Should you be given the chance to meet your 18-year-old self, “what would you tell her?”, I asked in a middle of a conversation with a good friend of mine.
She thought for a bit and said, “If I meet the 18-year-old Peku chan, I will tell her we should have studied abroad earlier. Don’t be afraid of challenges, be positive, and be confident in yourself.” She said those with her eyes beaming and with a voice of conviction.
Jiyoung Baek is fondly called Peku chan by most of her friends. She’s Korean by birth whose family settled in Japan, where she grew up. We met in Cebu, where she works for an English academy.
“I first came to the Philippines in 2016. I wanted to study abroad then, and a former colleague introduced me an academy in Cebu, where I can learn short-term English courses. When I arrived at the airport in Cebu, I was surprised because I find the airport so small. The atmosphere of the streets was also different. I thought I wouldn’t stay long,” she said.
She was already having second thoughts whether she can stay in Cebu, but during the week she was here to study, she experienced a lot that made her change her mind, and made her realize she already loves the place.
“Japan is a very rich country but many people are not enjoying their lives. People in Cebu, however, are enjoying life with their fantastic smile. I am really impressed with the Filipino smiles,” she quipped.
She did not only enjoy studying English in Cebu, she also enjoyed her island tour in Olango, her visit at the Cebu provincial jail to watch the prison dance, as well as, her frequent visit to a spa for her must-have massage.
She came back to Cebu this year and she’s staying here for six months for studying English and for working, as well.
“I love English and I love communicating with others in English. Maybe it’s because I can learn a lot of information from these people, and I can experience a lot of things when I speak English. Someday, I want to travel around the world, too.”
Peku chan said traveling, especially to foreign countries, lets her know about a lot of new things, and that makes her excited. “It’s because I’ve been curious about everything around the world since I was a child, which means that I love learning or knowing something new!”
“What I learn through traveling changed me a lot, too. The more travel I experience, the more I become braver and braver,” she added.
She also said that traveling relieves her fatigue or negative emotion, and it refreshes her soul. “After traveling, I can start to face difficulties again in my life.” The places she wanted to visit someday include Europe, especially France, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Spain.
“I also love beaches because, I don’t know why, beaches make me relax and calm, so I want to visit beautiful beaches around the world.”
Sunday Morning Session
She loves coffee and she loves preparing coffee, too, especially in the morning, and this somehow inspired her to organize a morning session with her Japanese friends.
“I started it with Japanese students to help them improve English, and I also wanted to exchange ideas with my Filipino friends, that’s why I started to do an event inviting Filipino and Japanese friends. I talked about this with Mr. Kenta Yamamoto, he agreed to it, and so we started this event,” she said.
One of the things that made an impact on her in one of the Sunday sessions was the topic on “attitude towards hardship”.
“Japanese tend to be sad when faced with difficulties. Filipinos, on the other hand, feel the same but they can still laugh about some other things. I’m really impressed with how Filipinos accept and conquer hardship,” Peku-chan shared.
The Sunday session also made her gain more Filipino friends. “I’m thankful to my Filipino friends because they have warm hearts, especially when supporting me emotionally. In Japan, I had difficult times, too, but I couldn’t talk about it to anyone because of fear of rejection. Also, in the Philippines, when I have a different opinion, I am confident that my Filipino friends are open-minded about it. I can do and enjoy a lot of things in the Philippines because of them. I’m really grateful.”
Peku-chan also wants many Japanese people to know about the Philippines, and she wants to be a support to those who have the same struggles she had when she first came here. “I want to support them and challenge them to move and experience Cebu, and be happier through their experiences here.”
“I want to share with them how I changed, and how I became braver with my personal challenges. I hope to be successful in my next career, too, whatever it may be, and I want to inspire people to also challenge themselves in exploring other countries and in learning English, especially in the Philippines,” she added.
English is not commonly used in Japan, unlike in the Philippines. In fact, many Japanese students get to study English formally when in Junior High or only in private cram schools. In the Philippines, it is taught even in pre-schools and it is the medium of instruction, too. Before coming to Cebu, Peku chan dedicated her weekends in studying English in an academy in Japan.
“I was really scared going abroad, but now I’m here and I find it very helpful. I should have studied abroad earlier, back when I was younger.”
Peku chan said her life in the Philippines is really different. “I can smile a lot, and much more than before. Here, I became more confident about myself. I can accept a lot of different ideas. My English has improved, too. Here in the Philippines, I feel happier than before.”