Last November, the TalkED team (composed of William Alonzo, Jian Chan, Ethan Chua, Monty Ngan, Kevin Tan, and Matthew Tan) and their mentor, Mr. Martin Gomez, won an international social innovation competition, the Harvard Social Innovation Collaborative’s Village to Raise a Child Competition, along with four other finalists. Our team’s entry to the competition was TalkED.org, an online language instruction and acquisition platform created specifically for Philippine indigenous languages. As a result of winning the competition, our team spent three weeks traveling around the US, speaking with professors, visiting universities, presenting to institutions, and gathering feedback, advice, and support.
Over the next few weeks or months, the team will be sharing the story of our journey to the US, along with our stories, reflections, and insights along the way, through a series of posts on the Xavier School website. I hope you, dear reader, will take the time to join these collection of nervous, introspective high school student / spoken word poet / nerd-geek / idealist / frustrated artist / crammer extraordinaire / impromptu stage artist folks who are rushing forward into college as they look back on one of the strangest and greatest experiences of their lives.
I begin this series.
See you Elsewhere. Cheers!
All airports are the same. All share the same movement and rush, hands reaching into pockets for passports, untying shoelaces, folding boarding passes. All are designed for motion; from point A to point B, departure terminal to arrival, all airports are walkalators, long hallways, corridors, shuffling feet until the exit doors.
Matthew takes the longest at immigration, while William and I wait for him on cold airport benches. Even this slight delay is felt in the checking of watches and timepieces, the rush forward almost systematic in its push – the way the immigration officer says nothing to William as he walks by, waves him in, takes his fingerprints, signals with his eyes for him to move on.
The officer behind my counter has heavy-set eyes and wrinkles; she speaks with a booming New York accent, perhaps the first reminder that I’ve left Manila behind. She asks about my purpose of travel, and I bring up the Harvard competition (as of now, still not knowing how worn that story will soon sound). At this, she asks – “Harvard? I hear you, I hear you,” and congratulates me. Whenever I answer her questions – age, place of departure, accompanying guardian – she responds with that same “I hear you, I hear you,” until the phrase is what I bring with me past the counter and onto the steel benches, a reminder to break the assembly-line monotony of airport check-ins and check-outs.
It’s all I can do, this first step of the journey – waypoints don’t lend themselves to grand landmarks or sweeping views. Instead, the small edges and curves that shape out the road catch my eye – the used arrival card that Mr. Gomez attempts to fill up; the Filipino-looking couple a few rows from us in line; a cardboard box decorated with Sharpie ink on the conveyor belt where we claim our luggage.
All airports are different: the temperatures, the humidity, the number of kiosks in the departure terminal. The details, however, sink in slowly. I order a coffee, and the straw sinks all the way to the bottom of the cup. There’s something called an Oprah Tea Latte – I avoid that and go for something more familiar. Jian orders a pepperoni pizza for breakfast and manages to only finish one slice. The WiFi speed registers in megabytes, not kilobytes; in the center of the food court is a large, bare circle of tiles which I mistake for a lower floor. I walk across its circumference and feel afloat.
The complimentary airport connection lasts only thirty minutes, establishing another makeshift routine as we all pull out our laptops and connect, Jian first and the rest following suit. Matthew and I move to a side table that seats two and barely has room for our computers, the edges of our keyboards ever so slightly off the metal countertop.
On the flight to New York from Vancouver, I fall asleep on the plane ride before takeoff, wake up right after landing. Part of me wishes that the rest of the trip would be an echo of that: a runaway fragment, a waking dream. I love flights for this – the way they unmoor you from soil. I hate arrivals.
We arrive on a Sunday; on Thursday, applications to the University of Illinois are due. Though we’ve joked about all the schoolwork that we’ll be missing, reminders crop up in group chats and Facebook notifications, little pieces of home that I would rather have left behind. In the New York terminal, I realize I am least afraid in that space before touching down onto the runway – so I turn off the messages, the dial tones. I am glad when the thirty minutes of WiFi run out, and I leave the 550 word essay unfinished.
The place in-between continues to haunt my thoughts, and I never fully leave the airport’s threshold.