Jiyoung Baek | Lessons learned in 6 months abroad

Everyone has a story to tell, and here’s a good one from a very good friend of mine. – xoxo, Armie Garde 

What I’ve learned during my 6 months stay in Cebu, Philippines
by Jiyoung Baek

Hello, everyone who reads this article. Thank you for reading!

First of all, let me introduce myself quickly. I’m Jiyoung Baek, and most of my friends in Cebu call me “Peku-chan” or “Miss Peku”. I’m Korean but I was born and brought up in Japan. “Peku” is the Japanese pronunciation of “Baek”.

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Before coming to Cebu, I worked as a salesperson for three years in Japan. At that time, my dream was to work with a lot of foreigners in the future, that’s why I studied English in an English Academy on weekends. Thanks to this experience, I became eager to study abroad, and that led me to my first challenge – to study English in Cebu in 2016. It was only a week, but I had a great time.

After going back to Japan, I continued working as a salesperson in my previous company. However, I was really eager to challenge myself more, which for me means “working abroad”, and to prepare for my new goal, I decided to quit my job.  I came back to Cebu in 2017, and this time, I worked for an ESL company as a Japanese staff who assists Japanese students, and at the same time, I was a student in the same school for six months.

The story I will share is about my precious lessons during those six months stay in Cebu. I want to share it because I hope a lot of people will notice how attractive Cebu is from my perspective and I want more people to visit Cebu.

My feelings and thoughts here are based on my deepest gratitude towards Cebu. I love Cebu, the friends I met during those six months, and everything, including my fantastic experiences and memories related to Cebu, from the bottom of my heart. Do you know why??? I strongly believe that this experience changed my life and myself completely.

Then, shall I start sharing now? 😀

1. The importance of having our dreams or goals and believing in our potentials

I didn’t have any dreams or goals in Japan, and I think people around me also didn’t have any or maybe they didn’t believe their dreams can come true. Of course, I know not everyone in Japan is like that, but from the people around me, I really couldn’t feel any ambitious energy, and that’s why I lost my hope for my future more and more when I was working there.

On the contrary, in Cebu, I met a lot of people who have dreams and goals, regardless of the nationalities. These ambitious people really influenced and impressed me. Moreover, they are very positive, and they strongly believe in their potentials. I noticed that this is the strongest factor in achieving our goals, and in becoming successful.

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A photo with my ambitious, cheerful, and kind co-workers in Cebu.

In my English lessons and daily conversations with my Filipino friends, I asked them the question, “What is your dream?”, many times. All of my Filipino friends or teachers answered this question confidently. I also realized that they are very positive, and they definitely believe that their dreams will come true. I was really surprised at their way of talking about their dreams whenever I listened to their answer. It’s because I couldn’t believe my potentials and I didn’t have any confidence in myself before, even though I had a lot of things I wanted to challenge myself with.

I also found that they have the same attitude towards others’ dreams or goals. During my stay in Cebu, I tried to apply in a lot of companies from foreign countries because my dream is working with foreign people in business endeavors. Unfortunately, my job hunting activity didn’t go well, and I had a hard time. Even in this situation, my Filipino friends and teachers cheered me up a lot and they didn’t say any negative comments on my plan or my challenge. Rather than telling the negative side of the experience, they continued teaching me about my potentials and reminding me of the importance of believing in myself. I was so amazed at this way of thinking or this kind of attitude.

In Japan, I was raised to go the same way as others and to choose stability over challenges. In addition to that, I met a lot of people who have negative opinions about whatever I did, or I planned, and this made me kept my goals or dreams only in my mind and I stopped telling others.

Looking back now, I strongly believe that nothing is impossible. Hence, I think that I can be successful someday as I continue challenging myself. Of course, there are a lot of difficulties until we achieve success, but we can get over them if we continue believing in ourselves. Thanks for coming to Cebu and spending a lot of time with my Filipino friends, I realized such an essential fact.

2. The importance of being true to ourselves

Before I came to Cebu, I was very poor at showing my real emotions. I didn’t know how to express myself well. I was sometimes misunderstood by others and that used to make me feel so scared to have close relationships with others.

I couldn’t enjoy my daily life because I refrained from insisting my opinion and from trying to do what I really wanted. What’s more? I used to follow what others tell me. I don’t know whether it is true or not, but like me, many Japanese people are timid, and they tend to hide their real emotions or opinions; and in addition to that, they tend to follow what others do.

After I came to Cebu, I found that people are so honest about their feelings and they can speak out their opinion with confidence. I’ve noticed that it is acceptable to show our true emotions or opinions. Furthermore, I’ve also noticed that sharing our real emotions makes us closer and closer, and it was a blissful moment for me.

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I met a lot of Filipino friends while I stayed in Cebu, and all of them were really kind to me. I could easily talk about what I think about, from trivial matters to serious concerns or struggles. I guess it’s because all of them were open-minded and they accepted me, as well as, what I said sincerely.

Thanks to these friends, I could be true to myself and show not only my smiles but also tears, anger, and everything I felt. I realized that I don’t have to hesitate to do something I like and to say what I really want to say. As a matter of fact, these encounters have changed my way of thinking. I think I became brighter than before and I smiled much more than I was in Japan.

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Moreover, I realized the importance of accepting what we really are and what others tell us about ourselves. At first, I couldn’t believe what others told me about myself, for example,  “your new clothes are pretty” or “your new hairstyle is splendid”, due to the fact that I couldn’t love myself and I had no confidence.

After spending a lot of time with my Filipino friends, I figured that believing and accepting what others have pointed out about us (even though we can’t accept them yet completely) gives us happiness. The person who praised us feels delighted if we accept their words of affirmation and when we show our gratitude to their remarks.  Of course, at the same time, we, who received the affirmation, also feel ecstatic. After realizing this significant fact, I tried not to deny what others told me about myself. I give back my smile, instead. I think this effort made me happier than before. I hope that a lot of Japanese people, who are too humble to accept themselves, would consider my important lesson above.

3. The importance of meeting a lot of people 

Meeting a lot of people and sharing our opinions, thoughts, and stories are vital in our life. Sometimes, one meeting completely changes our lives.

Honestly speaking, I was so introverted type of person, and I used to be really poor at making friends with others before. Then, how did I find the importance of meeting a lot of people? It went back to my first challenge – living by myself far from my hometown.  When I graduated from the university and I started to work as a business person, I struggled with loneliness, especially that it was my first time to live away from my family.

It was also my first time to work for a company, and the experience was really tough for me. This experience made me challenge myself and made me meet new friends in that community. I started attending an English academy every weekend and that changed me a lot. At the English academy, I could exchange different ideas with other students and I could make a lot of friends. As I took more and more lessons, I had more fun with sharing ideas with others. Thanks to meeting a lot of ambitious and enthusiastic people in the English academy, I conquered my second journey, which was studying in Cebu.

When I came to Cebu for the first time in 2016, although it was only a week, I was really impressed with meeting a lot of people who challenged what I have never thought. For me, all of them seem to enjoy their lives a lot, and they shine as individuals. These meeting widened my narrow perspective. These fantastic and impressive meetings led me to challenge more and more things in my daily life; for example, applying for a half-marathon race and running it completely.

During my second stay in Cebu, I also met a lot of new friends. Needless to say, they were so ambitious, and they had diverse knowledge and unique experiences. Thanks to meeting them, I could do my best to continue my challenges in Cebu for the last six months. At the same time, they helped me change my way of thinking.

To be frank, I’m not a positive person and I tend to accept my life or some events around me negatively. Nevertheless, some of my friends in Cebu helped me deal with my tough experiences positively. These are just some of the reasons why I think we need to meet a lot of people to develop ourselves.

4. The importance of challenging ourselves

As I mentioned before, I was so afraid of failures and I just followed what others thought was right. That’s why I used to give up trying something new. Before, I used to focus on negative sides when I tried to do something. I thought that it was better to follow someone’s opinion and not to make mistakes. I think that this way of thinking used to make me so passive and less energetic. It made me less confident about myself, too.  I also used to compare myself from others and sometimes I ended up depressed. In fact, it took me almost a year to make a decision to study and work in Cebu because I was so scared to lose my stable job, salary, and so on.

In spite of such character, why did I choose this way? To be honest, I don’t know… I just believed that there was something that would make me happy on the very day I decided to challenge myself. (Of course, there was no guarantee, hahaha).  Nothing would have had changed had I persisted in thinking about whether I should try or not.

One big challenge of mine was quitting from my previous job. When I came to Cebu, I also encountered a few challenges. One example was having my own event, which was called as “morning session” (“Asakatsu” in Japanese). It was an event for exchanging thoughts on the cultural difference between the Philippines and Japan. At first, I started this event only with the students of the school I worked for, but I enjoyed it a lot and students were also pleased with my idea of practicing English on Sunday morning.

My first difficulty was that all the students who often attended my session graduated almost at the same time and there was no person to join my event. I was really sad, but I couldn’t give it up. Fortunately, I had a chance to talk about my event to my friend, Mr. Kenta Yamamoto, and he agreed with having a morning session together and we decided to invite Filipino friends in order to understand Filipino cultures more.

Then, I tried to gather my Filipino friends and Japanese friends who could participate in my session through Facebook, and this was my second difficulty. Sometimes, I couldn’t gather enough Filipino friends, and other times, I couldn’t find any Japanese friends.

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However, I continued posting about my event on my Facebook, and kept talking about my event to anyone I met in other events. More and more time I had my event, more and more people got interested in and I could get more messages from my friends who wanted to join. At last, in the last few month, there were a lot of participants in my session and I was so satisfied and proud of my efforts.

By the way, do you know why I could continue despite the difficult situation? I think it’s because of my Filipino friends who participated my event regularly. I strongly show my gratitude to my precious friends, Astrid Marie, Maria Armie Sheila Garde, and Georgia Paredes, who were regular participants of my event.

Actually, I thought that I would give up continuing my morning session many times. However, the hearty words from them, for example, “I’m really looking forward to seeing you in your session” and “I’m excited to share about the differences between the Philippines and Japan”, encouraged me to try again and again.

Luckily, there was also a lot of support from my Japanese friends. Through posting about my event on my Facebook, some of my Japanese friends knew about it and joined. I was really glad to have such friends who have the same will as mine. I really appreciate these friends, especially Mr. Yuya Ito, who supported me a lot during the session as one of the facilitators, and Mr. Kenta Yamamoto, who advised me a lot about the concept of the session, and how to gather friends, and so on.

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Thanks to their kindness and support, I could continue my event until my last day in Cebu and I realized that I can surely meet someone who can support me if I continue doing my best, even though I made many mistakes. I think this lesson made me tough. Thank you so much for your support again, my dearest friends!!!

Looking back to my six months stay in Cebu, I was so happy, although there were a lot of miserable and tough experiences. By getting over these difficulties, I could gain confidence in myself and I could see everything around me positively. At the same time, I could see that there were a lot of people who could understand and support me a lot, more than anything, and I was not lonely!

I can confidently say that there is no more regret in choosing to live this way. It’s because I can strongly feel my growth as a person. Now, I can smile, I can challenge anything, in addition to that, I know how to ask for help when I struggle with something. These things above are what I felt poor at doing last year. See??? Stepping out into other world changes us a lot.

5. The importance of smiles 

I’m looking at my old pictures these days. Of course, I have a lot of pictures where I was smiling, however, I can see that my photos during those six months stay in Cebu show more cheerful and happier smile. Maybe, it’s because I enjoyed my stay in Cebu with all my heart.

When I was in Japan, I loved and enjoyed my life, and I was so proud of my job. In spite of being in such a happy situation, I used to think that there was something missing. Do you know what??? I found the answer to this question after I stayed in Cebu for six months. The thing I lost, and I wanted to get back is my smile! Although I said that I loved my everyday life and I was proud of my career, I complained about myself, my everyday life, and so on. I couldn’t smile well and I used to be irritated with something almost every day. That’s why I couldn’t feel happy and sometimes felt disappointed in myself before.

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Thanks to Cebu, I could get back my smiles. Can you guess the reason??? I think it’s because of Filipino’s positive way of thinking. Observing my Filipino friends or co-workers, they are so positive and enjoy every moment as much as possible. Their attitudes cheered me up and made me superb, even in the tough situation. As I stayed longer in Cebu, the times I smiled or laughed increased. As I smiled more, I could get more friends. It’s blissful when others praised my smile.

I really love moments when Filipino smiles even to strangers, especially, when we cross the road and our eyes meet, Filipinos give out a smile. I don’t know why, but I feel happy whenever I’m caught in this moment.

I believe that smiles bring us happiness, and smiles can make good relationships with others. I strongly hope that people around me don’t forget their smiles and enjoy their life as much as possible.

That’s all for my lessons in Cebu, Philippines.

I think that Cebu has something like that of a miracle. Why??? I came here twice, and it guided me to right and good way twice!!! If I feel like I’m losing something important in the future, I’ll come back here again.

From my experiences and feelings, I hope that many people will know Cebu and enjoy their stay here more. Moreover, I hope that many people will visit Cebu more and get something important or grow as a person while staying here.

Next time, when I come back to Cebu, hopefully, I would grow more as a person, much more than my growth now. I will make an effort to continue my challenge with a cheerful smile to achieve this goal. I will always remember the lessons I learned in Cebu, the loveliest place for me.

What’s more is I really wish I can give back to Cebu in some ways in the future.

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