August: The Month of Identity Formation
The first month experiences in a new environment usually constitute an existential rebirth. They reveal a person’s highest strengths and lowest weaknesses, and his strongest aspirations and weakest longings. Through introspection, they allow one to see himself in a different lens thus, solidifying his sense of self. Through the past and present environments, the person’s sense of identity becomes fuller. This is so true with my experiences in the new world. Before leaving the Philippines, I doubted my capacity to adapt and be independent, and highly distrusted my proficiency and intelligence. However, when I arrived in the US, these were all tested and proven faintly wrong. In addition, I had goals that I set which were not all fulfilled this month that partially reflected my priorities. On top of these, I taught I knew Philippines much but I realized that there are always sides of this country that I know nothing about. Overall, the month of August was not just a settling phase, it was a time of coming to terms with my identity and priorities.
Challenges and Choices
Orientation at the University of Pennsylvania. Understanding that I am carrying the country’s reputation, I volunteered as the program director of the orientation’s cultural night while I was still three weeks away from my departure. In the Philippines, this task always comes easy to me so I had positive expectations even before the orientation. However, it was not the case. Almost everyone wanted to insist on their points and their own program lineup, and even suggested late revisions that resulted to late sleepless nights for me. Frankly, because of the responsibilities, I was not able to tour around Philadelphia. I even got to the point of just letting one F*** from Kenya handle the task. Although I was at the verge of my emotions, I rationalized what I was going through and started asking why I could not seem to piece loose ends. Then, it dawned on me that giving up is not something that would make me, my family or my country proud. It was just my perfectionism gutting me out. So, the next morning, instead of freaking out over details, I tried really hard to be more flexible and to appreciate spontaneity. When the program hit, everybody grooved, feasted, laughed and celebrated. And everyone thanked the core team for that fun night.
Settling in. After the orientation, I had one week to get acclimated to my new home, Glencourt Way, Pacifica before meeting up with Ms. Erpelo and the other Skyline College professors. At first, the distance from my home to the malls and other important establishments seemed far because back in Davao everything was just a tricycle or jeepney away, plus my helper was always there to do errands for me. Apart from that, I have to do the laundry, wash the dishes, cook my food, buy groceries all by myself. Realizing that these chores would be taking a huge amount of my time off my working night hours, I freaked out. Now, they become a habit so, I do not exert much effort in accomplishing them anymore. However, I still find doing the laundry challenging. Imagine treading a half-kilometer uphill and downhill path while pushing a cartload of used clothing. At first too, I could not get off eating unhealthy expensive microwavable food items from my system because of its convenience. Over the course of time, I had made the conscious effort of stopping that behavior and succeeded. Moreover, contrary to what I expected, I am not annoyed by the long waiting bus pick-up times because bus drivers almost always arrive on the dot. In addition, I did not find any difficulty in settling in and adapting to the climate and crazy bipolar weather in Pacifica. In fact, the acclimating phase ended fast for me. This also led to a new discovery about myself: that I am highly adaptable. I even feel that I am still in Davao because of the strong Filipino presence in this area of California. Setting routines, goals and budget even before coming to the US had helped me a lot in adjusting to my new environment. I believe that is one of the surest ways of getting rid of homesickness because it provides me a sense of meaning and purpose. I already even anticipated some of the hurdles that I might encounter from the orientation, to settling in, and to starting my tasks as an F***. And honestly, I already prepared my reactions to them even before I set foot in the US. The excel file that contained my monthly goals as an F***, my travel plans around the US, and a detailed financial daily, weekly, monthly sheet contributed much in the quick adjustment.
Christian life. Spontaneity is not part of a control freak’s vocabulary. Being a control freak, I never really mulled over the positive effects of spontaneity. It was only in Philadelphia that I started letting go of control and too much organization because of that experience as a program director. I realized that sometimes the unplanned events lead us to the happiest moments. Seeing its positive results, I began applying spontaneity to my life. For example, on one Sunday, after the mass, I decided on a whim to use my clipper card for the first time and ride a 122 bus. I dropped off at Serramonte Plaza then walked a few meters when my hunger suddenly panged. So, I proceeded to the only Max’s restaurant in the area. There I saw two old couple waiting for their turn. We exchanged conversations and numbers which eventually ended up with an invitation to their church service. Excited to meet new people, I said yes. That yes provided me a new big foster family who do not force me to leave my religion but only offer me an avenue to study my faith. Up to now, they pick me up at home every Saturday for bible study and every Sunday for service. That unplanned move led me to them.
International students’ BBQ. I must say that my first month was not only about knowing myself more and adjusting to the new environment but it was a month of creating and building connections as well. I am a part of the Filipino Student Union. However, I believe that I need to also know other diverse communities in the school outside of the Kababayan. Thus, I joined the International Students’ Club. The first meeting was held in San Mateo Central Park on August 28 with new international students. Talking with students from China, Japan, South Korea, India and Ukraine was the best part of that meet-up.
Tattoo culture. I was one of those who frown upon tattooing. However, after learning that tattoos carry a symbolic cultural appreciation in the Kababayan Learning Community, I no longer do. Some even use the Alibata writing system for their tattoo to honor their Filipino heritage. In fact, one student visited the last Pintado in the Philippines just to get a tattoo. That is how important it is to them. Although I will never have a tattoo, I appreciate its cultural significance now.
Learning communities. The Learning Communities approach is so far the best takeaway from my experience as an F***. At Skyline College, English subjects are clustered into learning communities like Kababayan, ASTEP, CIPHER, Puente and Social Justice. Each community works on a theme that is relevant to students’ life. For example, the Kababayan Learning Community incorporates articles that express Filipino history and core values in its English writing classes. For CIPHER, it is the readings reflecting the Hiphop culture that are included. Through this approach, the English classes do not become isolated subjects but integrative ones.