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The greatest lesson ever learned

You are entering your second year of university on your way towards getting a degree. You are enjoying the company of friends – old and new. You are at the peak of your teenage life. You are just starting to enjoy the new-found freedom that the ‘college years’ offer – the gimiks, the extended curfew, the malls, restaurants, and the other hang-outs that are now part of the places that you are allowed to go. You really feel like a grown up!

Then all of a sudden you and your family head to Winnipeg as immigrants. You have to leave everything behind and start fresh on a foreign land. Instead of going back to school with your “block mates”, you will now be in the company of complete strangers. What is even worse is that you are still considered a high school student even if you have already graduated in the Philippines and you are technically at the university level. What you once thought was the ‘new phase’ of your life just had a major twist. Sounds a lot like what you have experienced? Then, we are the same – it all happened to me.

I was 17 when my family arrived here on that chilly September evening. It was only a week after Winnipeg students came back to school, so we all thought it was a good idea to go to school right away—five days after we arrived – so that I would not miss a lot of the lessons. Because everything happened so fast, I never really had the chance to absorb what I was getting into. Then the first day came. I have to be honest; I hated being in grade 12.

Having experienced being in college, I felt that I had been “demoted” as I became a high school student again. Most of my classmates were my age but there were some who were younger. There were some whom I thought still had not reached the level of maturity that I had. I even criticized the school supplies (the backpacks and the binders) that I had to bring because I had already got used to the college supplies back home.

What was even worse was that there were students, knowing that I was a bagong dating, who stared at me like I was an alien with three heads. I had my share of smirks and raised eyebrows behind my back. There were even some whose eyes would double in size when they heard me speak fluent English without any accent – because they thought all “newbies” needed mandatory ESL lessons. Finally, the jet lag, the culture shock, and the increasingly cold weather combined to add to my agony as I still tried to fit into my new environment. I cried everyday, and after the first week I even thought of not going back to school at all.

However, my perspective changed when I had a talk with my guidance counsellor and the School Division’s Community Liaison, Miss Perla Javate. Both of them gave me advice on how to deal with my new surroundings and with the different kinds of people I encountered. They taught me how to be a part of a smorgasbord of personalities while still maintaining my own. They told me to focus more on the bright and positive side of things. Seeing the sincerity in their eyes, I decided to give it another try. I stayed in school and just tried my best to adapt. Shortly, I met friends who were very welcoming and accepting. I interacted with teachers who were very supportive. Eventually, I got the hang of going to school everyday for the rest of the year. And before I knew it, I got my grade 12 diploma — the same diploma that paved the way for obtaining my BA degree in 2003 and my upcoming BN degree in 2007.

Now, whenever someone would ask me how my life was in grade 12, I still tell them about how horrified I was with what I had gone through. But the bottom line of my reply remained constant. In grade 12, I learned to persevere and to not be disheartened. And those were the greatest lesson I have ever learned.

Anna Lacanilao graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing degree from the University of Manitoba in 2007. She is now a Registered Nurse. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Winnipeg, Class of 2003.

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