Almost every traveler fantasizes about life on a remote South Pacific island—a thatched-roof cottage ringed by date palms, white sand beaches, and turquoise colored surf. I wanted to live this idyllic lifestyle, not just dream it. I had already fulfilled my wishes to go on a safari, hike the Dead Sea, and roam the ancient bazaars of Istanbul, so why not a tropical isle? The beauty of the working vacation concept is that you are free to choose and plan whatever fantasy you want, and this was mine.
So, on a particularly cold Minnesota winter day I drove to our local bookstore and purchased the Lonely Planet’s Guide to the South Pacific. Each night before bed I would read about the island nations that dot the Pacific until I could discourse intelligently on the cultures of Fiji, the handicrafts of New Caledonia, the bird life of Samoa, and the beaches of Tonga. Eventually I found that one perfect Eden, the place visited so often in my dreams—the tiny island nation of Palau, about five hundred miles due east of the Philippines. The guidebook’s photographs were a globe-trekker’s dream, and it did not take much on that cold January night to convince me that this pearl of the Pacific should be our next working vacation destination.
The only institution of higher education in the Republic of Palau is Palau Community College (PCC), a two-year vocational school. This type of career-oriented junior college is thoroughly different in curriculum and philosophy from my school in St. Paul, a highly selective four-year liberal arts college. However, when it comes to planning a working vacation such differences are immaterial. I was not going there to carry out high-level research or puff up my résumé; I simply wanted a place to spend a few glorious months living and working. Don’t be overly picky when it comes to evaluating working vacation opportunities—focus on the location and the cultural experience, not the institution.
I now knew where I was going to apply and felt fully confident that Ruth and I would soon be on our way to the South Pacific. After all, every other time I planned a working vacation it had come to fruition. I was ready to buy snorkels, swim fins, and lay in a good-sized stash of SPF 50. But, alas, this time it was not to be. I will tell you why next time, and let you know what to do when disappointment strikes.