Stepping Out Into The World

As published in The Philippine Star on January 29, 2017 at the Sunday Lifestyle section, page D-2:

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A trip to South Korea is a dream of many; I’m fortunate enough to have been given by the Korea Tourism Organization Manila Office a free round-trip ticket to the country last December as my prize for being the 3rd place in the 2016 Korean Speech Contest organized by the Korean Cultural Center. While this is not my first time visiting Korea, this trip has enabled me to see it in a new lens. It also made me relive my memories of being an exchange student in Korea two years ago.

For as long as I could remember, it has always been my dream to visit Korea. This started back in 2008, on my first year in high school, when I started learning the language for the first time. A transferee student from Korea, which I befriended, taught me the basics of the Korean language – from reading and writing Hangul, the Korean writing system, to phrases and grammar structure. Eventually, I became more confident in watching shows without the help of English subtitles, and after just a year, I started translating full Korean shows into English. I would say that the best way to learn the Korean language is not to just rely on books but to continuously immerse oneself into everything Korean –from watching Korean shows, listening to K-pop, and taking Korean classes.

My lifelong dream was fulfilled on 2014 when I got accepted as an exchange student in Korea University. I remember the variety of emotions that rushed through me the moment the plane landed in Incheon International Airport, Korea’s main gateway: I was finally in the very country I’ve only imagined and watched from dramas and shows. And, arriving on the very day of my 18th birthday just made it more special.

Being the only Filipino out of a thousand exchange students in Korea University, I was compelled to socialize with others. The anxiousness of being alone for five months encouraged me to really step out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, the buddy system offered by the Korea University Buddy Association (KUBA) is one of the best in the world, and was very accommodating. It is here that I found my closest friends, who I still keep in close contact up until now, and who I have been meeting in other countries for travel. We saw each other almost everyday for five months, and I became so comfortable with them that it almost felt like I have known them for years. Although I was alone when I arrived in Korea, I left with hundreds of new friends who all came from different countries.

I also learned to handle being alone, and in the process, I learned that I am much more independent than how I put myself to be. Actually, some of the greatest moments I had were spent getting lost and wandering around all by myself. I was able to grow independently in an unfamiliar environment. I got lost so many times in Korea, but it was okay because I was able to pass through places I would have never seen had I passed by the usual route. It’s amazing how from not even knowing how to take the train or being unable to take a taxi by myself in Manila, I became a person that could take the subway and roam around the streets of Seoul late at night until dawn.

Perhaps because I had limited time in the country, I ended up saying yes to everything that I was invited to. I went paragliding and conquered my fear of heights, I ate raw octopus and raw beef, I went to Busan all by myself and ended up missing the last train going back to Seoul, I had my first fall and snow experience, I reported in front of a class which was being broadcasted live in China, I shopped until 6AM at Dongdaemun, and many more. I ended up doing so many things I never imagined myself to have ever done.

My fangirl dreams were also very much satisfied as I got to attend so many K-pop concerts for free, got to watch filmings of Korean shows, and I even got to meet K-pop stars face to face. In one of my classes, Korean Media and Popular Culture, I got to meet Alexander Eusebio, a former member of K-pop group U-KISS, who sat right in front of me for an entire semester. There were also times when we ran into each other outside class, in cafes or restaurants, and he was nice enough to approach me and talk with me for a few minutes. It was surreal how someone I used to watch only from my laptop screen was right in front of me and was actually talking to me.

Studying in Korea was everything that I expected it to be, and even more. The fulfillment of a lifelong dream, meeting different kinds of people, gaining a family away from home, and having memories that are mine to keep forever made my stay in Korea more than a mere experience. In fact, I would say that it has been the best decision I have ever made in my life yet. Spending an entire semester in Korea made me fall in love with the country – from its people, the language, and the culture. Thus, when it ended, I was absolutely devastated. The minute I set foot in Manila, it felt like I just woke out of a beautiful dream: like building a life for five months and leaving it forever in order to go back to the life that I temporarily left for five months.

On the other hand, it is true that coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. Being away and living in a foreign place made me appreciate the Philippines more. I realized that there is so much more about our country that I didn’t know about, so many more beautiful things that I haven’t recognized before. And as cliché as it sounds, I came back as a different person. On my fourth year in college, I joined so many events and became more confident in myself as a person. This was how I was able to have the confidence to participate in the 2016 Korean Speech Contest. Through this event, I was able to talk about my experience as an exchange student in Korea, and encourage other students to apply for an exchange program.

Little did I know that joining this contest was also an opportunity to bring me back again in Korea. When I was informed of my free round-trip ticket, I was ecstatic and nostalgic. I decided to stay in Korea for two whole weeks in order to get to do a lot of things. Instead of going to the usual tourist spots, I opted to visit places I have never been to yet, mostly to small cities outside Seoul such as Guri, Suwon, and Gapyeong. Since I was alone for this trip, I decided to become more adventurous and spontaneous, I just ended up walking to anywhere I could go to. I also became more confident with my Korean language skills that I ended up talking in pure Korean.

I also got to meet up with many friends. I spent Christmas Eve with my Korean high school friends who I haven’t seen for like five years now, and we also spent Christmas day in Hongdae whose entire street was filled with performances and people giving free hugs. I also met up with Korean buddies and fellow exchange students from Korea University, and was glad that even after two years our friendship still hasn’t changed and there were no awkwardness between us. Most specially, I reunited with one my best friends from exchange who came from Hawaii who was with his friends for this trip. I spent my last three days in Korea with them where I volunteered to be their tourist guide, and I experienced so many things I couldn’t have done alone such as: riding a zip line to Nami Island (in the middle of winter), strolling around the palaces in a hanbok (the Korean traditional attire), and playing in the snow on the streets.

