My family originates from the Philippine Islands located 800 kilometers off the Pacific coast of Asia. As a child, I grew up hearing stories about living in the Philippines from my parents, aunts and uncles and also grandparents. However, my siblings and I have never been there, and when we asked if my parents could take us there, they would simply reply, ‘Yes, but maybe next summer.’Finally, in 2005, the summer before my sophomore year in high school, my parents decided we had enough money for us to visit the Philippines.
When I heard the news, I was overwhelmed with joy. What am I going to pack? What are we going to do there? How long are we staying? In preparation for packing for the Philippines, along with our own luggage, my parents bought three large cardboard boxes; Filipinos call these boxes ‘balikbayan boxes.’ My mother filled these boxes with clothes, food, toys, books, etc, all in which none of these items were for ourselves.Upon arriving in Manila, I really couldn’t believe that I was on the other side of the world. I met family members that I have not seen in years, and many others whom I have never met before.
We enjoyed time together and even vacationed off to another island, called ‘Bohol’, where my grandfather grew up. There, I learned that both of my father’s grandfathers were mayors of their small towns. Also, I learned that before my mom and her family came to America, my grandfather owned an electrical company that put power throughout the three main islands of the Philippines!However, while I was in the Philippines, I learned many values that have changed my perspective on the world.
Everywhere I went, I saw homeless people on the street, and poor children running around or trying to sell necklaces made out of flowers just to make some money. Seeing how poor everyone was, was a huge cultural shock to me. Now I knew why my mom filled those boxes with clothes, toys, food, etc.
We handed out these items, and even though it wasn’t much, these people looked so happy, and so grateful. Yet, even though people in the Philippines don’t have much, materialistically, I observed how rich they were– rich in values that we Americans take for granted everyday! In the Philippines, family values were the number one priority. Although these people were poor, they looked so happy, and the simplest things in life made them happy.For the three weeks that I spent in the Philippines, I enjoyed my time there with friends and family, but most importantly, I gained a perspective that I knew I’d carry with me back in America.
Growing up, my parents would tell me how lucky I was to be living in America. I had a roof over my head, food on the table everyday, and how they never had what I had as a child. They repeatedly told me that I should appreciate what I have and not take anything for granted, and these words never completely hit me, or impacted me as much as they did until this vacation.
I was so used to living in a world based on materialism , that I let consumer products control my happiness. But I learned that these things did not give me a consistent happiness that I saw everyday in those living in a third world country. I learned that a real, everlasting happiness is found within the ones you love, and the little things in life.
This trip to the other side of the world changed my life; it was like a revelation for me, where I grew as a person.I cannot wait for the next time I go to the Philippines. This time, I hope to stay longer than three weeks, and even work in a soup kitchen that my grandmother runs in the town, Pampanga, where she lives now. I hope to help these people, as they helped me become a better person!
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