Why I Am in the Philippines

From the moment I started telling people that I was going to spend this summer in the Philippines, I’ve had trouble explaining why I was going.

People’s assumptions on my reason for going to the Philippines ranged from visiting family to study abroad to intern abroad. And although all of these are part of the reason I am here, I believe that why I am here is a lot more complex than that.

I would then try to explain my role as a fellow in Kaya Collaborative but once I mentioned the word “internship,” most people would nod knowingly and leave it at that. I tried explaining Kaya without mentioning the internship component, which always left people confused. People would be even more puzzled when I mentioned that I wasn’t getting paid to do the work I was doing nor was much of my trip expenses covered. Yes, the money I’m spending is coming out of my personal savings.

Everyone’s confusion is understandable. As one of the fellows in the first Kaya Co. cohort, I had only a general idea of what to expect. I was told I would be interning at a place I was matched with and that there would be weekly sessions during which the fellows would gather to work on several project ideas developed by the Kaya team.

It was all very vague so when people asked me what I would be doing in the PI, I tried to give as brief a description as possible and change the subject. I didn’t want to tell people until I myself had a real idea.

And after three weeks here, I can start to see why I am here. It starts with my personal narrative.

I’m what some call 1st generation and others 2nd generation. I was born in the United States to two naturalized Filipino immigrants, making me an American citizen. I’ve only been to the Philippines one other time with my parents: ten years ago for about a month during Christmas time. Back then, I had little to no idea what to expect and my love for my Filipino ancestry and culture was just starting to develop.

mom&dad
My mom is from Pampanga and my dad is from the Quezon province (although he grew up around metro Manilla). As a result of the two dialects and growing up in the states, I was unable to learn Tagalog growing up but my ability to understand is pretty high.

Since my last visit, I’ve wanted to go back every year but the costs of traveling to the Philippines adds up even if everything tends to be cheaper. And if I ever did go back, it was most likely going to be with my parents because the Philippines is dangerous. The idea of studying abroad in the Philippines was out of the question for years because of this belief that the Philippines is dangerous.

I’m not denying that it isn’t a dangerous place. But that’s not all the Philippines is. Neither is the Philippines simply a typhoon-prone country or home to millions of poor people or a set of beautiful tropical islands. It’s complex.

But I never would have been able to understand that if I visited with family or came to study abroad. Being here with family would have kept me in a bubble and studying abroad wouldn’t allow me the flexibility I have now.

Coming here as a Kaya fellow comes with a lot of opportunities and a lot of flexibility. Through my internship with Route +63 Travels, I get to see and participate in the effort to change the negative perceptions surrounding the Philippines. And because of Kaya Co., I’ve been able to meet leaders within the social enterprise community here. I can sense the positive energy occurring within the younger generations of the Philippines and I can see a lot of potential in this country’s growing social enterprise movement.

Why am I here in the Philippines? I’m here to witness the reality that is the Philippines. I’m here to experience for myself the very place I’ve heard so many stories about growing up. I’m here to experience it all so when I get back home, I can share with my fellow Filipino Americans the realities I’m encountering. There is more that we can do than send remittances or balikbayan homes. But how can we figure out that solution from our homes in the states? This is my chance to be part of something bigger than myself. And although it may sound too idealistic, just remember that successful ventures always start with an idea.

Yes, I came here with Kaya Co. and I’m interning with a social enterprise here but now, this trip has turned into a personal initiative. I’ve been wanting to learn more about where my parents came from and about the people who I believe are some of the most resilient individuals in the world. And at the same time, I needed a change of pace from my comfortable living in Seattle. I’m Filipino American, not just American. I needed to discover my roots and Kaya Co. has provided the perfect framework for me to do so.

In the past month, this trip has done more for me than I am capable of putting into words. We’ll see where I’m at in a few months but thank you all for your constant support as I continue on this personal journey in the PI!

I know I’ve been pretty slow about keeping up with the blogging lately. The past few weeks have been filled with a lot of experiences that I’ve had to take some personal time to digest. Stay tuned for more blog posts filled with pictures and the like in the next few days!

Categories: Personal, Filipino, Reflections, Philippines 2014, Social Enterprise, Kaya Collaborative, Route + 63 Travels, Summer 2014, Kaya Collaborative, Travel
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9 thoughts on “Why I Am in the Philippines”

  • Georgie says:

    I loved reading this so much. I have been reading your posts about your time in the Philippines but this post really summed it up well, your thoughts and feelings. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, haha. I guess it seems bittersweet that you are finally connecting with such a huge part of your heritage. And of course, you’re also having a wonderful time there.

