Editor's Note: The University of Baguio deploys its Hotel & Restaurant Management and Tourism students in establishments in the country and abroad for its local and international on-the-job training program. For over five years, UB has deployed more than 200 trainees in more than three countries across Asia and America. In the following article, UB trainee Benjel Kikim shares her experience training in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A.
As I walked to my last day of work, a sensation came over me when I saw in the distance an airplane flying overhead. It came to me that it has already been a year. It was as if it was only yesterday when I first heard the words “Welcome to Louisville International Airport!” in the plane cockpit.
I used to often wonder what it’s like to live in America. I grew up in a small sub-urban place in Benguet where the only place you could go during weekends is either to church or to school – no malls, no parks, no clubs. When I did college, my routine only involved home and school.
But then it happened. I was given the chance to learn and work at the same time – in America. I was given the chance to live the American dream – even just for a year.
During my stay in the land of the free and the land of opportunities, every time I walk on the cold streets, I would contemplate how lucky the people are in the States – how lucky they are to be able to build their lives in a country where you seldom experience traffic, where the currency is in dollars in which when converted to peso multiplies, where magic fills some of the world’s most famous attractions such as Disneyland, Walt Disney, SeaWorld, Six Flags, Hollywood, NASA, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, Vegas, Reno, I could go on...
I shed a tear of happiness on the second day after we landed on the American soil because the minute I opened my eyes, the window pane was covered in white. Snow was falling from the sky, and it looked beautiful. We went out in our pajamas, not minding the Americans looking at us like we were crazy because we were playing in the cold. It was our first snow, and nothing else mattered.
I was assigned in a small city in Kentucky called Louisville. What I liked about it is its simplicity and beauty. It is like part city and part suburb; not too noisy, not too quiet. It’s like having the goings-on of a city with the peacefulness of a province. I see now why Filipinos are choosing to stay in Louisville. Everything is done in a flash – the processing of papers, insurances; applications are quickly processed since everything is done over the phone or using the Internet. I thought, “This is a great place to live in.”
But that was a year ago. I started noticing the routine of American life. I met locals who became my friends and family during my stay there, and I was able to compare our cultures.
The snow is only wonderful at first encounter. After my first encounter, whenever snow came, I would despise it. The cold is just unbearable!
Day-to-day life in the States involves working 10 to 16 hours a day so one can pay his bills; to be able to travel, you need to spend more hours at work. The elderly are forced to work to keep up with the bills. People have lived for more than 10 years in a neighborhood and they still don’t know each other.
At that time, I suddenly missed the chaos back home. The loud voices of my aunts and uncles. The noise of my neighbor’s dog barking in the morning. The blaring of jeepney horns. The takatak of cigarette and balot vendors. The barker yelling out like an international roll call: “Tuding!”, “Puguis!”, “Km. 5!” The crowded jeepneys and buses and the happiness I would feel whenever I offer to give my seat to a stranger. My mom’s home-cooked meals. The taho and the crispy pata that I have been eating since I was a kid... I suddenly missed speaking in Tagalog.
In the coldness of the winter, beneath my hat and scarves, I would find comfort in the thought of the tropical weather back home.
Upon hearing the words “Maligayang Pagdating sa Ninoy Aquino International Airport!”, I realized how lucky I am to have been born and lived – and continue to live – here in the Philippines, where there is so much family around, where you have all the time in the world to bond with family and friends, where belongingness is truly felt.
America is a great country, indeed, but I will always consider the Philippines my home.
Benjel in one of her shifts
Benjel with one of her supervisors
Celebrating Christmas with Santa
Benjel poses for a photo with a life-size model of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) founder Colonel Harland Sanders.
KFC, the world's second largest restaurant chain, is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky.