Saturday, July 01, 2006

My High School Experience


I left Urios College (Butuan City, Philippines) as a freshman in high school and arrived in Northfield, Minnesota one Saturday evening, December 07, 1985. There were many obstacles I went through in high school: (1) The Culture Shock, (2) The Language Barrier and (3) Prejudism. Extreme prejudism (which also leads to discrimination) was not the most pleasant experience. Nevertheless, culture shock and language barriers were a given for any immigrant that comes to this country.


But before I get to the details I wanted to express how hard it really is to immigrate to another place (not just another country). The dilemma that someone will usually face is that the nature of immigration is really the uprooting and the settling to a different place. I think this is never a smooth transition because you leave a lot of things behind that defines your very nature. You arrive at a place where you begin a clean slate. You leave your friends, family, and immediate relatives behind. Not to mention that you also leave your culture behind. Things like what we do for the holidays and what we do when things are sad or happy is what mostly gets affected when we are in another place so far away from home. But the fact of the matter is that what defines us and what we believe in is always within us no matter where we go. It is in our spiritual nature.

In my case, The Philippines is so far away. Although it not as far as Vietnam or India, but it is far enough were a person cannot go home for the holidays to visit or call someone when they need advise because there was also the time difference. It is across a lot of miles and way too expensive to fly to. Although I was only thirteen at the time, I was placed as a freshman in high school. The difference between an American education and the school system in the Philippines is that the latter does not have seventh and eighth grade. So, kids in the Philippines actually graduate at an average of two years younger than most high school students here in the United States.

The high school counselors at Northfield High School evaluated the courses I attended at my previous school and decided that it closely matched the freshmen courses in their high school. I considered myself lucky because a distant relative of mine who was living in Philadelphia at the time actually got sent back to seventh grade and ended up wasting two more years in high school.

Northfield, Minnesota

Northfield is a small town located approximately 44 miles south of the Twin Cities. You might have heard of the two colleges in town - Carleton College and St. Olaf College. These are two rival colleges--one is a Liberal Arts Institution (Carleton) and the other a Catholic Institution (St. Olaf). Can you imagine the number pranks the students from both colleges pull each year? Carleton was the closest to my house and my Father worked there but St. Olaf is my favorite--I think mainly due to the fact the there were more good looking women out there. I was in high school teenager, give me a break ;-).

The ABC House

The City of Northfield was not very diverse in terms of race and culture and it starved for the minorities’ experience. The ABC House was established by an independent body for the effort of introducing minorities into this town. ABC stands for A Better Chance and it is an organization that specializes in the racial integration into cities like Northfield and gives talented minorities a chance to obtain high quality education (a prep-school in Layman’s terms) with the hopes and dreams to attend a respectable college or university afterwards. The ABC Students lived in the ABC House and they came from many various States in the U.S.

My Father and his wife were associates of this organization and they catered to all the needs of the ABC Students and we all lived under the same roof. There were approximately six ABC students and My Father, his wife, and his wife’s son from a previous marriage, their own son from this marriage, and my oldest brother and me. So there were approximately ten to eleven people living in this house. It’s a huge house not to mention.

Driver’s License

Most high school students would start taking driver's education and behind-the-wheel courses during their sophomore year. You had to be fifteen to take both of the courses. I never got to take mine until I was in my senior year. My friends here and there talk about how they enrolled in the class and are now behind-the-wheel with Mr. Puppy (he was our Math and Behind-the-Wheel Teacher). At the time I really could not care less and I felt that it just wasn't my time to obtain license. I really had nowhere to go and could not even hold a job at fourteen. I think I just spent a lot of time messing around on the library’s Apple IIe computers and watching a lot of cartoons when I got home. I believe Transformers, Thundercats, and G.I. Joe were my favorite.

My First Day in School

The following Monday after we arrived our father immediately registered us at Northfield High School and we were to attend class Tuesday the following day. As if we were not already having a culture shock from the last two days he surprised us some more by enrolling us in school a couple days after.

My first day first period was American History class. My first day was quite memorable in a very bad way. I was the new student and of course I was subject to questions, some harsh. Immediately on that day I felt belittled and very unwelcome. On top of that I was not very good in Speaking English. In my old high school we were all taught in English and we had English books (mostly American English) and nothing could ever prepare you for this day. I was not as witty as I thought I would be in answering questions and carrying on a conversation as I would in my own language. The day would come where my thoughts would be in English but back on this day my thoughts were in my own native language translated back and forth to English. So there was always a lag every time words came out of my mouth. American High School students were not patient enough for this situation.

