As he sits under a gazebo chewing betel nut, Xavier Michael, who grew up on the remote island of Falalop in Yap State, (part of the Federated States of Micronesia FSM) quite literally wears his migrant past. His bottom half is draped in a native thu, contrasting with the American sports tank top that covers his chest.
At the age of 30, Michael left his home in the FSM for the first time after being accepted into the Job Corps program in Sacramento, California.
“The first thing I noticed was lots of lights. Very nice,” he said, gesturing a landing plane with his hand. Michael had left FSM in search of adventure and a chance at new skills that would help him support his family. He left with an open-mind, despite being warned of the potential perils that he would face abroad. “I heard that this school was just for high school dropouts, tough people. But when I got there, none of that was correct,” Michael reminisced.
Besides a cousin that lived in San Jose, Michael knew no one in the place he would call home for the next year and seven months. “I heard if you make friends, you’re free. If you don’t make friends, you’re gonna get homesick.” He wasted no time setting out to make friends.
A soft-spoken man with a gentle demeanor, Michael stepped far out of his comfort zone, making an effort to introduce himself to everyone he met. “I have a lot of friends now. Mexican friends, Chinese friends, Vietnamese friends, black American friends, white American friends, and actually now we even still write each other,” he explained.
During his year-long stint at the Job Corps, Michael studied painting and maintenance. When he’d finished the program, he found employment as a handyman for a Korean landlord in Sacramento. He felt that he was treated well and appreciated the good wages and working conditions of the US. After seven months of working and saving his money, Michael returned to Falalop to take care of his parents.
His new friends presented him souvenirs before his departure, many of which he’s kept to this day. However, it’s a single memory that forged the most profound impact on Michael during his time abroad.
Michael’s voice swelled with pride as he spoke of it. “The most memorable thing was the Golden Gate Bridge. When I saw it, I was happy, so, so happy because I knew when I came back here my family and friends would see it in a lot of shows on TV and I could say I’ve been there, ” he smiled.