Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome?
One of the most challenging moments I have experienced in my life was migrating. I was 16 years old when my family and I moved from my motherland (Philippines) to Canada. The preparation process was expedited. Everything happened so quickly that I was unable to grasp the gravity of the situation. I did not even get to say a proper goodbye to my friends. It was as if I space-travelled from one place to another. The next thing I know I was looking out the window in a cold autumn night in an unfamiliar land. Do not get me wrong– I knew where we were going. It was just the shock from swift transition that really caught me off-guard. But this was not the crux of the matter. It was my first day in a Canadian high-school that was the most terrifying and overwhelming episode. Even though English was my second language, I lacked the ability to carry a conversation any longer than a greeting. I understood the language quite well, of course, not accounting for vernacular speech. However, given the fact that communication was key to understanding my new environment, I was at a disadvantage. I knew I had to make new friends and interact with others in order to make sense of everything that was happening around me. The first person who approached me was a girl from Chile. It was nice of her to introduce me to some of her friends who were all Spanish-speaking, but it soon dawned on me that there was a misconception about language. My new friend thought that Filipinos understood Spanish. Though it is true that some Tagalog words were directly adopted from the Spanish language, it is not enough to fathom an entire conversation. I explained this to her and felt embarrassed for not letting her know earlier. A quaint observation I had was that our group was the most ethnically diverse among all other circles, which I did not mind, but was nevertheless overwhelming. We drifted apart, misconstruing our “differences.” I sought refuge from isolation and self-reflection but it only led me to an even more baffled state.
At that time I thought every individual was visibly different: skin tone, hair type, eye colour, body-build, fashion, etc. Ignorant as I was, I could not believe how two people with dissimilar characteristics could possibly get along. But most did. And my unwillingness to participate resulted in ostracization. Thus, I learned my first critical lesson in this foreign country: do not be a stranger. In a world where unexpected events occur during unanticipated times, no matter what, we always need a friend. After all, no man is an island.