Friday, October 07, 2005

An Independent Journey by Jonahlynn Sabado

One day, Natalie Yang was flipping through a copy of Time magazine in the Philippines and came across an article about San Francisco. As she looked through the article, she read that San Francisco was “the best city in the world.”

She thought to herself, “I wouldn’t mind living there.”

After reading that article, she became attracted to this city because it presented so much diversity. “It was basically everything that I was looking for to experience something different in life. Oftentimes, I’ve also wondered what it would be like to live out on my own,” she says.

As Natalie prepared herself to move to America, she imagined San Francisco to be very sunny and cool. “My dad and my older brother were the only two people in my family who had been to San Francisco but they didn’t really tell me what to expect,” she says. In the movies, she saw that people wore summer clothing in California so most of the clothes she packed were for warm weather. Little did she know that it was foggy and chilly year-round. “As soon as I arrived at my grandma’s apartment in San Francisco, I literally stayed in bed the whole day,” she says.

But Natalie knew that she couldn’t hide under the covers for long, as there was so much for her to explore on her own.

Natalie’s journey from the Philippines to America was not just a typical vacation from her home land. It was a journey of a new beginning, a beginning that she hoped entitled her to achieve bigger and better things without the supervision of her parents and family she left behind. It was a journey toward personal independence.

Coming to America would be a way for Natalie to set herself apart from most of her former colleagues in Manila, Philippines. “Pretty much everyone back home was at the same level and I wanted to deviate from that. Even if I graduated from one of the top schools back home, I would be competing with about thousands more from the same school, vying for the same job,” she says of her schooling in the Philippines. Furthermore, she says that her college back home emphasized academics, leaving her no time for extracurricular activities because of the weight of her classes. As a result, Natalie decided not just to come to America but to transfer to the University of San Francisco.

However, it wasn’t easy convincing her parents to let her go.

Shy, modest and timid, Natalie lived a sheltered life and usually depended on her parents for allowances, lunch expenses, books and other school materials. “Whenever I needed something, my parents would give it to me right away,” she says. Back home, she also counted on her family’s driver to take her to and from school, and a maid that would clean up in her room and around the house. But her decision to come to America meant she had to become more independent. Although she was shy, she considered herself to be adventurous, always wanting to try something new. “While my friends were used to their comfort and lifestyle back home, I felt that I wanted something more in life, something that I wasn’t accustomed to,” she says.

During her first few months in San Francisco, Natalie had to study local maps and bus routes in order to get around because she did not know how to drive nor did she own a license. This became a proud change for her because she didn’t need a personal driver as she did back home. Likewise, at her grandma’s house, Natalie would do her own laundry and clean her own room. Though these things were a first step, things she could do on her own without the help of others, Natalie also knew that she eventually had to start mingling with other people.

Natalie didn’t really experience culture shock when she came to the States because she was exposed to many American movies back home. The labels Americans used – “geeks,” “ jocks,” cheerleaders,” “the popular crowd” -- did not surprise her. On the other hand, she says it was difficult for her to adjust the way she interacted with Americans. Nobody ever noticed her heavy accent whenever Natalie spoke; however, she was always concerned about it. Also, although she knew how to speak English fluently, she was so accustomed to speaking her native language, tagalog (a dialect in the Philippines). “I had to adapt to speaking straight English rather than mixing half English and half Filipino,” she says.

As an international student, Natalie was only allowed to work on campus. During her first semester, she got a job at the coffee shop in Lone Mountain where she worked 10 to 20 hours a week. As she earned money, Natalie learned something else: how to budget her expenses. At the coffee shop, she also started meeting new people. Because she had to constantly talk to a lot of people, this helped her to step out of her shyness. She also began to recite more frequently in classes. Her new skills also encouraged her to become involved with organizations on campus such as the International Student Association, which she gained presidency of during her last year at USF. There, she met more and more people.

Natalie graduated from USF with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design in May 2005, two years after coming to America. But Natalie did not want to move back home just yet. She had more going to do. She wanted to gain work experience before settling back home. This made it tough for her because she was forced to find a job which was the only way she could stay in America. During the summer, she applied to numerous internships in California – and not just in San Francisco. “I believe my experiences so far have made me more talkative, independent and responsible. But after living with my grandma for two years and having her pay for my tuition, I wanted to break away from depending on her and really start living on my own.”

Escaping the cold weather in the Bay Area, Natalie now works as a full-time intern at Hershey Associates, a graphic design and marketing firm in Santa Monica, where she now lives with two other roommates. Now in sunny, laidback Southern California, she says with a warm smile (a really warm smile), she can return to sporting her summer wardrobe all year long!


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