By NICOLE EMELLIE YU
I’ve never really talked about my trip to the United States. It’s not because I’m not proud. It’s not because I’m ungrateful. It’s not because it doesn’t mean anything to me or that it’s something I take too lightly. It’s because it’s too good to be true. Even as I type right now, it still feels surreal. It feels like something that could be easily taken away from me if I make a wrong move. So I was very protective of it, and kept it secret for as long as I could as I wanted to be 100% sure so I don’t end up disappointing others and most especially, myself.
You see, it has always been my dream to study abroad. But I knew from the very beginning that this may be nothing but wishful thinking. The idea wasn’t really feasible especially with my situation. I had to work twice as hard just to make life easier for my family and I. But although my chances of making this dream come were a million to one, at the back of my mind, I was still very hopeful.
It was around November 2015 when I first stumbled upon Fulbright’s poster announcing a fully-funded opportunity to study in the US. This made my heart skip a beat. I immediately worked on my application with a focused mind and a heart full of vigor. It took me weeks to accomplish all the requirements. After weeks of editing, revising and proofreading, I finally hit ‘Send’, prayed and hoped for the best. No one knew that I applied for the program – not my friends, not my family not even FEU.
Weeks after submitting my application I received an e-mail from PAEF, inviting me over for an interview. I thought to myself “This is it! This is my chance!” and I was more excited than nervous. However, when I got there I was surrounded by a number of brilliant students from all over the country. They were clearly the best from their respective schools. And it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t for me after all. But I kept going and tried to keep a positive light. We wrote essays on the spot until each of us were called in to enter the room for the interviews. I was the third to be called and I remember being so panicky and afraid of not knowing what to say. I’ve gone through several interviews in the past – some even involving me asking the questions on national television. But this was different and I was scared to death.There I met Dr. EC and the rest of the Fulbright PH team for the very first time. The interview went on for 30-45 minutes and when it was over, I was overcome by a wave of disappointment. I didn’t like how my interview went – not one bit. I felt I gave the wrong answers and I wasn’t able to show more of myself. This was the end of the road for me, so I thought. I took it hard but after a few weeks I’ve successfully convinced myself to move on.
Just when I had accepted my fate, I received a call telling me I was picked to be one of the 6 nominees to compete for the scholarship worldwide. I couldn’t believe it. I was one step closer to reaching my dream. At that point, all that Fulbright PH could do was to hope for the best for its nominees. Our destiny would lie on the hands of the people at Washington DC. All we could do was pray and believe.
To say that the waiting period was agonizing is an understatement. Never in my life have I waited for something so painstakingly long and nerve-wracking. It was all I could ever think about. I believe the experience made me a million times more patient than I was before.
It was May 5, 2016 when I found out that I was chosen as one of the four representatives of the Philippines. I was both relieved and grateful. But I was also scared, worried that somehow this could all slip out. What followed that moment were 8 months of fulfilling requirements, fixing papers, plotting schedules, attending seminars and orientations, scheduling appointments and days of waking up before 5 AM. Yikes.
And finally, after the long wait it has come to this. I find myself here, at the airport, waiting to board the plane. I still don’t know how it all came to this. I was never really the best kid in class. I was never the smartest student, nor did I always get high grades. I’d have to read a chapter around three times just to get a concept that some would instantly understand right after a professor discusses in class. I would come to class late, sometimes not at all to do stuff that would challenge me and teach me things beyond the four walls of the classroom. I may not have been the best academically but, if anything, I believe I was one of the most passionately curious about learning.
As I sit here, I’m trying to contemplate what on Earth I did right to be, well, sitting here right now in NAIA. To be flying to some foreign land to pursue studies. To have a dream come to life. Right now my batchmates just started taking their OJT and will join the workforce very soon. And I think it would be nice to share what I’ve learned throughout my life as a millennial so far.
1. When it comes to learning, we learn the most when we learn how to embrace failure.
2. It’s important to take risks as to not get stuck. Step out of your comfort zone.
3. Focus on a goal and keep working at it. If you don’t see results, keep trying. Great things take time and hard work.
4. When you let go of your fears, that’s when you start to grow.
5. Your hard work will never be in vain. Be patient and soon enough your labor will bear fruit.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Mistakes don’t destroy you. They make you better.
7. Things get harder the closer you are to your goal. Remember: it’s okay to rest. But don’t stop.
8. There will always be people who will believe in you. But you have to believe in yourself too.
9. Don’t compare yourself to others. Each of us work at a different pace. Trust in your process.
10. A dream is never just a dream.
The winding road to getting a degree has been extremely hard but the 10 principles above have helped keep me sane, happy and fulfilled.
Right when I was about to give up, the universe starts showing me that it ain’t half bad. But I guess that’s what makes life so interesting, it’s filled with so many surprises.
I have so many things going on in my head right now but I am unable to properly translate these emotions into coherent words so I’ll end with this quote.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Nicole Emellie Yu is a former broadcast reporter and radio jock. She has been writing professionally for various broadsheets, magazines, and websites since 2013. She is an advocate for educational equity, freedom of speech, and women’s rights. She is also a mentor and trainer for public speaking and creative writing.