There I was – in a different school, in a different country, with a different language, in a different hemispheres; I had no idea how I would survive the first day! My mother, who was on a medical trip, and I met with the principal of the high school on Dumagete Island in the Philippines, 8,000 miles away from home, English, and air. The principal was a very nice, very short man who was all smiles because a five-foot nine-inch American teenager wished to spend two weeks in his school. The meeting was a blur as I was looking around at a school that did not appear to be anything like my high school. The windows were open because of the lack of air conditioning, and the students walked around in skirts that came to their ankles and leather shoes, compared to my above-the-knee length skirt and tennis shoes. I was not in Kansas (Tennessee) anymore!
For the first period, the principal led me into a room where forty Filipino faces just looked and stared for the better part of their physics lesson. After the initial shock of the first class, I began to discover even through the language barrier and culture shock that they were teenagers just like me. They were just as interested in America as I was in the Philippines. By the end of my two-week trip, I was getting used to the staring; being tall and extremely fair-skinned in a culture that is almost completely short and dark skinned was an automatic way to stand out in a crowded room or a small city!
Sure, there were times when all I wanted to do was read my book because it was in English and I could understand it; but, I knew that I needed to put my book down and engage in the multi-language conversation. Throughout those two weeks in Dumagete, I understood what it was like to be an anomaly and a foreigner at the same time, but I also
made friends who made me feel as if I had never left Nashville.
Feeling completely alone, even though surrounded by people, changed me because I learned that having to “find” myself while being under the spotlight can be extremely challenging. The people, housing, and educational systems were far different from what I knew. I also realized that no matter how different the spoken language or how far apart two places can be that people are generally the same throughout the world; they are kind, inviting, and incredibly easy to become friends with once the language barrier is leaped over. Through efforts made with a gargantuan emphasis on hand signals and drawings of what both parties were referring to, I learned that friendship can be made in any type of circumstance, as long as both parties have enough confidence to share experiences, to laugh together, and to have an open mind so that they may become friends.
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