Daphne is a sixteen-year-old from California. Her interests pertain to everything, but most of her activities revolve around writing, reading, playing music, dance, travel, and chillaxing with the fambam and friends.
While visiting the Philippines in the past month, I had the pleasure of visiting my mom’s alma mater in her rural hometown. I had visited the Philippines in 2006, but every time I arrived it was a shock: the houses, the beautiful jungles, the beaches, the people. It was a world away from the United States. Third world, to be exact. But I loved the Philippines every time I went. I even embraced the humidity, unlike other members of my family, even my mother and father who had grown up here. Seeing family that I also loved but rarely got to see was probably the height of the experience. Therefore when my sister, inspired by meeting the Norwegian foreign exchange student her best friend hosted, came up with the idea of visiting my cousin’s high school, I was excited when our half day there was reaffirmed with the school’s principal.
The high school was extremely small. Only two classrooms were available for the freshman class, and one classroom for each of the other years above it. In the Philippines, the education system does not include seventh and eighth grades, so while my cousin was in her second year of high school, most of the kids in the classroom were either thirteen or fourteen. Everyone was extremely familiar with each other, so when my sister and I came walking through the courtyard with our cousin without uniforms we received plenty of stares. My cousin told me later on that her classmates had initially believed she would bring Americans to the school, mostly because when they heard American, they imagined Caucasian teenagers.
The first subject of the day was English, and my sister and I were able to read along with the lesson to see how they were learning their sentence structures. During the group projects, a lot of the other kids surrounded us in their curiosity. I was a little uncertain of myself at first. If my classmates had been staring at me like that in the States without returning my smiles, I would have thought they found something wrong with me. “Many of them want to make friends with you,” my cousin explained, “but they’re shy about their English. They don’t want to sound stupid.” I told her to encourage them to talk to us- since my sister and I could barely speak Filipino, I thought it was fair. We would take turns trying to communicate with each other.
Religion was a large part of the school day. Every time a teacher entered or left a classroom, the students stood up to pray and then in unison, would welcome the teacher to the classroom or thank them for teaching the class. The students then sat in wooden armchairs that my mother claimed to have actually used while she was going to school there. At one point during the day, we gathered in another room to practice prayers and songs in English for a mass they were going to hold the next day. Afterwards, the students had a computer class in an airconditioned room where they were required to wear foot socks so that they wouldn’t mess up the floor. “Computers is our favorite class of the day because of the air conditioning,” my cousin laughingly explained. The classrooms only had two fans hanging from the ceiling, and one was broken.
My sister and I wanted to sit in for only a half day because we knew it would become unbearably hot in the afternoon, and they would be practicing outside for an acquaintance program the next day. We were invited to come again in the morning to watch the final performance of the dance. The school year in the Philippines runs from June to the beginning of March, so the acquaintance program was to serve as a kind of homecoming event. The next morning, we reunited with the friends we had made the previous day and attended a Mass celebrating a new school year. At the end of the mass, students acted as if they were at a rally as they received “Gifts for the Year”. The tradition handed out a gift of Wisdom or Courage for each of the classes to represent. We returned back to the classrooms and everyone changed into their costumes for their respective dances that were to be performed on the basketball court. The event reminded me of typical Filipino gatherings involving a lot of food, singing, and dancing. By lunchtime, my sister and I were sad to see our uncle ready to pick us up at the gate. “Facebook!” the kids joked. “We’ll always see each other there!”
Despite the drastically contrasting environments, the kids still found joy in the same types of things. Actually, most of them could not afford many of the techonological entertainment that many American teens have, like iPhones or computers of any sort. Essentially, however, they enjoyed the same exact things. They loved to hang out with their friends. They loved to laugh, share stories, and even gossip. They wanted to get jobs and some were concerned with attending prestigious colleges and some just wanted to hang out. In every classroom, there was a class clown or a beauty queen. Like a majority of teens, they even possessed the familiar angst that leads most kids to want to leave the confines of their home and their value. I will definitely miss the kids that made this experience so great.