By Joey C., YES Abroad 2017-2018, Philippines

It’s been a little over two months since I packed up my bags in Brooklyn and departed for the Philippines. Since then, I’ve learned to live with a new family, to ride in jeepneys, to make bruschetta and antipasto, to use more Tagalog words and phrases, and, most importantly, to navigate the ins and outs of Filipino life.

My first couple of days at school were overwhelming: As the new exchange student, I had the daunting yet exciting task of meeting and introducing myself to my classmates. As a Chinese-American, I’ve constantly navigated questions about my heritage and nationality. Because I’ve spent my whole life in a place as multicultural as New York City, diversity is second nature to me. I’ve learned to be more patient, and to remind people that the U.S. was built on immigration from many parts of the world. There is no such thing as the quintessential American; we come from all different backgrounds and ethnicities.

In my Disciplines and Ideas class, everyone was required to partake in a debate on different topics concerning the social sciences. Since the Philippines is a predominantly Roman Catholic country (81% belong to the Roman Catholic Church), I wasn’t surprised when my classmates used the Bible’s doctrines as one of their points. It was interesting to see how religion can be integrated in school, especially because all the schools I’ve attended in the U.S. are secular; religion is rarely discussed, and never in depth.

I participated in a school event called Buwan Ng Wika, which translates to “Month of Language.” We celebrated Filipino culture and language, and during the days nearing the commencement of our celebration, we busied ourselves by preparing for the school-wide street dance competition. I had never tried Filipino street dancing before, so I was a bit hesitant to join, but with a bit of nudging and encouragement from my friends, I decided to give it a try. I attended just two brief rehearsals before performing in front of three judges and the entire school. Although we didn’t end up winning, the time my classmates and I spent together practicing and performing was unforgettable.

I also attended my school’s Acquaintance Party, a day-long team-building event for senior high school students. We were separated into different teams and we all proudly sported our team colors. My team color was red, and we made up cheers and dances to perform. We played different games, designed to foster trust in our teammates. The highlight of the evening was the colored powder race, where we threw powder on each other. By the end of the party, we all were laughing with colored powder smeared on our faces.

A fifth of my exchange year has passed. I’ve fallen into a routine: going to school, socializing with friends, and spending time with my host family. My life here has a rhythm now. Though day to day it may not seem like anything is changing, I know that nothing has stayed the same. I am not the same person I was before coming to the Philippines. I would have never envisioned myself having these revelations a year ago. There’s so much left to learn and to discover, about myself and about the Philippines. Eight more months to go and I can’t wait!