A Lady and Her Backpack
Since I turned 16, the longest I’ve spent without a job was… never. I’ve always been working, maybe taking 1-2 week breaks here and there, but otherwise always beholden to an employer and throughout adulthood, bills. My career was my identity, and I identified with my career.
In 2016, I began questioning if I was living in the right city. I had moved to Chicago a few years prior with the intention of eventually moving somewhere else, but as luck would have it, I had ended up making some pretty great friends. Life was pretty good, I realized, and then a thought crossed my mind: If I don’t leave Chicago soon, I’m never going to leave.
So I hatched a plan: Save up money, then travel somewhere—Southeast Asia seemed like a good idea—and then go wherever fate takes me. Because if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s making small decisions based on logic and then stomping all over those decisions and flipping the table because I felt like it.
As it turns out, I gained most of the clarity I was hoping to find on a big international trip by staying put during this year of complacency. Weird how that all works out. Apparently, I have everything I want in Chicago (it’s just a matter of aligning the pieces, #goals, more on this eventually), so the purpose of this trip is to hit pause, explore the things I’ve been interested in learning about without the constraint of having responsibilities, and to return home in a few months to focus on adulty things, hopefully knowing a bit more than before.
For the next three months, I’m looking forward to:
- Connecting with relatives
- Learning about my family’s culture
- Educating myself on world history and global issues
- Being adventurous
Connecting with relatives
As a second generation American and military brat, my family is spread out all over the place, with the majority of my extended family still being in the Philippines. We were never really close to family as kids, so the first part of my trip will be spent in the Philippines getting to know relatives. Who are they? How do they spend their time? What drives them? How do they feel about the American side of our family? What about the Chinese side? Is everyone really a doctor, engineer, or business owner?
I have so many questions.
Learning about my family’s culture
Full disclosure: I’m really damn American. So American that despite going through three years of Spanish and three years of Japanese, the only language I can speak is still English. I’ve only been to the Philippines once (I was 10) and my most poignant memory from that trip was riding on a rollercoaster at a megamall in Cebu City.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with an acquaintance about assimilation vs acculturation and how it impacts our worldview as children of immigrants. My parents raised me and my siblings to fully assimilate in American culture, whereas my aunt raised my cousin to retain the language, values, and customs of the Filipino culture. And despite both of us being born in America, my cousin and I are very, very different.
Over the years, I’ve come to terms with not really having a connection to the Philippines. I’m just a southern gal living in the midwest, y’all. But I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me when white dudes with Filipino ex-girlfriends start explaining my heritage to me. Or that it didn’t feel isolating when I attend cultural events celebrating Filipino heritage. That heritage shaped who my parents are, which indirectly shapes who I am. And as my parents’ daughter, I feel like I owe them as much to try and understand what all that entails.
As a human being, I’d like to be less ethnocentric.
Learning more about world history and global issues
It’s not a coincidence that this trip was timed to start the week after primaries and end a few months before the November election. The past few years have felt chaotic, and I, like a lot of my peers, am tired of complaining of how things are and am ready to actually do something about all of it.
But I still have a lot to learn. I can pontificate on and on about women’s rights, educational reform and wage inequality, but I know very little about global affairs. And while I sure as hell don’t expect to become an expert on it, it would be nice to take a little break from domestic issues and gain a little perspective on what’s going on in the world. None of the problems we’re facing today are new. History repeats itself. It helps to get outside the bubble.
My thoughts are often scattered and I have trouble articulating them, which isn’t great when you’re supposed to be a communications professional. But being a good writer takes practice, so I’ll write.
Okay, it’s cute that I’m on this cultural and historical knowledge-quest, right? But like every good adventurer, I’ll need to balance the serious with the fun, so you’ll find me scuba diving, rock climbing, hostel-hopping, and doing all sorts of crazy shit in between.
The Plan (for now)
I’m leaving at the end of March, spending a few days in Hong Kong, then a month in the Philippines. In May, I’ll be backpacking through Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, then in June I’ll be in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam. So far, the only solid plans (outside of meeting a friend in Thailand) are: Don’t get stung by box jellyfish, don’t step on a land mine, and don’t get kidnapped.
Soooo, yeah. The countdown is on (less than 5 weeks), then it’s just me and my backpack! Let’s do this.