This recent trip made me realize how comfortable I am being in Korea, and how much I consider it as my second home. Even when this is already my fourth visit and even when I’ve been to so many places and done so many things here, I still can’t get enough of this country. There is just so much more left to explore, and so much more to experience.

I ended my speech for the Korean Speech Contest through the words of Ahn Jung Geun, a patriot of Korea, “A man keeps a great ambition through stepping out into the world”. My entire stay in Korea has enabled me to learn more about the world and myself, and also left me with so much more to wonder about. Through this article, I would like to encourage other people to find an opportunity where they can step out more into the world, because just like how doing so made me who I am now, I guarantee that it would also change their lives for the better.

Janine Laddaran, 20, is a recent graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. She was an exchange student in Korea University under Ateneo’s Junior Term Abroad program on 2014. She also won 3rd Place in the 2016 Korean Speech Contest hosted by the Korean Cultural Center.

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With love,

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Getting Featured in Thought Catalog

I’ve thought of sending an article to Thought Catalog a year ago, I even already had certain topics in mind that I wanted to write about. But having been a senior in college at that time with so much stress and school work to do, I never had the chance to finish writing them. It was only round the first week of December 2016 that I finally forced myself to finish one of the articles I had, with the goal of submitting at least one article before the year ends.

The article I wrote about, “To Those Dreams I Had to Give Up,” delves on a topic I’ve always written about in many papers during college. Here, I talk about how the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” transforms from a simple question of an adult asking a kid his dream to a question that gives us intense pressure on deciding our future career path. Even for me, there hasn’t been a time that I have been sure of my future. Especially now as a 20-year-old recent graduate, I have never been so frustrated and anxious with what to do in life. This was probably why I was able to finish the article immediately since the topic was so apt to my current situation.

After google-ing the selection process for Thought Catalog articles, I ended up lowering my expectations. It was said that editors have become much more selective now, and some people have even sent in 5 or more articles but have never been accepted. So I just kept it off my mind since then. It was only when I Googled my name (in my defense, I’m not usually this vain, I was just trying to see if the SEO for my website was working well loool). And lo and behold, I actually found my name under Thought Catalog, with my article published for the world to see.

Here is an excerpt of the article:


As kids, adults would often ask us again and again in various ways possible, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We used to dismiss this question and answer nonchalantly. However, at some point, that once-so-simple question deepens and complicates: “What do I really want to be?” As we get older, this start to keep us awake at night and haunt us as we begin to make decisions for our life.

My answer to the question kept on changing as I grew up; I blame this on my changing preferences and interests. At 5 years old, I wanted to be a singer. At 8, I wanted to be a fashion designer as inspired by watching Project Runway. At 11, I dreamed of being a pop star. At 13, I wanted to be a surgeon. At 14, I wanted to be a journalist.

However, in my last year in high school, I was asked the same question again. But this time it was different: I wasn’t just being asked what my dream was, I was being asked to decide my future. I was being asked for my future career, what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.

From then on, I started to consider various aspects and became more practical. I realized I was no longer that kid who thinks she can achieve everything she wants. I was too shy and nervous to become a singer or a pop star. I can’t be a fashion designer because I suck at drawing. Thinking about opening up a body and drawing blood from patients makes me cringe so there was no way I could be a surgeon. I had a passion for writing but I chose to major in IT instead, thinking I could get a job easily with this major. And so I had to let go of my childhood dreams.

Fast forward to the present time, at 20 years old and as a recent college graduate, I am currently stuck. I don’t have any idea on what I want to be nor what I want to do in my life. I have been asking the same question to myself every single day but the answer to the question does not come very easily. Now I often think about the childhood dreams I used to have. They may seem absurd or impossible to reach now but at least I had dreams before. At least then I was actually excited of the future, not caring whether my dreams will come true or not.

To those dreams I used to have, I miss you. I wonder, if I had tried hard and actually pursued you, would things have worked out? I’m sorry that I’ve given you up too soon. Sorry for thinking you were impossible to reach when I haven’t even started yet. At some point, you were the one that pushed me past my limits. You were the ones that kept me going and encouraged me to dream further. For us to have to let go of these wonderful dreams just makes me hopeful that somewhere out there, something much more wonderful awaits.

After much deliberation, I have come to realize that maybe the answer to what we want to be is not something definite. There could be countless possible answers for which we will find out along the way.

I’m still very much unsure about my future, but that’s the thing, no one really is.

It’s like buying a new camera and trying it for the first time. On that first shoot, we realize that the lens is out of focus. As we get used to the new camera, we learn to fix the lens and somehow the pictures we take become much more clearer and sharper. But then we know that we’ll never be able to take the best picture. Why? Because we could always buy a better lens, upgrade to a better camera, and improve ourselves the next day.

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” — Anthony Bourdain

When we were younger, there were no limitations for our dreams. There was no such thing as the impossible in our world, we could dream about everything we wanted to be – we believed in magic, fairytales, and Santa Claus. But as we get older, we realize the harsh reality of life: not everything is possible. And so we had to let go of our impractical dreams and give up our deepest passions just so we can fit in the world. But doing so, we ended up being so consumed with figuring out our lives that we have forgotten how to live it.

Yes, not everything is possible. But we don’t know yet which ones are possible and which ones aren’t. So we just have to keep on trying, and find them out on our own. We’ve got a lifetime to figure this out, anyway.

You may view the entire article HERE. If you could relate to the article, I would really appreciate it if you share it or provide comments on my writing so I may improve on my next piece. 🙂