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Coming home

By Maria Helena S. Garcia
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:23:00 11/20/2010

Filed Under: mobile phones, Social networking, Education, Youth, Schools

NOWADAYS, MOST people do two things upon waking up: check their mobile phones for text messages and missed calls, and open their laptops to check their e-mail and Facebook. (I forgot, you can do Facebook on mobile phones nowadays.) I am one of those people. More than that, I sleep with my mobile phone and laptop literally beside me.

So I checked my phone; I have a cheesy message from my boyfriend. After replying, I move on to check my laptop. As I was browsing through my Facebook ?newsfeeds,? a video post from a colleague caught my interest. The video was titled ?Honor and Excellence (Prof. Monsod?s last lecture to her class).? I thought to myself: Is this something like Randy Pausch?s ?The Last Lecture?? Is Professor Solita Monsod retiring or dying?

But reading through the caption, I felt relieved that it was just her last lecture for the semester coming to a close shortly, and it was about leadership, life, career and nationalism. Her greatest emphasis was on the University of the Philippines? motto: Honor and Excellence. This is what every UP student should imbibe and live by beyond the university.

I remember having a conversation in high school with a suitor, 12 years my senior, about going abroad. He said everyone would seize the chance to go abroad when the opportunity presented itself. At 15 and being nationalistic, I exclaimed that I would not leave my country like what many people were doing. I would choose to stay even if such opportunity presented itself.

Until now, I fully believe that the government should applaud not those who have left but those who have chosen to stay.

Of all the things that Professor Monsod said in that lecture, what struck me most was her statement about helping the country. She said that if we are going to help the Philippines, we need to be in the Philippines. Her words connected with me in several ways. First, I was once a UP student. Second, I graduated from UP. Third, I am a leader and have served as a leader. Finally, I am abroad. In the United States, living the American Dream.

Coming to America changed all my plans in a snap. Everything seems easier to accomplish. But where I am really now in terms of my career? I am on the opposite side of my field. I graduated with a Business Economics degree but I am working as a caregiver, not really something I dreamed of, but something I had to do to survive.

The last nine months I have lived here in America have been a life of endless trials, accomplishments and learnings. My mother was recovering from an amputated toe due to diabetes when my father and I left for the United Sates. She had chosen to stay in the Philippines because my brother was ?overaged? by the standards of US immigration policies. Two weeks after my father and I arrived, I started working as a caregiver. I am not ashamed of my job, but I am not so proud of it either. My being a caregiver is supposed to be temporary until I find a job that is more in line with my academic training in UP. But the job market is tight. I had a fair number of interviews for office jobs, but into none of these was I accepted.

A few months later, my father had a quintuple heart bypass surgery due to heart attack. Two months into his recovery, my mother died due to aneurysm. I flew back to the Philippines for three weeks to lay her to rest. Two months after her death, my father decided to return to the Philippines. The loneliness was just too much for him.

I became the breadwinner of the family. Being the youngest and being a woman, I had expected to be taken care of, instead I had to take responsibility for everything. I had no choice, I had to keep the family from going through more difficulties. I couldn?t quit my job with all the responsibilities suddenly in my hands. Quitting was no longer an option. I had to hold on a little longer until I shall have saved more than enough.

The United States meant having better opportunities, which also meant acquiring more wealth. America offers countless opportunities and I am taking advantage of them. America has shown me how easy it is to acquire material wealth through hard work, and by credit or cash. Two weeks into my job, I was able to buy a high-end laptop. Three months of pay checks was enough to cover all expenses entailed by my sudden flight to the Philippines. With salaries for two months, I was able to buy a used car in good condition. These are material possessions that I can?t imagine acquiring in less than a year had I stayed in the Philippines.

Still, watching Professor Monsod deliver words of wisdom in the video reminded me of my student life in UP and what it is to be a Filipino. She reminded me of my goals and unfinished responsibilities to myself, my mother, God, my alma mater and the Philippines, all of which I vow to fulfill.

So ?what?s on my mind?

My beloved University of the Philippines and the Philippines as well, did I betray you by leaving and going abroad? No, I did not and I will not. I will be back! Pilipinas kong mahal at minamahal.

Maria Helena S. Garcia, 21, plans in 2011 to quit her job and get a new one and probably start graduate school. Also, she plans to start saving up to pay her ?full cost? at the University of the Philippines, with interest.

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