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Interview with Kara - an American expat living in Guam

Updated 31 Mar 2020

Kara Williams and her family have been living in Guam with their three children. They moved to the island in 2018 with plans to return home to Tennessee in 2020. But they fell in love with island life and hope to extend their time there. If the opportunity arises, they highly encourage others to move to Guam, especially people with children. To them, Guam is a unique place full of indescribable experiences. According to Kara, Guam will leave everyone with a little piece of their heart forever longing for that island breeze.

This American expat family post about their adventures on Instagram under the handle @livinghappily.ever.after

Read more about expat life in Guam in our Expat Arrivals Guam guide.

About Karakara guam

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Knoxville, Tennessee.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Tamuning, Guam.

Q: When did you move here?
A: August 2018.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse or family?
A: With a spouse and three children, ages two, five and seven at the time of our move.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband’s career presented the opportunity to move as a family. Before this, he had individual assignments in non-family-friendly areas of the world.

Living in Tamuning

Q: What do you enjoy most about Tamuning? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the US?
A: The opportunity to experience new cultures with a little bit of American familiarity is what we have enjoyed most. The year-round summer with ocean views is pretty nice too! Life on this island is a bit like a step back in time. Being a US territory, there are certainly modern American conveniences on the island but also many things that existed decades ago.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: We have always been warned about petty crime. Fortunately, we have not been victims of any such problems. We have had an overall positive experience here. 

We miss friends and family most, and the ability to drive somewhere for a weekend getaway.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Guam? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The biggest adjustment has been adapting to island time. We have learned it’s a real thing. When you move from a place with lots of hustle and bustle and everyone constantly going at full speed, it takes some time to get used to a slower pace. Very few people are ever in a hurry.

We have not experienced culture shock so to speak, but we have learned a lot about the different cultures that make up Guam. It has been so interesting.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to Tennessee? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Guam?
A: We moved from Tennessee with a very affordable cost of living. Guam uses the American dollar as it is a US territory and it has a very high cost of living. Milk, produce and many other grocery items are very expensive. Scuba diving certifications can be found cheaper here than other areas.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Tamuning? 
A: Public transport is essentially non-existent here. There is a trolley system in a very limited area at the heart of the tourist strip, but no public transport for locals. There are several taxis and an attempt at a ride-share service, but neither are popular with residents.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare Tamuning? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? 
A: Guam does not have a positive reputation for their healthcare services. We have personally had three negative experiences including a hospital visit and private practice, but also positive experiences elsewhere. There are some very well-liked private practices. 

Many people go off-island to the Philippines, Honolulu or California for specialist care and more complicated cases or surgeries.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Tamuning or Guam? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: One safety issue for new expats is learning about the waters here. There are often rip currents and drowning does happen. There are very few signs and lifeguards around the island. So, it is up to the person to check the weather and the water forecast and to be aware of which areas to avoid.

The creatures found in the water are another water safety concern. There are a few poisonous sea creatures here that all should learn about before entering the water. 

Another safety issue is hiking in unfamiliar areas. Flash floods with afternoon rains can happen quickly near many of the trails, and waterfalls can become quite dangerous. Hikers may become disoriented hiking in the heat of the jungle. Theft in parking lots at the start of hiking trails is possible as well. 

I suppose you could consider typhoons and earthquakes safety issues as well. Typhoons hit during the summer and fall months and small earthquakes happen regularly. Fortunately, I have never experienced a major earthquake resulting in damage or a tsunami while living here.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Tamuning? What different options are available for expats?
A: Housing is variable here, depending on your budget and preference. The cost of housing is high overall. There are many options including apartments, cliff-side condos, beach-front condos, villas, townhouses, and small and large cement homes. There are some individual properties with private gates, which are common, and some neighbourhoods with gated entrances, with and without security.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: The villages around the airport are the most central and safest. The top three I would recommend are Tamuning, Barrigada, and Tumon and Upper Tumon.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Tamuning?
A: This island is much like a revolving door with expats and military continuously coming and going, and tourism is one of the main industries here. Tourists primarily consist of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. There are many from other countries who live here full time as well. Because there are so many different cultures here, I believe the locals are generally very accepting. We have tried to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible and have never experienced discrimination while living here.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Meeting people is easy because so many are in the same situation. Many people are here for a known duration, usually 2-3 years, and move on. It’s a unique place to live with so many cultures coming and going. 

Once you meet a handful of people, you quickly learn just how small the island is. Everyone knows everyone and before you know it, you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you have met before.

We met people through our children’s school and activities. We also connected with a family that lived here through mutual friends. Once you begin discussing Guam back home, it’s amazing to see how many people all over have some type of connection to Guam.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: We have made friends with all types of people and families. Our children play on some teams with mostly locals and other teams with mostly expats. Their schools consist of both. I think sports, local events and festivals are the best way to meet and learn about the locals.

Working in Tamuning

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: If you are an American expat, no visa is needed as Guam is a US territory. US policies apply to all others who may be looking to move here, but I am not aware of the specifics. I am a physician assistant and could practice here with the same requirements as other US states. I would have to go through the licensing process for Guam to practice, but I have chosen to stay at home with my children while living here.

Q: What is the economic climate in Tamuning like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The economy was doing well in recent months. However, with the spread of coronavirus, the tourism industry has taken a huge hit and is currently suffering greatly. There is presently a build-up taking place to accommodate a US Marine base relocation to the island. This is providing many opportunities for those involved in all aspects of building a new military base.

Word-of-mouth is the best way to find a job on the island. Many expats typically move here due to a job. Certain industries allow for many options while others are more limited. Tourism, construction and government contract work are the main industries.

Q: How does the work culture differ in the US? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Tamuning or Guam? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: Work culture here is very different because of the lack of longevity. Many people are here for short periods and many businesses have high turnover. 

One aspect that stands out to me is that it is not uncommon for businesses to periodically close for random amounts of time, for example, closing the business for a lunch break or several hours in the afternoon for a family obligation.

Family and children

Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home in Guam? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: We have adjusted well. I find having children with us has helped tremendously with our adjustment as they adapt so quickly and so well. The challenges would be what normally comes with any move, meeting new people and finding a new sense of community.

Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: Our children settled in surprisingly quickly. This was their first move ever, so I think they did remarkably well. I believe moving from Guam will also be challenging as they are so comfortable here. 

Moving so far away from friends and family and trying to stay connected with a 15 to 18 hour time difference has been a challenge. This is also our children’s first time being a minority which has presented some interesting and unexpected challenges along the way. It has been a learning experience for us all on how to process those challenges as a young child.

Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in Tamuning?
A: We love to go to local festivals. There are so many cultures and holidays from around the world that are celebrated here. It has been so much fun learning more about them hands on. We also really enjoy the beaches and the many different options for weekend fun in the sun.

Q: What are the schools like?
A: Several private schools have great reputations. Some public schools have better reputations than others. Our experiences with a local preschool and private elementary school have been better than we could have ever hoped for. It will certainly be difficult to leave when the time comes.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Tamuning or Guam?
A: Moving to Guam is an incredibly special experience. It is indescribable, and if you’re here for any length of time, you will quickly understand. Come to the island with an open mind and a willingness to embrace a slower, more old-fashioned way of life. Immerse yourself in the people and culture. Take advantage of your location and explore locally and abroad.

► Interviewed March 2020

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