Travel Tuesdays: The Philippines "Growing Up"

As promised last week, here is an essay I wrote about my experiences as a Rotary exchange student. This essay was written in 1997 and was originally published in Voices: Reflections from a Community of Writers (The Educators' Journal of the Plymouth Public Schools, Plymouth, MA) in Spring of 1998.

I have evolved as a writer over these last 13 years. Part of me wanted to revise the heck out of this before posting it for the world to read. But, I decided to leave it. It reflects who I was at that time in my life. My usual blog posts reflect me now.


Growing Up

In June of 1985, at age sixteen, I boarded a plane for the first time. Not only was I facing my first plane ride, I was leaving my family and friends for one year. I was beginning the first leg of a trip that would take me half way around the world to the Philippines. I knew nothing about the people, culture or language, yet I knew it was an experience I could not miss. I thought about the fun my high school friends would have without me. I thought about my two younger sisters and the parents who raised me to be open to the journey upon which I was embarking. My father cried as I boarded the plane, but I knew he still wanted me to go. I had to find out what was out there.

Within four months time I was able to engage in simple conversations in Cebuano, the local dialect. At a local function, I even sang a popular song in Tagalog. People told me that they forgot I was an American, despite my blue eyes, fair skin, and light brown hair. They told me I acted and spoke like a Filipina. I felt like I belonged.

Three months later, as tensions grew between Marcos and Aquino, I found myself caring about the oppression that had existed under Martial Law and joined my friends in their cries of “People Power.” I attended rallies, at which Aquino spoke, and supported my friends in their desire to make change. The day Marcos fled the country there was much celebration! “People Power” actually worked! There was no fighting. Peaceful protests and rallies had made a difference.

With Marcos gone, I was able to travel extensively. I took a bus up a winding mountain road to Baguio. I slept under a mosquito net in a nipa hut while a typhoon raged outside and a coconut tree crashed through the roof. I stood on the bamboo drying racks of a seaweed farm house (a building on stilts in the middle of the ocean) as I watched a water spout come straight toward us and then reverse direction as quickly as it came. I listened to my host father speak at a high school graduation in the barrio trying to empower the students to use their sustainable, local resources to provide income for their families.

I learned many things that year, but none was as important as my appreciation for diversity and my willingness to adapt to new situations. I “grew up” in the Philippines. I became and adult who sees the world in a different way. I learned to appreciate the freedoms we have in the United States but also to see the tremendous value in maintaining the local cultures of other nations. United States citizens do not know the only way to do things. My growing up there has guided every decision I have made in my personal life. It has also affected the way I run my classroom, relate to my students and teach them about the world.

Have you been an exchange student? Have your children? Have you hosted an exchange student? Please share your experiences. 

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