In this article Patricia Audrey Castromayor, a student from the Philippines, talks about her experience in the US with the ALEX program, a two week exchange organized for the students who could not take part in their exchange year due to COVID-19. Patricia spent a week in Kansas and another in Washington DC, fulfilling her “American Dream.” Read on to discover Patricia’s incredible story! Learn more about hosting a student like Patricia here.
After 26 hours of flight from the Philippines, I finally arrived at my first home in the US – Manhattan, Kansas. Surrounded by vast plains, gentle hills, and glorious sunsets. It was in this place that I got a grasp of living simply in this country where people dreamed of going because of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. MHK was the first place a thousand miles away from where I came from to relearn the basics of humanity – to be compassionate, understanding, respectful, and open-minded as I traverse this newfound place for intercultural learning.
I was hosted by a couple who not only showed me what American life is but also their own and being hosted together with another student is what makes my experience unique by having the privilege of sharing four cultures under one roof. In our home, we exchange stories about our countries’ culture, traditions, and cuisine: Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, and America. They were the ones who taught me that you don’t need to be related to each other just to consider them as your family; you just have to embrace them for what they are. What matters most is how you value your time together, creating memories as much as you can-let alone spending only a week with them with the uncertainty of seeing each other in a few years. The beauty of having a host family goes beyond anything anyone can think of. It is an experience that cultivates communication and connection on both sides. They showed us the beauty of Manhattan in their own way, by appreciating the simple things in life that somehow everyone has overlooked. It was at this moment that I figured out that this is the life in a week which I wouldn’t trade for anything else. MHK was also the place where I met my international life-long friends. They never treated me differently because I was the only Filipina in this group of Indonesian girls. They showed me that despite our differences in belief, one can have a good friendship.
July 16th, our last full day in MHK. I woke up at five am even though our parents told us we could keep our alarms off, yet I woke up earlier and had a sudden recollection upon arriving in this Midwestern state, clueless and anxious about what might be the worst experience I would have. All the doubts proved to me that it’s how I perceive what was given to me to try new things and experiences, even if it is far from what I had imagined; I chose to be open to everything. Not only should I, it is also about how we make ourselves available for people to connect with. It was never easy to leave after experiencing so many firsts in a week such as 8:30 sunsets and anything that speaks of American way. Before, I didn’t have much expectation of Kansas-wishing I would be in a state where my definition of the American dream fits, tall buildings, movie scenes, big lights, Broadway, and avenues. In the end, I just knew KS would be that American dream. A dream I had once when I was a kid was to witness those beautiful green hills I only saw on computer backgrounds, the sunsets that I never witnessed back in the Philippines as we were surrounded by mountains, and road trips that were never far. It was this dream that my inner child had finally fulfilled.
Another week in DC has given me more reasons why we are in this program, not only to form new relationships but to become leaders of our respective communities. Working with my fellow students from different countries drove me to become a better citizen of my country and so we work hard to be the leader we want to see in our community. Now it is time to talk about what we could do to make our communities back home a safer and better place for our youth. We know that the program isn’t just about educating one another about our culture but also about being the leader that our community needs by being a critical thinker, accountable, communicator, and someone with integrity. Each day, we start by looking for the problem until we reach a conclusion. It was not made overnight, it took days to finally get into details by making sure it would be a great project to start with. We rely on each other to help and gain a better understanding of our country; may it be politically or socially speaking.
My host mom once said that the beauty of humanity are the differences among us. The ALEX program gave such a meaningful sense of it in a way of building connections with people whom I share no similarities with, but the shared sentiment in defining our bond through understanding one another and acknowledging mistakes we might have made that led to learning a new perspective to achieve it. The pandemic may have taken our opportunity to stay for a year. I’ll take it as a chance to assess how I define happiness in fulfilling my goal despite those expectations I have set before. It was a dream delayed for a reason, now a memory to hold on to until the very last sunset. I’ll be the person that the ALEX program helps me to be—a changemaker.