Blog Entry #8 July 15, 2016 Post-Program Reflections

Blog Entry #8

July 15, 2016

Post-Program Reflections

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, the Summer Language Award (SLA) Grant Program showed me that language learning must be fun if I am going to excel. For me, fun means applying my learning directly to real-life situations in front of me. Learning Tagalog helped me gain insight into the way Filipinos think and understand themselves, others, and even foreigners like myself. Before I began my language program, I wanted to establish a base in the Tagalog language that I would be able to continue to grow and build upon during my internship. I am happy to say that I have been able to establish this base, and it continues to grow stronger through my interactions with colleagues and affiliated CRS partners.

Because my time in the Philippines is only just beginning, my insights are continuing to grow and my worldview is constantly evolving in this beautiful country. I think the biggest insights I have had so far are about communication style and culture. Where the United States has a strong verbal communication style, the Philippines has a very strong non-verbal communication style. So much is communicated without talking, so many questions answered without ever actually being discussed. As someone who is a verbal processor, and has been described as ‘communicative and expressive,’ these cultural adaptations have been difficult for me and I look forward to continuing to try to understand a culture that is so different from mine. I have learned that I need to spend just as much time observing what is happening as I do trying to learn Tagalog. Culture is another foreign language entirely, and one that must be studied and practiced just as the spoken language itself.

I plan to continue to use my intercultural competency in the work place at my internship, and through my personal relationships with others. I look forward to continuing to study Tagalog throughout the course of my internship. Upon returning from my internship I will have one final semester in my Masters program where I will write a Masters Thesis paper for my Capstone Seminar focused on the role of religious leaders in peacebuilding efforts. Understanding Tagalog will allow me to synthesize the research I have collected within a deeper cultural context and continue to engage with contacts made in the field.

The Catholic Relief Services Peace Governance for Transformation in Mindanao (CRS-PGTM Philippines) is one of the leading models for grassroots peacebuilding in the world. Numerous Kroc alumni and faculty have worked and conducted research with CRS-PGTM, Philippines. Understanding Tagalog will allow allow me to form relationships with local communities for today and also lay the foundation for future professional peacebuilding experiences. I thank Summer Learning Abroad Grant Program and the Center for Languages & Cultures at the University of Notre Dame for making this opportunity possible for me. As we say in Tagalog- Maraming Salamat! (Thank you very much!)



Blog Entry #7 June 30, 2016 Change is Coming

Blog Entry #7

June 30,2016

Change is Coming

This afternoon was newly-elected President Duterte’s inauguration, in Quezon City, Philippines. As I navigated my way through the Quezon City traffic, I was struck by the irony of the situation. I was on my way to board a plane to Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, where he had served as mayor and earn the reputation for being able to ‘clean things up.’ At the same time, Duterte was about to begin his inaugural speech in Manila. Duterte’s campaign slogan ‘Change is Coming!’ is one that is plastered on the side of buildings and jeepneys, and worn on people’s wrists in the form of plastic bracelets. Although I may not agree with all of Duterte’s policies, I found myself embracing this idea that ‘Change is Coming!’ as I leave Manila and head to Davao City to begin my internship with Catholic Relief Services.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to have studied at His Name SALT, a faith-based language school with a long history of teaching Tagalog to foreigners. I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn about Filipino culture through my host family and friends from language school. I am very excited about the prospect of using the Filipino language to engage my co-workers and make my way around the city. I don’t know all of the adventures that await me when I arrive in Davao City, but what I do know is that change is coming my way, and I look forward to embracing whatever comes next. Aalis na ako, Manila (I am going now, Manila!) Kita tayo Davao! (See you, Davao!)

*Photo courtesy of Reuters/ Erik De Castro.




Blog Entry #6 June 18, 2016 Pakikisama

Blog Entry #6

June 18, 2016


Pakikisama is a word that can literally be translated to ‘to get along with,’ but I like to think it means ‘keeping the peace.’ Pakikisama is a Filipino cultural value that has no comparative value in the United States. If I had to describe it from a westernized mindset, I would use the words, ‘don’t rustle any feathers,’ or ‘don’t be the odd man out.’ For me, this is what pakikisama is- keeping a low profile and refraining from being the one to ‘call things out.’ Understanding how to keep the pakikisama and making a strong effort to do so, has proven essential to earning respect and friendships here in the Philippines.

Filipinos are communal people. They look out for eachother, they care about eachother, and they are always seeking the good on behalf of eachother. There is no such thing as ‘I’m going to do what is best for me.’ It is always about doing what is best for the greater common good- doing what is best for others. When Filipinos make decisions about how to spend their money or their time, they do it always thinking first about how their decision is going to affect those who are closest to them. The concept of ‘entitlement,’ or ‘this is what I deserve,’ does not exist. If it does you are going against the social grain- and ignoring the pakikisama.

As someone who is pursuing a masters degree in International Peace Studies, I am very interested to see how the concept of ‘keeping the peace’ intersects with the intricacies of peacebuilding work here in the Philippines. I look forward to continuing to explore the concept more through my work in Davao City, Philippines.



*Photo of Rizal Park in Downtown Manila, Philippines.

June 13, 2016 Blog Entry #5 You are staying in Payatas?

June 13, 2016

Blog Entry #5

You are staying in Payatas?

‘You are staying in Payatas?’ Since arriving in Manila, I hear that clarifying question everyday, multiple times per day, asked with sense of surprise. Payatas is known for the ‘Smoky Mountain.’ Smoky Mountain is the nickname that has been given to the largest garbage dump in Manila- that is constantly burning off the toxic waste fumes. Besides being a dumpsite, it is also home to over 30,000 people, including my host family.

My first day in Payatas, my host mom (Ate Jane) told me we were going to do ‘outreach’ with her church- delivering school supplies to 50 kids who were living on Smoky Mountain. After the church service I walked with Ate Jean and her eldest daughters to Smoky Mountain. I was surprised to find that the entrance to Smoky Mountain was just 50 feet from where the home was located. Hundreds of families were living in the low-level slums surrounding the towering Smoky Mountain. As we played with the children and handed out school supplies, load after load of foul-smelling dump trucks rambled through the narrow street, kicking up dust and leaving behind small remnants of trash and waste.

As we walked home I realized that the only thing differentiating my family from these families was a short fifty feet. But that fifty feet meant a gap in education, money, time, and food. It was these same things which separated my host family from the rest of Payatas, and separated Payatas from the rest of Manila and the Philippines.

While I had never experienced a place quite like Payatas before, I had also never experienced the same strength, love, generosity and faith as I did in Ate Jean’s family. I found the strength with which Ate Jean passed through life nearly incomprehensible. Her daughters were overflowing with love- even when I burned dinner. They were so generous- offering me my own room while all five of them slept in one room. They were also very patient with me as I struggled to pronounce new words in foreign Tagalog. All four of them were like the little sisters I never had.

I think above all else, I was amazed by the faithfulness of this family- always offering up prayers of gratitude for their safety and health. And what touched me even more- they were always offering up prayers of gratitude for me. So when people asked me, ‘You are staying in Payatas?’ I had a response in mind that I continued to use for the duration of my stay. ‘Oo, sa Payatas,’ I would reply quietly, smiling, ‘sa pamilya doon.’ (Yes, in Payatas, I have family there.)


*All names have been changed to protect identities.

*A birthday card from one of my host sisters. ‘Ate’ is a term used that implies ‘elder sister.’

Blog Entry #4 June 11, 2016 Parra, po!

Blog Entry #4

June 11, 2016

Parra, po! 

Manila is home to every kind of transport imaginable and it is also home to an overwhelming amount of traffic. Since arriving here, I have experimented with pretty much every form of transportation available- plane, train, subway, taxicab, private car, tricycles and jeepyneys. A tricycle is a motorcycle with a small carriage attached to it, situated low to the ground. I have decided that the tricycle provides just the right balance of thrill and danger, all from inside a comfortable enclosed little space. The jeepney, however, is really my public transportation of choice.

For 7 pesos minimum fare, I can share a ride somewhere with nearly 25 other passengers. Waving a jeepney down is kind of like waving down a taxi- except that most of the time it’s not even necessary. There are informal designated stopping points for jeepneys along sides of the roads. They are notable because there are usually clusters of people waiting at certain corners. When I board the jeepney I have to step up, and crouch down low, to avoid hitting my head on the low ceiling of the makeshift bus. Passengers sit across from each other, but always peer past one another, through the small, open windows on both sides of the bus. Many passengers ride with hankerchiefs covering their mouths, to avoid having the sand and dirt enter their nostrils and mouth.

Once we have all squeezed our hips onto the small, short ledge on the bus, loose change starts being passed from hand to hand. ‘Bayed, po!’ says the person who is passing up their money. This is a sign that someone is paying their fare. The people who pass up his money say things like ‘bayed, daw,’ to indicate that they are passing on the fare for another person… and so it goes with each new person that enters the jeepney. One of my hands usually grasps the metal bar just above me, to keep from losing my balance when the ‘dryber’ takes the turns too quickly; another one stays free to help pass along the fares. My backpack usually sits on my lap in front of me.

When it is time to get off, the words are simple, ‘Para po!’ which means, ‘Stop sir.’ By asking someone to stop I am letting them know it is mine time to get off, and on to my next destination. The jeepney is perfect form of public transportation because there is a sense of social accountability and responsibility. The fare is the same for everyone and it is up to the passengers to make sure everyone makes their payments.

