The Salad Bowl of the Philippines

Last Monday was quite possibly the most eventful day I have had in the Philippines thus far. My stomach was full of butterflies as I packed a bag and piled into the jeepney headed to the Vista Venice Resort in Morong, Bataan. We would all be spending the night at the resort for a jam packed two days, which included two of the most anticipated events of our Pre-Service Training.

First up: the LPI. The Language Proficiency Interview is a 20-30 minute conversation between a trainee and certified tester. My tester and I spoke about my favorite books, I told her all about my family in America and host family here in the Philippines, I compared my experiences in South Africa to those here, and we even role played a situation in which I bought a gift and had to go to the store to return it without a receipt. Easy, right? Think again. Did I mention this all happens in Tagalog?! I was so extremely nervous prior to my interview, but the conversation flowed naturally and I was pretty confident in my responses. Immediately afterwards, my tester told me that I performed in both the Advanced Low and Intermediate High levels and would need to re-listen to my interview to determine my final placement (the interviews are recorded). I was only concerned with achieving Intermediate Mid, the benchmark we had to reach, so I knew I had passed! I didn’t even care about my final score. I left the room having mixed emotions; I was stoked that my LPI was finally finished, but I was super nervous for our Site Announcement which was now only 1 hour away!

After the longest lunch ever, it was finally time. Time for our Site Announcement! Each Regional Manager would take the stage and flash photos of our faces, one by one, to announce where we would be living and working for the next two years. The first region to be announced: the province of Benguet in Northern Luzon. The first photo to be shown: Brie, another Elementary Education Volunteer. The room erupted into cheers and claps as she ran to the front to place her photo on the map. Since it is rare for two volunteers of the same education level to be placed near each other, I began talking to my other friends about how excited we were for Brie. That’s when I heard, “Hey wait, Bridget, that’s you!”! As I looked up to the screen, there it was. My face with an arrow pointing to Benguet. After standing there in shock I realized what this meant; I was going to Northern Luzon (there are no beaches close by…), but Brie is my site mate! Like a scene straight out of a cheesy movie, we ran into each others arms excitedly.  I’m pretty sure it was the best site mate hug of the day (sorry ’bout it, Jimmy and Saba). The excitement continued to flow through the room as one by one, everyone was called up to receive their site placement.

I'm going to Benguet!

I’m going to Benguet!

I will be living in the “very remote, very rural” town of Kapangan, Benguet. My primary job will be to conduct remedial reading classes for the students at the school as well as to teach English and Science. I will be working at the central elementary school, but there are only 250 pupils with just 20-25 pupils per class. My town is 2 hours away from the city and any amenities (market, bank, internet, etc.), and there is little to no transportation within the town. The residents walk everywhere, even if that means walking over one hour each way to school. Thanks to the walking, I’m pretty much guaranteed to have a rockin’ bod after this, right?! Here’s hoping, anyways.

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The province of Benguet in relation to the rest of the country


aaaaand zoomed in!

aaaaand zoomed in! There’s my little town! La Trinidad is the closest city to me. That;s where I will go to access an ATM or use the internet.

Despite the fears that I have going to site and the challenges that I will face during my service (like the fact that there are often landslides that block the one road in and out of town), I am super stoked because this highland province is known as “The Salad Bowl of the Philippines“. Many fruits and vegetables are grown there, including strawberries, Baguio beans (green beans), broccoli, and potatoes. I don’t think it could be any more perfect for my vegetarian self!

Strawberry farm in La Trinidad, the provincial capital

Strawberry farm in La Trinidad, the provincial capital


Beautiful pic thanks to my good friend, Google

Beautiful pic thanks to my good friend, Google


Thanks, Google

Thanks again, Google

So, for the first time in my whole life, I won’t be living close to the beach. And that is happening while I live in country that is made up of 7,107 islands. It just cracks me up every time I think about it.
We leave our training community, Orani, on September 9th and head to Manila for a week where we will wrap up our training, explore the capital of this beautiful country, and meet our supervisors at a Work Partners Conference. Then, along with our supervisors, we travel to our permanent sites. Until then, I’m busy spending time with my host family, hanging out with my friends, and learning yet another language, Ilokano! Yikes! Wish me luck!


“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

-Neale Donald Walsch

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It’s More Fun in the Philippines

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Philippines, it’s that people here love to have fun. And a lot of it. No event is complete without copious amounts of food, videoke, and the sweet sound of laughter. Another thing that I’m quickly learning (and really trying to get used to) is that scheduling can be extremely difficult. We have been at Pre-Service Training (PST) for only 2 weeks and we have had more schedule changes than most people experience in an entire year. One early morning at school last week was no different.

