Leaving Home

Pre-college Shopping List (the Kuripot Version)

Hey there CAMPers! Congrats on all your acceptances! My name’s Marianna, I’m a rising senior at Wesleyan University, and I am unashamed to say that I’ve always been a cheapskate. Before I left for college, I was told I’d be able to buy basically everything I needed there in the US. While that was (and is) true, I definitely ended up paying more than I needed to, and I had a smaller selection from which to choose on top of that.

I hope to prevent the same from happening to you, so for the sake of money and convenience, here’s a list of stuff that I wish I had known to buy in Manila before I left for the US. Most items on this list can easily be found in big malls with department stores like SM or Landmark (in fact, that’s where I suggest you look first). And all of these things should be able to fit in your suitcases without adding much weight.

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(photo courtesy of target.com)

*** Keep in mind that I go to a small college in a small town, kind of in the middle of nowhere, on the East Coast. The best thing you can and should do is get in touch with someone who actually goes to your college, preferably someone from the Philippines, and ask them for more specific advice about what and what not to bring. :)

Stuff to Buy in the Philippines:

1. Pillow cases (standard size)

- There will be a lot more variety in department stores in Manila. Or, better yet, bring over your favorite pillow cases from home.

- Usually, the Twin XL bed sheet set you’ll buy will already come with one pillowcase. But many people buy a set of two pillows so you’ll need at least one more. Plus it’s nice to have extras.

2. Eye mask and ear plugs

- If you’re the type who can have trouble sleeping. Also handy on the plane.

3. A laptop sleeve/case if you don’t have one yet

- I found mine in Landmark for Php150 and so many people here have asked where I got it, haha.

4. Two or three mesh laundry bags for your underwear/delicates

- You can find these anywhere, but I particularly like the ones from Saizen! They’re a third of the price of the ones in Bed Bath & Beyond, and better quality too. Most people don’t need that many (I own 3).

5. Bath/skin/nail care

- You can find an incredible variety of shampoo, soap, moisturizer, lotion, etc. in the US so don’t worry about the products. I’m talking tools: A loofah, nose strips, all your nail stuff (nail clipper, filer, buffer, etc.) – tons cheaper back home.

6. Travel kit with empty bottles/little jars

- Preferably with a transparent case/bag, and TSA-compliant bottle sizes. Comes in handy when you travel around, which many of you will during breaks.

7. School supplies

- At my college, laptops are pretty popular for note-taking, but many people still use notebooks, and some professors actually don’t allow laptops. So if you’re particular about having nice school supplies, and if you can make space in your suitcase for them, I suggest you do – even for just a couple of notebooks, pens, Post-Its, etc. National Bookstore’s quality and its wide selection, for the price, is absolutely superior to that of Staples.

8. Cold weather stuff, if your college is in a cold place

- I know it seems counterintuitive to buy winter wear in a tropical country… but Manila’s so freaking hot all the time so no one buys winter stuff! It is worth at least checking out some sales (and then compare prices online if you like). Don’t buy a lot, just a few things to get you started.

- I personally recommend hitting up all the ukay-ukay stores for great deals (just check that it’s a decent brand & that it’s made of down or a good down alternative). It is possible to find good quality there, you just have to be persistent in your hunt. I got my own practically brand-new SUPER warm & reliable winter jacket for Php650 (vs Php5,000+) in an ukay-ukay in Tagaytay. If you bring it to the US and find it isn’t perfectly warm enough, oh well, it was cheap and you’ll have a back-up.

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Side note that doesn’t belong anywhere else on this list:

If you’re planning on printing out a WHOLE BUNCH of photos to decorate the walls of your dorm room (which you should totally do), it’s way cheaper & more convenient to do it online. Snapfish.com is my go-to, you just upload the photos and they print and deliver them straight to you. :)

Marianna Ilagan graduated from Saint Pedro Poveda College in 2011. She now attends Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT as part of the class of 2015.

Life Capsized

Going abroad would entail that your freshman year of college would undoubtedly be one of the most transformative years of your life. You will be forced to examine what you are, stripped away of the support systems of home. You will miss the comfort of home. You will see that it is a daunting world outside of your nest, and it will be scary before it gets comfortable. Adjusting takes longer than you think it would, and even realizing that will take a while.

I started off my journey abroad with a real frenzy – desperate for new sights and new people, amused by new environments and the smell of freedom in the air; no parents, no restrictions, everything shiny and new. I shifted priorities and reveled in the opportunity to spend as much time as I wanted with my friends. Admitting that I was confused about my major, I took a Philosophy course and took full advantage of the freedom I had.

But as the second semester started, the allure of freedom subsided, and the hard questions stared at me in the face. Why am I here, and what sort of impact do I want to make in the world? What am I truly passionate about? I used to think I knew the answers in high school, but I was wrong. Going away from everything you thought you knew is what truly forces you to discover your true motivations in life. Coming abroad has forced me to be honest with myself. Starting anew, away from the pressure – or comfort – of peers, teachers, and family who held certain ideals unique to the environment you grew up in is the true test. You’ll be surprised to discover what aspects of your personality or your passions can stand by themselves in a completely new environment. Change is hard, change is uncomfortable, but it’s also inevitable. Welcome it as a part of journeying into your self. You’re sure to come out of it more sure of yourself.