    Personally, I have never felt a great connection with my parents’ home country of Indonesia. :( I have been there more times than you have visited the Philippines, but there are just so many things about it that I dislike. It seems disconnected from what I am used to; maybe I can’t really appreciate it? Though the last time I went there, I liked it a little more. Maybe it is because I always have to be bound to family when I am there, and I haven’t been to all the islands and really gotten to know the country.

    1. admin says:

      Aw, thanks Georgie! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It took me a long time to write because I wasn’t sure how to word it properly. I’m pretty sure I went through several drafts before I mustered the courage to write it. It’s received pretty positive feedback by the way.

      There are a lot of things I dislike about the Philippines too. The government is a mess. The gap between the poor and rich is way too big. There are too many malls here and not enough other types of activities to stimulate the economy. People don’t feel safe here. It doesn’t have the best rep among foreigners due to safety concerns. It’s typhoon ridden. It’s hot. There’s trash everywhere. I could go on about the list of things that make me not like the Philippines.

      And it’s not even a matter of the things I like about the PI outweigh that list or that my family is here (although those may play a factor). I think it’s because I’m really pushing myself to see the richness that has transformed this country. It’s a difficult, emotional and tiring process. But I think it does help to experience the country with friends or alone. Being with family can definitely shed a certain light on our parents’ home country. And sometimes, it’s nice to see the country for what it is, without the family biases.

      Thanks for reading, Georgie!

  • Michelle says:

    I get it. I went back to Hong Kong last summer for the first time ever, really (the time I went when I was a baby doesn’t count). I wanted to find a sense of connection, a sense of belonging. And really, I didn’t. I hope you have an amazing time in the Phillipines. I must say that the thing I do miss from HK was all the FOOD! the fresh fruits of all sorts.

    1. admin says:

      Yesss, the food in all the countries of Asia is just incredible! There’s so many places to try here in the PI. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t really find that sense of connection/belonging when you visited HK. Perhaps, the next time? My trip has been full of mixed emotions but I know that I’m grateful to have gone on this trip (:

  • Cat says:

    I’m also first generation here in the US. I was born in the US, but my parents came over from China. I’ve been to China a few times with my family, but like you said, I probably didn’t experience it and explore it as much as I would on my own. I liked learning a bit about your background, and I think that’s amazing that you got this opportunity to really take in and experience the Philippines :) I’m glad it’s been going so well for you so far!

    1. admin says:

      Thank you, Cat! I’ve really enjoyed your comments on all my blog posts about the Philippines so far! It’s wonderful to hear your thoughts on my experience.

      And it is a very different experience to experience the country of your parents without your parents. I definitely suggest you do it when you get a chance!

  • Michelle says:

    I am too, considered a 2nd generation along with my little brother, but since we have a mixed heritage. I’m half white, and half El Salvadorian/hispanic, it’s a bit different for us. But we’ve encountered the same things like you. El Salvador is just as dangerous as it’s labeled a third world country, and there is violence, but despite that, I’ve latched onto the idea that it’s beautiful. I’ve been to my dad’s country twice when I was younger, and experienced things and feelings. Good feelings about it. I just had to go.

    Sometimes, we have to explore the land of our family for ourselves.

    I can’t speak the language either, but I can understand some of it, but it’s still breathtaking, and the fact that you got the same opportunity as me, puts a smile on my face. Glad that it’s working out for you.

    1. admin says:

      Although I don’t have a mixed heritage, I can empathize. I may be full Filipino but being born in America kind of throws a wrench when it comes to my self identity. But good to know you’ve had a similar experience. I’ve heard amazing things about El Salvador despite the violence that occurs there. Perhaps one day, I’ll travel there! (I do want to travel all over the world one day).

      Thanks for reading, Michelle! (: It’s been a fun experience and I’m thankful to read stories of people such as yourself and their experiences with their identity and heritage.

  • Kya says:

    It is really amazing that you are doing this and have such a great opportunity to experience all that you are. I think it is also wonderful that is has evolved for you as well, to become something bigger and more important. :)

    If some people still can’t understand that, it’s a shame, but they are not looking in the same light you are.

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