My cluster mates and I arrived at our elementary school at 7:30 am as usual. We signed in at the office, finished preparing our lesson plans, and headed to our respective classrooms by 8:05. At 8:30, just as my co-teacher and I were beginning our English lesson for the day, my friend Brie and her co-teacher were at our door telling me that we had to leave. Confused, I packed up my things and went around the school to inform everyone else that we were leavingr. We had no idea what was happening, not a clue where we were going, and certainly didn’t know why.

Our trike ride to Orani North Elementary School was short and upon our arrival we were rushed into the conference room where we finally realized we were joining an Action Research Seminar with our Principal. Since the seminar was being conducted in Tagalog, the local language, we didn’t really know what was going on. Since I still only know the very basics I was prepared for that. I absolutely was not, however, prepared for what happened next. The ONES Principal was handing over the mic to the DepEd Supervisor, who then pulled up a video to the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”. Now, the song is not foreign to my ears by any means. It was popular in the States and it seems to be the favorite song of every Filipino child and young adult. I hear it at least 3 times a day (and when I say 3 I really mean 10). Even so, I would never, ever expect this to be played in a professional setting. Yet there it was. Video up on the projector, beginning to play. The announcer called out a school in attendance and the participating teachers jumped up out of their seats and began to Whip and Nae Nae. At a seminar. With DepEd officials there. As we were watching them dance, we observed every other person in the room cheesing real hard and laughing from their bellies. The next thing I knew, I heard “US Peace Corps” from the mic immediately followed by screams and cheers from the seminar attendees. Without hesitation, my fellow PCTs and I, along with our boss, jumped up and began to Whip and Nae Nae. It was hysterically amazing.

While I still can’t believe that happened, what I really can’t believe is that I Whipped and Nae Nae’d again on Friday in front of a grade 5 class. After being told to by a co-teacher.

It really is more fun in the Philippines.

Welcome to the Philippines

Mabuhay!

I’ve just begun my 4th week here in the Philippines and I can’t believe how fast time is flying. I originally intended to begin a blog before I left for Peace Corps, but in true Bridget fashion I procrastinated hard core. So now, after over 3 weeks in country, it’s finally here!

Part of the reason that it took me so long to actually begin writing my initial blog post is because I just have way too much to say. As soon as I arrived to our staging event, or pre-departure orientation, in LA, it has been one adventure after the other. After traveling for what seemed like forever (but really just an 11 hour flight to Tokyo, a 4 hour layover and then a 4 hour flight to Manila), the exhaustion was real. I was so drained by the time we landed in Manila that I couldn’t wait to get to our training site in Cavite, an hour and a half bus ride away. The only thing on my mind was sleep. As soon as we walked off of the plane and through the gate into the terminal, however, all of those thoughts disappeared. We were greeted with loud claps and cheers from the smiling faces of Peace Corps staff members and adorned with sampagiuita flower leis. Feelings of excitement, happiness, and just pure joy rushed through my veins. I instantly felt home.

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All 88 of us after arriving in Manila!

The next two weeks were spent at a training compound in Silang, Cavite. International Institute of Rural Reconstruction was where our IO (Initial Orientation) was held. Our days were filled with masarap (delicious) meals, medical, safety, and PC policy sessions, merienda, traditional Pilipino games, merienda, sector based training, language classes and even more merienda. Merienda is a snack served in between meals. (I could go on and on about the food here, especially merienda, so an entire post dedicated to that will come shortly!) We spent our evenings hanging out with each other, attending activities hosted by our Resource Volunteers, playing card games in the rec room, and buying out the sari-sari’s supply of beer (Red Horse, I miss you already). We made some amazing connections and really became a Batch 274 pamilya.

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Welcome to IIRR!

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After an amazing two weeks at “Camp Peace Corps”, we said our ‘see you laters’ to our new friends and headed to the province of Bataan for our Community Based Training. It has been an amazing, beautiful, and wild time so far and I can’t wait to see what the next 27 months have in store for me! 🙂

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My home for our first two weeks

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IIRR

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IIRR

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IIRR

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IIRR

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IIRR

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My first jeepney ride! To the mall we go!

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The best roomie, Nina!

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So sad to leave these girls after 2 amazing weeks

The Pinterest Patio

“The Pinterest Patio”

Paalam, friends!