Although by the end of my internship the homesickness was starting to set in, I was also saddened to have to leave my adventurous lifestyle of the past two months behind and return to Illinois. Boring, flat, Illinois.
Living in a “developing” nation is absolutely an important experience I’d recommend to anyone living in the global north. Before coming here, it was hard to exactly grasp what billions of people living on less than one dollar a day actually looks like. I have my privileged life in America to return to, while millions will continue to deal with the struggles of poverty every day.
You will witness the harmful impacts of colonialism which persist to modern day, years after the Philippines gained independence. Eurocentric beauty standards are held to the highest ideal, entire aisles in stores are dedicated to skin bleaching products. You may see old, white men holding the hands of young filipino women in red light districts, using their powerful western currency to exploit local women. And the American way of life is seen as ideal- our consumption oriented, wasteful lifestyles. But you also can’t blame people for wanting the higher standards of living that people such as myself enjoy. It seems unfair to expect developing nations to develop sustainably if wealthy western nations refuse to take the lead, invest in green technology, and set an example. If the wealthiest nation in the world isn’t doing it, in the eyes of a developing nation, why should they too?
I made more friends than I’ve probably ever made in my life in a short time while living in the Philippines. Even at brief hostel stays, people were full of warmth and friendliness, and I made friends that I still talk to this day. Initially I was scared to get out of my comfort zone, but I ended up having a great time. I actually felt more safe living in the Philippines than I did in America, especially with all the news of mass shootings. In my condo in Mandaluyong I befriended some of my neighbors, and we attended Manila Pride together. She brought me soup when she heard I was sick, and we had dinner together many times. I hope I can return to Manila someday to visit her again.
As I looked out the window of my taxi the morning of the return flight, I remember seeing dozens of young mothers holding their babies in the morning sun, standing next to the river. It was a peaceful scene in an otherwise chaotic city, before the traffic sets in, before the street vendors had their grills smoking meat, before the stray cats and dogs had awakened to wander the streets. I was eager to return to my family after these months, and yet, I felt sadness in my heart, for the friends I was leaving behind, for having to leave this new and exciting lifestyle, for having to leave the interesting work I was doing at MAD.
On the way to the airport, a giant, kind of horrifying Jollibee inflatable sat on top of a building with it’s arm outstretched, as if waving goodbye.