Portland, this small island has an area of 544 square kilometers and an estimated population of only 161,000 people.
The island’s motto, “Where America’s Day Begins,” is a indication of how far away it is. Guam is across the International Date Line which makes it 17 ahead of the West Coast and therefore the first U.S. land that the sun greets every morning.
The closest state to Guam is Hawaii, which is a seven hour flight away. Total travel time to the Portland, OR is about 18 hours, but with lay overs, it takes about 24 hours to get from Guam to the mainland.
This is no small trip.
Money doesn’t grow on coconut trees
It’s no cheap trip either.
“The money is just ridiculous,” said Michie Sasai, a senior biology student. “The college itself is expensive, but then the flying and the having to buy everything brand new since we can’t ship anything, or its at least not without spending a lot of money.”
A quick search reveals that a round trip ticket to from Portland to Guam from May 4 to June 4 of this year, will cost just under 1900 dollars. To put that into perspective, you could get to and from Portland International Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City four times during the same month and not spend that much.
Joseph Taitano, also a senior student majoring in Electrical Engineering, says that the flying cost is a stressful part of choosing to go to college so far away. Taitano added that the prices add up for his parents since his brother, Jeremiah Taitano, is freshman at UP.
The UP/Chamorro Connection
Despite the distance, the University of Portland has a relatively large population of students from the tiny Pacific Island. About 1.78 percent of the student body at UP call this little island home according to the Development Office, and the number has only been growing. During the 2011-2012 academic year, when the current seniors were freshman, there was only one graduating senior from the island.
This year there are eleven.
The University of Portland also has the Guam Club, which has over 100 members according to Eleina Santos, the club’s president. The club hosts the annual Guam Night, which is a celebration of the Chamorro culture, the native ethnicity of the people from Guam. This event, which has been going on for eleven years, draws over 200 student and faculty. This year’s Guam Night on April 10, 2015, had a packed house on the new side of the commons within 20 minutes of opening the doors.
The undergraduate Chamorro student population is high given the relative size of Guam, but the connection does not stop there; UP has a Guam Partnership Program for a Masters in Education. This program, which as been going on for over 30 years, is based on Guam and UP professors travel to the island to administer classes with a focus in Education Leadership.
The Dilemma: What to do after graduation?
Even with these connections, Portland is far from home (both in literal distance and in culture). Most seniors in college, regardless of where they are from, probably experience some sort of anxiety pertaining to their lives once they leave the bluff. But when you cannot just take a quick flight home, life gets a little more complicated. Not everyone has 1900 dollars lying around.
Sasai knows this all to well. She’s been planning her post-grad life for the last year, after her parents asked her to decide between going back to Guam or staying in Oregon. Family, she says, is a big part of the Chamorro culture, which is definitely a factor in the decision to stay or go back home for most students from Guam.
She says that the amount of planning that has to go into it and tough decisions have to happen long before graduation. “We don’t have the luxury of going home and then coming back whenever we want,” she said. And at almost 2000 dollars and two day total travel time, it is not exactly feasible to fly out for job interviews or to look for housing.
“Decisions that should take time and normally most people would think about and sleep on, we can’t do that.”
After a quick survey of the eleven seniors, two are going back to work in Guam, two are staying in Portland for a job in the area, five are also staying nearby for a few more months and hoping to find jobs, and two did not comment on their post-grad plans.
Ultimately, Sasai, is one of the two who decided to stay in Portland, with a job lined up. She will work as a nursing assistant in SW Portland. Her significant other, Taitano, has decided to stay with her, but he has yet to find a job, though comments that he will continue looking until he finds one.
Sasai and Taitano have made the decision to stay, but a few of the seniors are still torn about their decision. One such person is Bruce Julian, a senior mechanical engineering major. Julian has a job offer on Guam which he describes as “really good,” but is planning on staying in Portland to look for a job here.
But if he cannot find work out here, he will ultimately go back home for at least a few years.
Part of the appeal of going home is the same as it is for all students returning home from college: live rent-free for a little while and save up some money. Julian says that if he goes back to Guam, he will be able to pay off his student loans quicker. “That would be awesome if I could do that. But I don’t want to go home, though,” says Julian. He has a place to live until the end of July; he’s hoping to find a job before then.
Some students were a little bit more optimistic about the job prospects, even if they do not have one lined up. “I just signed a year lease, so I better find a job,” laughs Sholing. The UP student will be moving to Beaverton, Oregon immediately after graduation. He plans to room with a friend from California. He’s not too worried about finding a job though, he reflects. Sholing has to finish up a summer class after graduation, so he will be using that time to look for jobs in the Portland area.
“It also helps that I have an uncle who lives in the area,” added Sholing. Like Sasai, he thinks family is important aspect of his culture. “It’s nice to know that even if I stay, I have relatives near bye. It definitely made the decision easier.”
Whatever the decision, it is not an easy one. It is, however, a necessary choice that all the students from Guam have to make around the time of their graduation. While the job prospects are often greater here in Portland, going back to the island provides its own sense of security. Most of these students graduating this year are planning on staying in Portland if they can find jobs. However, despite their different majors, careers, and future plans, they can all agree on one thing: Guam will always always have a special place in their hearts as their first home.
Disclaimer: Ane of the authors of this story, Nicola Plate, is a student from Guam and she is close friends with every student from Guam featured in this story.
Categories: Humans of UP