This island nation is made up of 29 atolls and 5 islands in the Pacific Ocean, near the Federated States of Micronesia. This country played an important part in World War II as Japan used Kwajalein Atoll as an administrative center, and the U.S. invaded and occupied the islands in 1944, destroying the Japanese garrisons. The U.S. continued to have control over the islands until 1979, when the nation became self-governing, and 1986, when the nation became fully independent. Because of the American influence, although the main language of the Marshall Islands is Marshallese, English is also commonly spoken and shares official status.
The Marshall Islands are near two very important but imaginary lines on Earth: they lie just north of the Equator and just west of the International Date Line.
The Equator, pictured here in red, circles the globe at equal distances from the North and South Poles and is the starting point, the zero, in counting latitude.
The International Date Line lies (mostly) on the 180-degree line of longitude, which starts at the North Pole and ends at the South Pole. By international agreement, when travelers cross the line, they change dates. Traveling eastward, they subtract a day, and traveling westward, they add a day. This is necessary because, as travelers cross time zones in a plane, say, their sense of the day would not match the day on the ground.
Imagine two travelers flying from England to the Marshall Islands. One flies eastward and must set his clock ahead one hour for each 15 degrees of longitude (to match local time zones). The other flies westwards and sets his clock back one hour for each 15 degrees. When the two travelers meet up in the Marshall Islands, their clocks would differ by 24 hours. They would both say 9:00 a.m., say—but on a different calendar day!
To fix this problem, we change dates when crossing the 180-degree longitude line.
For more on latitude and longitude, see this earlier post (scroll down).