Tag Archives: Palau

Plan A, then Plan B, then Plan C

As described in my last post, I dreamed of living and working on the island paradise of Palau.  So with a cocky swagger, I sent an email off to the head of IT at Palau Community College (PCC) and waited for his eager response. Like clockwork, a “You have mail” icon appeared within the week, but this time its contents were not at all what I wanted to see:

Dear Dr. Schneider,   Thank you for your letter but we have no need for a visiting teacher at this time. Best of luck.

Terse and direct. It certainly exuded a tone of “don’t bother following this up. We don’t have anything.”   This type of response is familiar to any struggling artist, dancer, or writer who has submitted an unsolicited manuscript, answered a cattle call audition, or pitched a movie script. It is also a response that will become familiar to anyone who uses cold calls to locate a working vacation. Much of the time you will get either a polite rejection or no response at all.

Beachcomber Island in Fiji. This is Why I Wanted to Live and Work in the South Pacific

The trick now is not to give up hope as there is a plan B.  However, before starting down that path first send a polite thank-you note saying you are sorry things did not work out but if anything comes up to please keep you in mind. The majority of time this courtesy leads nowhere, but you never know when, against all odds, someone will dig out your letter from the detritus of their inbox and give you a call.  (This is how I got to Bhutan, but that’s a story for another day.)

OK, what now? What is plan B?  Simple—when searching the Web to locate candidate institutions don’t limit yourself to just a single site. Instead, get the name of every place in the country or region that could benefit from your skills because they 1) use English, 2) have a department in your field, and 3) are in a place where you would enjoy living. Then prioritize this list and contact them in order. In a previous posting entitled A Little Mathematics, Maestro, I showed how dramatically cold calling chances improve when you increase the number of institutions contacted. Never use a “one and done” philosophy–think in terms of “the more the merrier.”

In my case I used the Web to identify two other possibilities:  the College of Micronesia and the University of the South Pacific. Both institutions had IT programs, taught in English, and were in luscious tropical locations that would certainly satisfy my idyllic fantasies. Upon receiving that initial rejection I tried again, first sending e-mail to the College of Micronesia in the Federated States of Micronesia, and then to the University of the South Pacific on the island nation of Fiji.  I wish I could say that plan B worked, but sadly, no dice. I was now zero for three. In fact, these two schools never even sent a formal rejection—not a rare occurrence. If you haven’t received a response in two or three weeks double-check that the names and e-mail addresses are correct and resend your inquiry. If you don’t hear a second time, forget it–they aren’t interested.

But, it’s still not time to give up on that dream.  There is a Plan C.


Ask, but Ye Shall Not Always Receive–Part Two

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 Magnificent Rock Islands in the Republic of Palau

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.

The Beautiful Coral Formations To Be Found All Around the Island

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.