When I first came to Spain to take up a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages) course, I had virtually no framework in which to fit the experiences I had encountered during my first week in Barcelona. I felt a bit strange being the only Asian in a class full of Americans and British. But as I stayed in the city, I discovered that experiences like these were not so unordinary, and that my study here would need to extend beyond attending English lectures and preparing lesson plans.
I had to take some lessons in Spanish culture, learn Castellano and Catalan and whatever knowledge and skills I needed to survive in this foreign land. Little did I expect, though, that these lessons would be so many and varied. Here in Spain, I’ve learned not only about language and culture but also about the community, about God and about life.
On the day my plane touched down at Barcelona airport, my social network in the city was nil. I posted announcements on Bibaknets, IGO-Igorot Global Organization and Interactive Cordillera websites. I exchanged emails with a few friends of friends while I was in the Philippines (None of whom I had ever met in person). Then I learned that someone whom I worked with in the radio communications back in the Cordillera is a resident here. Other than that, I knew nobody. I had to build a whole new network of friends from the ground up.
Soon after my arrival, I attended an orientation seminar organized by the study abroad company that arranged my study program. I met some other foreign students here but didn’t make lasting connections with them. I spent many of my first days wandering to unfamiliar streets alone, stopping by some stores once in a while to have a look at labels written in Español, French, German and Italian but very few in English.
It was a good thing then, that during a week of my adventure, through the help of my temporary host from Abra who is already a long time Spanish citizen, I got to know Centro Filipino. It is a Filipino community center in Barcelona connected with the Filipino Personal Parish. I met Sr. Pau Astillero, the president of CF and I desperately asked her if she knew anybody from Cordillera whom I could get in touch with. She promised to find ways to contact few acquaintances she still has.
As months went by, my small group and the larger community of Centro Filipino in Barcelona became dear to me. Inspired by good people, it encouraged me to join the Spanish mass choir on Sundays. My commitment to the Filipino community didn’t stop there. The good influence of the people surrounding me persuaded me to become part of Centro Filipino volunteers. Despite school and workloads I devote my three hours of free time on Saturday afternoons to teach English at the Iskwelang Pinoy. This is an educational program for Filipino children born and or raised in Barcelona. Here they learn and appreciate their own Filipino culture, especially learning to speak Tagalog and giving importance to English as a second language.
It was through people like them that the true meaning of life became real to me. I started to understand the real meaning of sharing one’s talents and working together in harmony and submitting to the more important task of loving and serving God and people together despite differences in ideologies and backgrounds.
The companionship I found here was a welcome change from the relative loneliness. Thanks to Centro Filipino who helped me be connected to my kakailians from the Igorotlandia here in Spain.
Photo and Text by Freda Changat