Discovering Palau: Matthew Kelleher in exotic Micronesia


By Jessica Doran

Need to find a great vacation spot? How about Palau? We caught up with Matthew Kelleher ‘12, an anthropology major who spent the last three months in Palau, an island in Micronesia. When asked why he chose Palau, Kelleher responded, “It sounded exotic…and somewhere I had never heard of or been.” And exotic it certainly was. Micronesia is near the equator and as such, “it was quite hot and humid.”

The experience was completely different from any other program he had ever been on. He stayed with a host family: a grandfather, grandmother, mother, and brother. They accepted him graciously into their home, and he settled in well. He raved about how the Palauan people were “kind and generous, and very open.” In fact, his favorite part about the trip was being immersed in the Palauan culture. While pizza and French fries are not the typical Palauan culinary experience, Kelleher managed to gain weight, eating taro (a potato–like substance), tapioca, and fried fish. “I had lots of fish!” Kelleher added.

Palau is renowned for its reefs and wildlife. Scuba diving was the most fun thing Kelleher did in Palau.  He decided before he went on the trip that he was going to participate in the activity.

The water is so warm that a wet suit wasn’t even necessary.

He said the experience was amazing.

Palau is similar in many ways to America as it has been under United States control since World War II.  The Union College group on the program met lots of other Americans. Kelleher noticed that they mostly sold American candy, in addition to some of the Asian variety.  The biggest cultural difference, aside from the language and weather, was the matriarchal emphasis on the island.  Families are related through the mother figure.  The Union students studied this unique aspect of the culture anthropologically.

Kelleher worked at an internship in addition to studying Anthropology. He worked at the Bureau of Arts and Culture, a place that worked to preserve Palauan culture.

Before Kelleher went abroad he did not know what to expect but now that he is back at Union, “it felt like a dream.”


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