Sometimes opportunities present themselves and it’s up to us to just jump and grab them, no matter what the next steps or consequences may be. When I was offered a job as a Special Education teacher in America, I immediately decided that I have to go.
Arriving in El Paso, Texas was a lot different than my idea of America. It wasn’t long until everything else seemed to also have veered away from what I thought my life was going to be. I got a school assignment one day before school started and I pretty much had less than a day to get my classroom together. It was my first job ever, so I was excited about it. I felt blessed that such an opportunity fell on my lap a few months after graduating from college and I was ready to just get in the business of lesson planning, putting up bulletin boards, decorating my classroom and meeting and collaborating with my new co-workers. Work was very smooth and seamless.
Outside of work, it was a different story. Having moved to America with about 29 other teachers from the Philippines, we were all in it together. Our day started before 5am, our call time for carpooling. There were about ten of us in a van, and we’d be driving all over northeast El Paso to drop us off in each of our school. I was the last drop off in the morning, so I’d get two hours later at 7am to my school after having crossed the city in multiple directions. In the afternoon, it’s the same story, only this time in reverse so I’d have to be the first pick up; meaning, I had to clean up my classroom as fast as I can right after school is out, and skipping any after school activities.
During these two hour trips to and from work, I got to create a sense of family and belonging with Filipinos who I didn’t know just a few months prior. We shared stories from back home, of their husbands or wives and kids that they left behind as we all jumped into this opportunity. We laughed and cried, anxious about beginning our day when we didn’t know if some rowdy and disrespectful kid is waiting for us in the classroom, or just ending the day with a big smile because we have been supported so much by our American co-teachers who have become good friends in the few years we were there. We would end the week with a regular visit to the nearest buffet, dollar store and K-Mart. We’d walk to and from these places and push grocery carts from the stores all the way back to our place.
There was that time when our van broke down in the middle of the Interstate-10 under the 100+ degrees Sonoran Desert sun; that time when we’d have dinner using boxes as dining table since we didn’t have any furniture; that time when all we had was a twin-sized mattress, a shower curtain and an ironing board; that time we had to sell ourselves to schools within the district so we can finally say that we have a job; that time homesickness kicked in; that time you realized that it’s a busy but lonely life; that time you knew that it is indeed a very different life and that from here on out, everything is going to change. Then there was that time receiving your first pay check. It felt great! Hard work really does pay off, but then you also realized that you have all these debts to pay back home.
These are the moments and experiences that separate the weak from the strong, the broken from the determined. They may have been small experiences at the time, but they were the ones that built our character and skills, our dreams and hope, and inspired us to always look at the bright side of things. As for me, these were the times I got to meet and be friends with some of the best people in my life, the ones who know and share my humble beginnings; the ones I know are always there to smile and indulge me whenever I need to plant my feet back on the ground; the ones I proudly call my El Paso family!