From September 3 to 6, 2013, seniors from sections C, D, G, and H embarked on a four-day immersion to four SM supermarkets, namely those in Megamall, Cubao, Makati, and Marikina, wherein they worked as regular employees and served a variety of customers who come to these stores. Weeks, months, and even years before this event, we were constantly told that our Xavier education wouldn’t be complete without the SM Immersion. In the days leading up to the program, I would constantly ask myself as to what the purpose of the immersion is, and how this obligatory duty sets Xaverians apart from students of other schools in the Philippines. However, after four days of work, my mind was opened to the true value of the simple joys in life.
During the first day, the personnel from the SM Human Resource department oriented us on how work should be done, such as the proper ways of bagging or tying a box. The representatives also articulated the entire scale of operations being done in SM’s food and retail industry. Before getting deployed to actually work in the field, we were reminded of the important acronym G.S.A.T., which means “Greet, smile, and always say thank you.” This indicates a key strategy done by SM in order to ensure that their employees are reminded of the goals and expectations laid out by SM’s iconic motto: “We’ve got it all for you!”
Our typical day at SM would usually start with a short reflection through journal writing of what had transpired in the previous day, followed by a discussion with our respective mentoring groups. After which, we would time in for work by using our time cards, just as any ordinary employee would do. Although we were called baggers, we did more than just bag. Picking the hair from the wheels of carts, for one, would usually entail bravery on our part as we seemingly dug through a “black forest” before deeming a wheel to be usable once again. Another task would be deboning fish wherein we would scavenge the insides of a bangus, extracting the elements within to transform it into its more sellable boneless version. Of course, these were just the hands-on tasks; the hardest wasn’t any of these, but rather the encounters with customers, particularly the less-than-polite ones. It really is a test of patience since the “customer is always king,” as SM’s corporate culture dictates. Based on first-hand experience, I watched helplessly as one of the customers screamed at the cashier in my lane because her SM Advantage Card was expired—which the cashier really had no power over. But as bad as it may seem, for the regular employees, this is just a normal occurrence—something which should be taken care of professionally. In essence, such stoicalness is an important trait that I personally admire the most about them: an ever-present reality that usually rounds up the day.
By the end of the fourth day, the Campus Ministry and Service Office (CMSO) prepared a program that served as a culminating activity for the SM immersion. Some people got to share with everyone—including the supermarket manager—their own experiences and the feelings that ran through their minds throughout these four days. Also, the Xaverians from both morning and afternoon shifts gave back to the SM community by performing numbers that would entail our voices and dance moves.
After spending almost an entire week working at SM, we were sent to Xavier Nuvali for our Pathfinding Retreat as part of the Fully Alive program, as prepared by the CMSO. As men who generally have firsthand experience of the working conditions and situation of a typical SM employee, we were invited to synthesize what happened during the past four days and further deepen our understanding of the complexity in which our society in the Philippines currently stands. An aspect of the retreat that has definitely made us much more open in terms of our availability to others is the knowledge that, as the name of the retreat suggests, we are more aware of the paths we take through constant guidance from the environment where we thrive in.
Finally, the most important life skill or learning I learned after the six-day immersion-retreat combo was not the bagging, knot-tying, or even controlling of one’s temper, but the Filipino value of pakikisama. It was through the conversations that my classmates and I had with fellow cashiers and baggers that I realized that these little moments shouldn’t be taken for granted since we would never be able to do this again in our lives. Thus, what this Fully Alive program is ultimately trying to teach us is that as we venture on to our college years and beyond, we shall lead others with the knowledge that they are also our peers working hand in hand to achieve something for the greater good of mankind.