“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George Moore
A little over a month into the internship and I find myself on the office couch, pondering about the last 5 years since college graduation.
As I stepped out of my university’s covered courts back in 2012 after graduation, I felt that sort of freedom that every student would feel after finals week. I now have the time to do things and can sleep full hours!
Though as weeks passed, I began to feel a sense of anxiety and pressure about what to do now, for my future and for my life. I then decided to apply for further studies in Mandarin in Shanghai, China. It was a mixed feeling of excitement, and mostly, of fear. Prior to leave I asked myself numerous times, “Am I really going to live away for an indefinite amount of time?” and “Why don’t I just retract my application now and stay put in my comfort zone, the only one I’ve known since I was born?” After contemplating and taking advice from several mentors and relatives about how “I can only do this before I start working” and “I will learn things on a different level,” I decided to push through with it.
On the fist of September 2012, I grabbed (several of) my overweight luggage and proceeded to the airport with my dad and my sister. Chills and goose bumps crept onto my skin as the cabin crew announced our arrival: “We have just landed in the Pudong International Airport. The captain and the entire cabin crew welcome you to Shanghai.”
This was it! The start of my very frightening, confusing and unknown journey.
During the first few months, I was utterly lonely. Most of my classmates were Europeans who knew each other well, and I was that one Filipino who silently did her homework and frequently declined after-school invites. One morning, I offered a little prayer for this day to be different. And God answered me.
That day I made my first real friend. Soon I was introduced to this friend’s other circle of friends, who also became my circle of friends… you get the idea. I started opening up, making more friends, going on adventures, exploring places, and saying yes to random and spontaneous experiences. Slowly but surely, I felt more at home and took in things I’ve never noticed before.
The Chinese culture, food, people, language, customs, and heritage all made me realize that “This is what makes the Chinese, Chinese.” The oily and fried food, the spitting (got used to it), the pushing and rushing in the subways, the loudness, the incessant need for alcohol and mah-jong, the curiosity when you say “Wo ting bu dong” (I don’t understand). Apart from these, I learned cultural knowledge and experiences from my Australian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Brazilian, South African, American, Japanese, Swedish, Indonesian, and Mexican friends. Of course, part of it was learning to do the “small” things like laundry, cooking, taking care of myself when I’m sick, living with other people who mostly won’t do your dishes for you (shout out to my flat mates), paying for electricity, gas and water (Yes. Our electricity and gas supplies were cut whilst entertaining guests), among others. One lazy afternoon, I found myself facing The Bund, staring over the Shanghai skyline, and Huangpu river (pollution and all) and then it suddenly hit me, I was in love with Shanghai: the experiences, the culture, the people, the family, the place, the weather, the language. But most of all, I felt alive.
As with all things, my life in Shanghai came to an end. I came home, found a job as an entry-level human resources employee. I still felt that constant buzzing of my desire to hear stories, explore cultures and places far beyond my own. I began getting anxious every day as the work routine settled in. After more than a year, I left my corporate job, did a little re-aligning, and suddenly found myself applying for the World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific internship. I felt exhilarated to have found like-minded people!
As the internship started, I felt more at home and things started to make sense. The abstract concepts in my mind soon found their theoretical foundations. WYA has shown me that ultimately, all people are persons with dignity and value, no matter his or her circumstance, race, gender, etc. and are deserving of respect and non-judgment. WYA’s very open, accommodating and proactive atmosphere, programs and family allow us to promote, understand and live out these concepts. I’ve realized that these were actually the underlying themes throughout my Shanghai experience. The people I’ve met, the family I’ve gained, have their own life stories and backgrounds and each one deserves respect.
Some say that leaving one’s home country is a form of escaping life, but I say, it’s immersing more into life – into various forms of life. If it weren’t for that experience, I wouldn’t have been exposed nor have realized that this (culture and development) is what I want to do; which I am very grateful for. With WYA, I look forward to the changes I will accomplish, the concepts I will live out, the people I will meet, the adventures I will go on, and the dignities I will uphold and protect. Now, at 26, and an intern at WYA – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Written by Fenina Lim, a current intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office. WYAAP is now accepting applications for its Batch 2 internship! Check out our page for more information.