It was my mother’s idea, really. She had always encouraged my sisters and I to dream big, and had harbored hopes that we would return to our country of birth one day. I had never really thought about going at that point, content to live in a world surrounded by the people I loved – Macky, my family and friends. It took her a while to convince me that this would be the best thing for me to do, and even then, I had my doubts (especially about maintaining a long distance relationship with Macky, who I just wanted to marry at that point).
But my mother has done her best to give me my best chance at life. So, even with my nerves and doubts, I chose to trust her judgment. We called up my ninong, who I hadn’t seen in years, and he graciously agreed to let me move in with them. We booked my flight, I started packing and I made plans with everyone for last hurrahs. It all passed by in a blur, honestly, but a happy, contented one.
Before I knew it, I was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, with a backpack and a tiny hand-carry. My entire family – mom, dad, two sisters – had come to see me off, as had Macky. I was strong at first, but burst into tears with Macky and my mom. This was when reality really hit me: I was leaving them all behind for something I wasn’t even sure of. After a few moments of encouraging words and long hugs, I was whisked by a family friend through the doors and didn’t have any more time to look back and watch them watch me go.
I’d been on flights by myself before, since I’d gone to university away from my hometown. But I’d never traveled solo on (1) a trip where I needed to deplane and board at another airport for (2) a long flight (think 13-15 hours) overseas (3) to a place where I’d have to go through customs. The flights themselves were fine, as I preoccupied myself with writing in a journal, reading a book, watching movies, sleeping and eating at turns.
But it was the fact that I was jumping headfirst into the unknown that was really scary. I had nothing waiting for me in New Jersey/New York, except family friends and opportunity. I’d always been the type of person who relies on sure bets, being cautious and taking the safest route possible. To take a risk so impossibly large and to go at it alone? This was definitely way out of my comfort zone!
And now, 4 years later, I can’t imagine having done anything else.
I had adventures of all sorts. In the four years I’ve been here, I have done a lot of things. I’ve seen all the tourist spots in New York City, even making them some of my own. I’ve visited other states, including Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Florida (both Miami & Orlando). I’ve met authors and celebrities, each moment special when it happens. There have been shows and concerts and signings and random film sessions on the street. I’ve stayed up all night – drinking, dancing, talking, exploring a side of myself I didn’t know existed. I’ve woken at the crack of dawn to catch a concert, hopped on a bus to go on a trip, engaged in sports like skiing or ice skating, been open to meeting new people through various means. Even now, random memories catch me off guard whenever I see photos, and I think, “Yes, I’ve done that. Can you believe it?” It’s crazy what I’ve gotten up to, and I really feel like I’ve lived and will continue to do that.
I officially became one of the employed. I’ve been working since October of 2010 for the same company. While it’s not something I plan on doing forever, I’m proud of the fact that I do good work, get along with my officemates (especially my team) and that my job doesn’t require me to stay late or come in early or take work home. It’s satisfying to be earning your own money, and to be able to be an adult that pays the bills and pays for fun too.
Relationships became even more important. Whether it’s with new friends I met here, or hanging out with my high school BFFs who were here, or long distance friendships with my other friends and family and with Macky too, I learned the value of relationships. I’ll admit that I was terrible at handling the distance for the first two years of my life here, especially with Macky. But with each painful lesson, my relationships have all gotten stronger and better and just more. I love that being here challenged me to prioritize who I care about too.
I made new friends, and grew up all over again with some of my oldest, best friends too. There’s nothing like expanding your social circle. I’ve made friends here, whether through other friends, or blogging, and it’s pretty darn great. I love having a new set of people to toss ideas at, or to just hang out with, or to care for and have them care for me. It’s important to me to make real connections with people, and I’d like to think I’ve done that. And then, I am fortunate enough to have spent years with some of my oldest friends, three to be exact. It’s so cool that we were all able to share this experience of growing up and learning who we really are together, and I will forever treasure that.
My definition of family has expanded. I love my family now more than ever. And I love the fact that my idea of family has grown exponentially. I’ve been taken in and treated as family by family friends all over the US. I’ve been adopted by my best friend’s family. Heck, I’ve even formed my own little family unit with my best friends/roomies. Family is still a big, important part of my life and I’m just glad that mine keeps on growing and growing and growing. (Special shout out to all of my family in the DMV area, because you all are amazing.)
My ninong, tita (aunt) and godsister became my family. Ninong and Tita treated me like I was one of their kids, looking out for my welfare, encouraging me in my job hunt and offering what advice and help they could. Their generosity is astounding, as I think of how they opened both their home and their hearts to me without question. (It’s also inspired me to be the same way with others who need my help in the future!) And my godsister Clarissa? She’s one of the best friends I’ve ever made, becoming a confidante, adviser, tour guide and my gateway into making friends from New Jersey. I wouldn’t have survived my first year in the US without any of them, and for that, and many more things, I am grateful.
I learned to love myself. The greatest gift moving back here has given me is a certainty of self that I never had before. I never really understood who I was, or accepted myself (flaws and all) when I was back home. But here, with room to breathe and grow, room to try things and succeed or fail, I somehow managed to find my footing. I recognize important things about myself, like the fact that I prefer books, staying in, quiet moments and deep conversations, writing, traveling and blogging. I learned that I’m not completely introverted, and in fact, can manage to hold my own in a sea of strangers. I’ve learned that I have a wild, silly side that dares other people to do things and doesn’t mind looking like a crazy person. I’ve accepted that I like being silly, that I will never be artistic (in terms of drawing), that I’m not big on sports, that I’m clumsy and awkward and trip over my own two feet. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, or take too much time doing my hair, but that’s okay. My sunny optimism is a part of who I am, as is my faith in God, and in other people. I love fiercely and wholly and completely when I do love someone. Just thinking about how being in the US, on my own for the most part, and how I learned these things about myself makes me want to cry a little because I’ve come so far in only four years… and I am excited because I have a ways to go.
Whew. That was a lot of words, and yet, it’s still not enough to encompass how grateful I am, how in love with my life I am today. Though not without its heartaches, moving here, being here has been one of the greatest adventures of my life ever. This is but a chapter in my story, however, and I look forward to writing, to living more of it in the years to come.