I was not the most popular guy in my old high school but I had a lot of friends. I craved for the same attention and situation here in my new high school and boy was I so disappointed. I suffered the day-to-day bullying and was called a few derogatory names from time to time. I was never good and compartmentalizing these feelings so there were a lot of times that I was so depressed and at times broke down crying. As years went buy I became very protective and cautious on whom I made friends with and for this same reason I only kept a few trusted friends around.


The experience that I went through in high school was particularly strange. I was surrounded with students who were two years older than me. My maturity level at the time was not quite where the rest of the students where at. What was really surprising to me is that later on I will soon experience what most minorities go through in this country--the bigotry and hatred of the average small town Anglo-Saxon American High School student. Although I don't blame them for being who they are, I do believe that the hatred towards minorities was learned from home for most of these people.

What I began to experience in high school at Northfield High came to a big surprise--the experience of prejudism, bigotry, and discrimination. All the big words in that pretty much derive from fear. The high school as a whole was not particularly welcoming to minority students. There were only few of us there (less than 10) out of 1000 students. There were only three minority students in my class throughout high school: There was Harry Karlsen who was an African American raised by a Caucasian-American family. He was in the swim team; my distant cousin who was one-half Filipina; and the five ABC students that attended the high school.

No Shhpikah English

During my Sophomore year my grades slumped and they identified that I did not understand what I was hearing and reading; I was too stubborn at the time and my father had to force me to take the school sponsored English-as-a-Second-Language tutorial sessions. I hated the tutoring with Mrs. Knutson in the beginning. I was in denial and I felt I was so much better than that. The door to the ESL room had a very noticeable ESL and Mrs. Knutson label. The room is very visible from the hallway and students would be able to see anyone who goes in that room. With the history of being teased and bullied all the time I was too embarrassed and especially humiliated to be in this specialized session for minorities. After finding out my weakness in school my father banned from speaking our native tongue at home. He said, "Speak English!" So I didn’t talk much at home after that.

I was stubborn in the first few ESL sessions and displayed many signs of unwillingness to learn. Stubbornness was actually inherited from my father’s side of the family. Thanks Dad! I gave in to the ESL tutorial after I sadly learned that I really did not know a lot of English. I had no idea how to neither do the writing assignments nor understand what I was reading on the reading assignments in History and English classes. The only thing I pretty much remember were words like "Steinbeck" and "Pip" and the rest of what happened in the book "Of Mice and Men" were a total mystery to me. If only they had the movie back then.

Mrs. Knutson was excellent. I don’t know how she put up with me but I’m sure she had no choice. I was a challenge to her. I obtained my first A in my senior year's Humanities class. As I progressed through my high school years and assimilated the American High School lifestyle things were starting to turn around and I actually was starting to fit in as people knew me more and more. I made more friends that I could imagine during my junior and senior year.

Staying on Course

A concept that was new to me was the ability of students to register for courses without the parents' consent. I was very new to this idea and that not liking Science and Math courses at the time I decided to skip all the math and science classes in my sophomore year naturally. This is very ironic since later on in life I received my degree in Electrical Engineering which is a course known for to be intensive in Science and Math classes. I found out later on that there were minimum requirements in Math and Sciences so I had to take the missing courses during my junior year if I wanted to graduate. During my junior year, I had two take a couple of courses which I was the only junior in the class. This situation seemed like a blessing for me since I found that even though the sophomores were still a year older than me they were actually the right maturity level. I craved to be immature and unserious. I had fun with the sophomores and made lots of friends at that level. I have found that there is a blessing to every bad situation.

At the End of it All
My self-confident started to build up and by my senior year I had enough friends and I was enjoying the remaining months of my high school as every person should. This was my high school experience and I would not change anything else about it good or bad.


Third said...

Hi! My blog-hopping has landed me to your site and your experience is somewhat expected for migrants in the US. What's good with you is that you were able to wake up from your denial and then you made friends. It's just bad that racism has made colored people lose their self esteem. Here in the Philippines, racism also exists, only that co-Filipinos are descriminated and the foreigners are given VIP treatment.

Catherine said...

I'm so glad you were able to overcome those challenges back then. It's tough starting in a new school, let alone a new country. You are a testimony that things do get better if you perservere. God bless!

Mindanao_Bob said...

Hi Antonio - I followed your Facebook link over to this site. I'm glad that I did.

I found this article to be inspirational! Nobody likes experiencing racism or discrimination, but from reading your article, I think that the things that you experienced made you a stronger person, a better person. I congratulate you for that!

As an American living in the Philippines, reading your experience of moving to the USA as a child helps me better understand how my kids feel having moved here from the USA. For my kids, I believe it is easier than what you experienced, because they were still very young when we moved here.

Congrats on turning out as you did!