*Photo courtesy of blog, Best Tropical Vacation Hot Spots: Modes of Transportation in the Philippines, written by Dee Yuzon. Posted November 18, 2013, accessed August 20, 2016.



Blog Entry #3 June 7, 2016 ‘Gustong-gusto’

Blog Entry #3

June 7, 2016


            In 2011, I had the opportunity to study Brazilian Portuguese for three months before beginning my work as a missionary in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I found the process tedious and frustrating, but also recognized it as a necessary growing pain a crucial element to cross-cultural adaptation. Learning Brazilian Portuguese was absolutely essential if I was going to spend the next 3.5 years in Brazil. Learning Brazilian Portuguese allowed me to immerse myself in the culture, and enhanced my professional and personal life. However, learning a language is also a process- and one that cannot happen overnight. Because I have a very limited window of time to study Tagalog in Manila, I have been forced to take a unique approach to learning.

The idea of trying to learn Tagalog in 7 weeks for a 6 month internship in the Philippines, sounded stressful and overwhelming. I realized without the first week of language lessons that even though I have less time to learn this language, I still need to approach it with the same laidback approach I did in Brazil. If I make Tagalog learning fun, I will also be successful. I am not going to be able to learn everything in the 7 weeks I have to study- so I may as well enjoy the opportunity. Holding on to it too tightly will only result in frustration and a sense of defeat.

For me, fun includes trying out a new phrase at the palengke (market) or striking up conversation with the watermelon tindero (vendor). It means making notecards and taping them up around the house- physically labeling items in Tagalog to help me remember their names. It also means being able to laugh at myself when I make mistakes and introduce myself as someone who is ‘nag-aaral ako ng Tagalog’ or ‘I am studying Tagalog.’ Learning a new language is about experimenting. The minute language learning starts becoming stressful, I need to take a step back and explore ways I can make it fun. When it is fun I can honestly say, ‘Gustong- gusto Tagalog!’ (I really like Tagalog!)

*A glimpse at one of my vocabulary exercises during my Tagalog classes.



Blog Entry #2 May 16, 2016 Sunrise

Blog Entry #2

May 16, 2016


When I first started thinking about going to the Philippines early to study Tagalog, I was forced to do some serious reflecting. Did I want to leave my family 7 weeks before the start of my internship? How would I pay for the language study? And perhaps the biggest question in my mind was why did I want to attend? What motivated me to apply for the Summer Language Award and enroll in a language program?

The plane took off from Minneapolis, St. Paul and began to cross over the Pacific Ocean. As the plane climbed higher, clouds covering the view below me until it finally became dark, the ground below me turned black. There was nothing to tell me how far away the plane was from the ground. Unable to see anything outside my window, I quietly closed my eyes and let the quiet hum of the plane and the soft leather of the seat rock me to sleep.

As the plane arrived near Manila International Airport on the final leg of a nearly 30-hour journey, I opened my eyes. I noticed a bright red light cut horizontally across the thick window of the airplane. It took me a good minute to figure out what I was looking at. It was the sun, just beginning to wake up, and I was at eye level with the horizon it was quickly climbing over. I watched as the line moved from dark red to orange to yellow- it was truly magnificent. I felt as though I could reach out and touch it, and I imagined how hot it must be, as it began to wake up the 100 million person population in the Philippines. As I watched it I thought to myself, ‘the sun is smiling for me. What a welcome to the Philippines.’

As the plane began to descend, the clouds around the thousands of small islands below me continued to ascend. At some points the plane was even eye level with the clouds and I could not help but smile. After a dark night, the clouds were lifting to reveal a beautiful new life below. Around each little island was a light blue color, as if a child had taken a Crayola crayon labeled ‘marine’ and outlined every single island below in that same color. Below me lie hundreds of thousands of houses with different colored roofs, and I wondered what the people who lived inside them were doing. Looking down as the clouds floated up, I can only describe my feelings in one way- comforted, affirmed and at peace.

I felt comforted being able to being able to look below me and finally see this marvelous place called the Philippines. The place I had been looking forward to visiting before I even before I arrived at the University of Notre Dame to begin my Masters studies. For so long, the Philippines had been nothing more than an idea in my head… but now it was becoming real.

I also felt affirmed of my decisions. My decisions to attend the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and apply for the Summer Learning Abroad Award seemed like they made sense. The decision to arrive early to study Tagalog- well it just felt right. The feeling of affirmation, while difficult for me to articulate, was simply a feeling of ‘knowing.’ Sometimes when everything else feels uncertain, the sense that I am doing the right thing or making the right decision is the only thing guiding me. That was the feeling I had on the airplane, the feeling that I was in the right place, doing the right thing at the right moment. I had found a sense of peace amidst clouds and ocean views.

*Views from amidst the clouds as I arrive in Manila, Philippines.