Sometimes I wonder why no one had warned me about how difficult and painful self-discovery would be - how alone, you must wallow in confusion before you can find the answers within yourself. Then I realize that this is something that has to be experienced; the words “self-discovery” and “finding yourself” don’t cut it, it’s only when you’re alone, far away from home, that you can see for yourself the rockiness of this journey. It will be hard and painful. There will be times where the confusion will devour you from within. However, the harder you struggle, the truer the answers that you’ll eventually attain – and you will see that nothing has ever been so self-reassuring.

Moonie Sohn graduated from International School Manila in 2013. She now attends New York University Abu Dhabi as a member of the class of 2017.

Countdown

While little children are busy counting down to the day Santa visits their houses to deliver gifts, I have my own countdown as well. I countdown to the day I can touch my country’s soil, hear the honking jeepneys, listen to the symphony of Filipino words and bask in the familiar tropical ambiance I realized I missed so much. I countdown to the days I can use the words pa, naman, na, kase, kanina, bahala, lang, basta, have dinner with my family, taste my mother’s home cooked adobo and hug my parents like there’s no tomorrow. I countdown to the days I can go to the beach with my best friends, listen to their kwento face-to-face and be my weird self with people who understand my humor. I countdown to the days I don’t have to filter my Taglish tendencies, translate currencies, calculate how much tip to give every time I come out of a restaurant, constantly think about time differences, or be informed about the latest happenings in my country a week late. I countdown to the instant I can once again say that I’m back home. 

But that won’t be for another 65 days. 

I never really got a fair grasp of university life abroad until I actually lived it. For some, it’s easy to adjust. But I happened to be a part of the few that thought otherwise. For my first few weeks, I woke up everyday looking at the unfamiliar ceilings of my dorm room and suddenly felt this indescribable empty sensation. Reality sunk in: I was alone, without my best friends, without my family, facing this overwhelming college experience… all by myself (cue music). And it scared me.

I guess the prime suspect in this mystery of my sadness was probably because I was so clingy with the Philippines. I got homesick often: Skype and Viber were my favorite companions. You could only imagine how happy I was when I found out my campus was full of Wi-Fi. My eyes were glued to the pixels of my laptop or phone, chatting away with my friends and family back home (which was bad because it made me miss them even more.) When things suddenly appeared on my Facebook feed be it pictures or event promotions, it was sad thinking about the many moments I was missing out with my friends. And I guess I was also afraid of the idea that I might drift away from them. If I had stayed, I would have been in that photo, I would have gone to that event and I wouldn’t be missing out. If I had stayed, I might not have to be afraid of being forgotten. 

The culture here didn’t help stop my clinginess either. As an international student, it’s hard relating to people who don’t understand the setting you come from or the things you know of. It’s hard connecting to people who don’t understand a big part of who you are. If I had stayed, it would be easier to relate and form bonds with people who understood my background, my humor, my ideals and my being Filipino. 

I tried focusing my energy to what I initially came here for: my studies. But in the academic realm, I had internal conflicts as well. With the many opinionated, outspoken and audacious leaders, debaters, writers, science enthusiasts, and best students in one of the top liberal arts schools in America, I felt extremely inferior.

That first month in school was tough; I couldn’t believe I was going to have to endure about 31 more! But the good thing was it got better. It might have taken weeks filled with some loneliness, the occasional teary nights, numerous Skype sessions, and lots of feel-good food and I’ll admit that I still am adjusting, but with the numerous extracurriculars, engaging and exciting classes, and new people to come across, it was bound to get so much better!

I’ve experienced my first official football game and, although I didn’t understand the rules, I still had lots of fun cheering my school on with the friends I came with. There are always student-run productions every weekend so I get to support my schoolmates in their endeavors. I took a trip to New York with some of my best friends with the help of regular shuttles that Wesleyan provides. And I’m able to attend the many events be it themed parties, dinners, dances, barbecues, outing trips, concerts, open mic nights and other events every week. The problem isn’t finding out where to go; it’s deciding which one to go to!

The extracurriculars that are available have helped me as well. I’m now a part of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, the Pinoy club, the Fusion Dance Troupe, the Freeman Asian Scholars Association and the Class of 2017 Council. I signed up for a bunch of other clubs as well and I hope to be able to try new things in my stay here. We have about 150 official student groups that range from skiing to hiphop to Harry Potter to belly dancing and so much more!

The education here is amazing as well. Even though I felt inferior at first, I realized that the people surrounding me helped me grow and that’s what’s making the challenge all the more exciting. Because I’m in a liberal arts program, I’m able to try different classes that don’t necessarily have to count towards my major. I’m in a class called Taiko, which is Japanese drumming. I get to learn a little more about Japanese culture as well as have fun drumming it out with my classmates. In my classes, I’m also discovering newfound interests. My psychology class is even making me consider taking a double major! With the support from faculty and their openness with the students, it makes it possible to do. 

