FRESH OUT OF Father Duenas Memorial School in 1987, life seemed perfect for Carlos Taitano. He still lived with his parents then, was happy with his relationships, and ready to attend the University of Guam without any thought of going elsewhere.
A trip over the summer, however, was destined to change his trajectory.
Taitano went to Oregon for a wedding. Out of left field, his cousin leaped at the opportunity to talk about the University of Portland. "He had gone there, and he arranged meetings for me to meet the president of the school. I toured the campus and even met the dean," Taitano recalled.
By fall, he was enrolled. "I felt like I had been tricked into it. But it was the best decision of my life."
Today, Taitano is the director of Professional & International Programs at the University of Guam. Although he sings the praises of attending college off-island, he's also on the recruitment team for UOG, urging others to attend college locally.
"I have my master's degree from the University of Guam. The academic and classroom experience I had here was just as good, if not better, than what I had in the University of Portland. That's no knock on Portland. But the difference between going to school on Guam and going to school in the mainland is all the other life experiences of being away from home and not having that safety net across the hall, Mom and Dad being right there," Taitano explained.
Attending school at UP brought on a sobering sense of growing up by himself, something new to the then teen. "My sister left me written instructions on how to do laundry. Those were the struggles of being away from home. When you were in high school you had to do everything you were told. In college, it's up to you to do it," Taitano said.
Taking the big plunge, he rented a house with family and jumped right into school. He found his place with other Guamanians in the rugby team. He also made his first big mistake by signing up for the earliest classes possible then realizing he couldn't wake up on time to make them. "I remember I failed miserably on my first speech, I struggled the whole way through. That was an eye-opening experience. This isn't high school. It was college and I had to dial it in," he remembered.
But by his last presentation, Taitano was polished. His instructor even took him aside to tell him how moved he was by his work. "There was that growth, the ‘I can do this’ kind of a feeling," he said.
Taitano had been pursuing a business degree in Marketing, but looking back, he admitted academics were second to his overall experience of being away.
The transition from a tiny island in the Pacific to a bustling city in Oregon was no doubt a big change. But it was still a fairly laid-back community, a "tofu-eating, hugging-hugging hippie town."
"It was where I first went to a Grateful Dead concert, Taitano reminisced. “Four guys from Guam all hopped in my car. We brought a pot of rice and a pack of hot dogs and a change of clothes. We were there for three days. It was a good time watching people, that culture."
Proximity-wise, Oregon was convenient. It gave him plenty of opportunities to travel as far as his car and cash could take him. He could make cash on the side during summer, working with his roommate who was a grass seed farmer. They'd drive up to his city for the weekend, chop wood, and do other jobs.
Being in Oregon also gave him the opportunity to attend a few professional sporting events, including the NBA games of the Portland Trailblazers. Heading south, they'd hit Disneyland, Cancun, and even Tijuana for spring break. "The opportunities were endless," Taitano said. He made plenty of friends along the way, those from Guam, as well as others from across the country—friendships he keeps to this day via technology.
"...the difference between going to school on Guam and going to school in the mainland is all the other life experiences of being away from home and not having that safety net across the hall, Mom and Dad being right there."
"I came back in 1992, and I was on the five-year program. I remember my dad saying that if I don't graduate, I'm on my own. I tried to string it out as long as I could because it was fun," he added.
Today, Taitano has his own senior at FD, and is excited he's chosen to pursue his education on Guam. "I've been on both sides of the fence, and understand the opportunities available to him. I also know the importance of being away, being abroad," he said.
For students who want to attend UOG and for those who can't afford an off-island education, Guam’s university offers programs like the National Student Exchange for a taste of education beyond our shores. "Going off-island was the best experience of my life, period,” Taitano quipped. “I want to give my son a more enriching experience by [letting him study] in Japan or somewhere in the U.S. mainland, in addition to earning his degree at the University of Guam."
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