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The Experiences of Ica Mendiola: Leaving and Returning to the Philippines

As an eighth-grader, moving to a far-away country and uprooting your life at home may be scary; but for Ica Mendiola, this was reality.

Mendiola, currently a junior at LHS, spent the first eight years of her life in the Philippines, an island country in Southeast Asia. Surrounded by cousins, grandparents, friends, and other family members, she lived an enjoyable childhood. Mendiola shares a closer relationship with her cousins than most, saying that “they feel more like siblings.” However, her tight-knit relationships proved to be a double-edged sword, as her love for her family only made Mendiola miss them more when she moved to the United States.

Although she spent the following five years with her parents in America, she would return to her home country during her 8th-grade year. When questioned as to why she wanted to return to the Philippines, Mendiola claimed that life in the United States “felt static.” She yearned for a change in her life, so she went back to her home country. 

Despite living in the Philippines for most of her childhood, Mendiola’s experience in the country this time around was vastly different from her earlier years. She relocated to the Philippines without her parents and enrolled in a school two hours away from her extended family. “Initially,” Mendiola said, “I was going to stay with my grandma and my cousins and my aunt.” However, since many schools in the Philippines do not admit international students, her closest option was a school in Tacloban City. 

At first, Mendiola struggled to acclimate to her new school. “Everything was different,” she confessed. “The language was different; the people were different.” Mendiola grew up speaking Visaya, but most people in and around Tacloban City spoke Filipino or Waray. The curriculum at her new school was very unfamiliar. Mendiola also had a unique living situation since she lived in an apartment complex with other teenagers her age. Although adjusting to her new lifestyle was challenging, Mendiola explained that one of the most important lessons she learned from her time in Tacloban City was independence: “I ate by myself, and I went to school like that, and I shopped for myself.” Money management, self-sufficiency, and responsibility were among the life skills Mendiola acquired. In addition, Mendiola is currently fluent in four languages because she has lived in so many different places.

Just as Mendiola was beginning to adapt to her new environment, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Philippines extremely hard. The country went into total lockdown, with the government establishing strict regulations and schools transitioning to remote learning. Mendiola said that there were many days when she could not attend classes because “the internet connection was super bad.”  She also mentioned the difficult economic effects of COVID-19 on the Philippines. As the COVID vaccine emerged later on in the pandemic, misleading rumors about the vaccine scared many people from getting it. Given that the COVID-19 crisis was hardly improving, Mendiola decided it was time to return to the United States. 

In June 2021, Mendiola departed from the Philippines and returned to the United States. Her journey to this country was far from easy, as she tested positive for COVID just before her trip. “I had to be sent to a quarantine facility for 14 days,” Mendiola explained. As a result, her ticket to the U.S. was canceled, and overall “it was a super stressful month.” 

When Mendiola finally arrived in the United States, “The hardest part was that [she] was homesick for a long time.” She misses spending time with all of the family members and friends that she left behind. Although she will never stop missing these important people, she keeps in contact with them. Another difficulty that she confronted was the rigorous curriculum of the Longmeadow School System. Since online education in the Philippines was so inadequate, she found that “school was super hard because the curriculum was very different [from that in the Philippines].” She felt far behind her classmates, but her grades began to improve as time went on. 

Mendiola continues to see progress in her grades as well as academic performance. “I’m still adjusting,” Mendiola remarked,  “and I’m improving in school.” Although she is still acclimating to life in Longmeadow, her experiences in the Philippines have served to prepare her for practically any challenges that lie ahead. She feels as though she could simply “go anywhere and be able to figure it out.”

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