I do still miss my family and friends back home but I’m finding ones I can be my weird self with little by little. Cliché as it may sound, my true friends will still be there for me no matter the distance, no matter the loss of proximity, no matter what. The people here may be harder to get to know, but once I got to know them, I was amazingly pleased. I met a Japanese person who has lived in Paris and Houston, a Taiwanese scholar who knows Chinese, French, and Thai, a musician who can play the saxophone, ukulele, guitar, piano and gamelan by ear, a person with two step dads and an autistic brother but still finds happiness in the beauty of photography, a Palestinian math genius, a British philanthropist who spent a part of her gap year working in a farm and a Filipino who knows anything and everything about Japan. These diverse sets of people from all walks of life make things more interesting. My eyes open to the realities of life and the beauty that the world has to offer. 

I’m gaining more friends, learning through different experiences, challenging my limits and understanding more about the world and, of course, myself. I still can’t wait until my countdown reaches zero, but, at least now, I’m discovering happiness in every single day leading up to it. 

Mikaela Reyes graduated from Philippine Science High School in 2013. She now attends Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT as part of the class of 2017.

THE WISDOM OF ALONE TOGETHER: On the Fear of Being "Alone" Abroad and the Perks of Residential College Life

We hear horror stories of students going off to college and just losing themselves; stories of students who regret not going to a college where most their friends would be; stories of students who consider college abroad a chore, not an opportunity.  We hear horror stories of how difficult it is to be alone in a different country miles away from home.

The truth is, we never will be. 

When I left Hong Kong, I compared it to a horrible break-up. I had fallen in love with the city, the culture, the people. I was finally feeling like I was beginning to belong when I was offered a scholarship, and my parents and I decided it was best if I moved to Yale-NUS College. I left, still in love with the fast-paced lifestyle, the clacking heels of women walking through the MTR stations, the gorgeous waters that surrounded the university I was in.

It didn’t help that before I moved to Singapore, people would look at me with pity and tell me about how small a place this country is. I began to worry. Would Singapore be the best place for me? Or would I be a fish out of the water, in a strange place with seemingly nothing ever to do? This is why last Sunday, when I landed in the Changi International Airport, I was ready to expect little. I was ready to just make the most out of what I had, figure out how the MRT and other similar systems work, focus on getting the best out of college. I was ready to face Singapore alone.

Until I discovered I didn’t have to.

I didn’t even have to ask. I had newly-found Singaporean friends who willingly brought me around. I had friends who offered to go out of their way and help me settle down. I had a friend who even took me restaurant hopping, driving me around the city, welcoming me to Singapore with a fun night-out.Here I was a foreigner, and I already felt like Singapore could be home. This realization has inspired the foci of this post: the fear of being “alone” and the perks of living in a residential college. We hear horror stories of students going off to college and just losing themselves; stories of students who regret not going to a college where most their friends would be; stories of students who consider college abroad a chore, not an opportunity. We hear horror stories of how difficult it is to be alone in a different country miles away from home.

The truth is, we never will be. I have tried studying briefly in New Haven and Boston, a few months in Hong Kong, and am about to take on Singapore. In all these countries, I found someone to bring me around and introduce me to everything local. The memories I remember the most? Dinner trips with my local roommate. Fireworks with my closest international friends. Nights out, coffee breaks, movie nights with anyone who’s left in the dorm. I’ve only been a few days in Singapore, and I have been sleeping in the early hours of the morning. The simple hanging out in common lounge with friends from all over the world whom I would never have met is enough to let me know I’ll be okay. Dinners with professors make learning seem like a fun meal time conversation. (What I love about Yale-NUS in particular is that the professors are trying to find their way around Singapore too!) Living with deans and rectors has also left us with little kids running all around the place, embracing the students into this extended family. When your stomach hurts and tears start to fall from the laughter; when you’re up late watching your fellow students sing their hearts out in an open mic; when you’re walking under the rain, crossing the road with zooming cars, enjoying every bit of the strange land you’re in; when you’re enjoying a good lunch meal with professors and friends; when you’re arm in arm with people who are as alone, but who make it all feel just right—you realize going abroad to study is not as lonely a task after all.

Because you find you’re all alone together and it is the experience of such that you’ll actually remember most in the end. In the process, you discover more of who you are, free from the shackling definitions of who you should be provided by those who have known you for the past eighteen to twenty years. In the process, you discover more of who you are, together with a bunch of others who are trying to find their way as well. This is what it means to be alone together, to lose yourself and find yourself again, and to be in the company of strangers and still feel like you belong.

Joan Danielle Ongchoco graduated from Immaculate Conception Academy in 2012. She now attends Yale-National University of Singapore (Yale-NUS) as a member of the class of 2017.