The Republic of the Marshall Islands encompasses 29 atolls and five islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Politically independent since 1986, this nation is working to increase its economic independence by encouraging tourism, fishing, and alternative fuel development.
The Marshall Islands are part of the larger Micronesian subregion of Oceania, and were settled by Micronesians approximately 3,000 years ago. Little is recorded of early Marshallese history, but it is known that its people were once competent navigators who explored the surrounding seas in unique sailing canoes known as proas, guided by charts made of sticks and seashells. The islands saw few European visitors until the arrival of British Captain John Marshall in 1788, for whom they are named. Following a brief Spanish claim, they were colonized by Germany in 1885, but passed to Japan in World War I. The Marshall Islands were strategically important to this country during the Second World War, constituting the easternmost extent of its defense perimeter. This made them a prime target for US forces, who occupied them in 1944 and subsequently assumed administrative authority. Under US rule, several islands in the group were used for nuclear testing; Bikini Atoll was the site of Castle Bravo, the largest US nuclear test ever conducted. This has had dramatic repercussions throughout the Marshall Islands, forcing the relocation of many native Marshallese and exposing a significant segment of the population to the effects of nuclear fallout. The country instituted self-governance in 1979, and formally achieved sovereignty seven years later, although a US military installation is still maintained on Kwajalein Atoll.
Development has been difficult for the Marshall Islands, and the country is heavily reliant on US aid, which constitutes 60% of its budget. Rent from US military installations contributes significantly to the economy as well. The government is the largest employer, and subsistence farming is a common practice. Tourism, while still a small industry, is targeted as the country’s greatest hope of future affluence. Energy shortages have spurred the government and private enterprises to begin experimenting with coconut oil as an alternative fuel source to diesel.
With such a small economy, paid positions may be hard for foreigners to come by in the Marshall Islands. US citizens have the option of civilian contract work at the base on Kwajalein–or alternatively, joining the military and crossing their fingers! There is a strong volunteer presence in the country, and volunteer work is available in a variety of areas. Retirees will love the low tax rates almost as much as the warm tropical weather, while entrepreneurs might be tempted by the country’s easy employment policies, rated the world’s best by the World Bank in 2007.
English is co-official in the Marshall Islands, and most residents can speak it to some degree. Marshallese, the indigenous Micronesian language, is the mother tongue of most islanders, and is the primary language of government and communication. In addition, a small community of Japanese speakers has survived from the colonial era.