StoriesBack to Stories
Experiencing Gratitude in the Philippines
By Ella T., YES Abroad 2015-2016, Philippines
During International Education Week (IEW), I was able to give two presentations, one at my host school, and one at the school of my host sister. Organizing and receiving the school’s administrative support to give the presentations was challenging, but ultimately very worthwhile for both the audience and myself.
The first presentation was in front of about thirty 8th grade students at my school. My presentation featured pictures and information about my school in the U.S., the food that my natural family enjoys (which is not as much rice as in the Philippines!), typical Thanksgiving celebrations in the U.S., and a basic summary of U.S. history.
The presentation went well, though I was nervous to present in Tagalog, which is the language of my host community that I’m learning. Although the audience would have understood me without any problem if I had presented in English, I wanted to use my Tagalog in order to prepare for my next IEW presentation. The students were impressed by the fact that I attend a public school in the U.S., which was a major surprise to my host school peers here, since we attend what is known as a “private school.” Public schools in the Philippines often have fewer resources than a typical public school in the U.S., and it has been surprising to observe that public schools in the U.S. are generally about the same as private schools here in the Philippines.
My second presentation was in my host sister’s 4th grade class of about 65 students. They were a great audience, and my little sister led them all in singing “Maligayang Kaarawan” (Happy Birthday), since it was also my 16th birthday!
During my time with the students, I wanted to show them my America, since the only version of America they knew was the one of wealth and violence portrayed in movies. I hoped to demonstrate the diversity of America through topics like the variety of American foods, languages, and appearances. As a fair-haired and fair-skinned American in the Philippines, I sometimes feel stuck in a stereotype. As hard as I try to avoid it, people sometimes call me “Amerikana,” or “Barbie.” Hopefully, through my presentations, I was able to display some of America’s wonderful diversity.
The presentation in my host-sister’s school was very eye-opening for me. One of my slides focused on Thanksgiving, and I talked about how my family normally gathers together to share a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. The students and their teachers' reactions to the Thanksgiving portion of the presentation helped me realize that focusing on a family feast might have filled a “wealthy American” stereotype. As soon as I picked up on this, I felt badly for not recognizing this beforehand, and I shifted the focus to the true meaning of Thanksgiving: family and gratitude.
Throughout these past four months I’ve realized that I am privileged in many ways. The turkey is a metaphor to me for the wealth I might not have recognized, and this recognition of my blessings urges me to help more than ever.
After the presentation, I felt as if some aspects of it could have been improved, such as highlighting “wealth” without considering how it could be perceived, but sometimes you have to make mistakes in order to learn from them. I never would have imagined that giving such a presentation could have such a significant impact on me, and it vastly changed my thoughts about the world and my own privileges.
When I came home late on my birthday night, my Tita (Aunt) woke my host-sister up. She handed me an overflowing stack of hand written cards that were full of birthday greetings, thanks, and drawings from the students I presented to earlier that day. My sister and her classmates’ kindness and cheerfulness expressed in their cards is the best gift I could’ve received.