I am an escape artist—that is my flaw.
Last night, I was lying on my bed, thinking of gypsies again. Ever since I came to the Czech Republic, the issue of Romani discrimination has bothered me, and I couldn’t figure out why. They are despised here and in many parts of Europe for their supposedly vagabond lifestyles. While this is a misinformed stereotype (as one commenter scathingly pointed out), I cannot help but think of this.
As a person who comes from a country that doesn’t have this problem, where the only gypsies we have are little children who dress up as Esmeralda during Halloween, this was a source of fascination for me. It was an utterly foreign worldview that didn’t coincide with my own, so I wanted to explore it.
My whole life, I have been traveling. Besides the Philippines, I have lived in Nigeria, Guam, India, and South Africa for the duration of a year or more each. If you count my shorter stints in other countries, you can add Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), France, and the Czech Republic to that list.
My upbringing, this drifting lifestyle of mine, taught me so many valuable things. I can say that for the most part, I am resilient, open-minded about other cultures, able to look at two sides of a picture, and diplomatic. My background taught me to love things, but understand and accept that they might not be permanent in my life. It taught me that change is an opportunity that I should take advantage of and grow from.
On the other hand, it also made me perpetually dissatisfied once things sink into normalcy, jittery, overly ambitious and commitment-phobic. It made me immensely unsympathetic about the pettiness of certain problems that others have. It taught me not to completely trust people because they are not going to be around very long. It taught me that one has to acquire nationality—that it isn’t just a facet of one’s identity.
When I moved back to the Philippines, when I was 10 years old, I felt as if something had been ripped from me. Who was I out of international schools? What did it mean to be Filipino? Why were they treating me so badly for being different, when being different was once the norm for me? After those initial growing pains, I changed yet again: transferring from an Opus Dei all-girl grade school to a co-ed LaSallian high school. Those years passed swiftly, and I switched to college, but while Ateneo was a wondrous place of learning and goodness, but I never felt as I if was in my natural state in it. It felt heavy to me—as if I had acquired a burden. That’s why when I heard about the Junior Term Abroad opportunity, I leapt at the chance. I would be out again—satisfying my itchy feet with foreign soil once more.
I went, and it was the most astonishing and amazing thing that had ever happened to me.
So strange—prior to that journey, I had never traveled with anyone else but family. The bonds of familial love, to me, are the only permanent thing that I possess. It has survived arguments, issues, and miles and miles of space, so it is one of the few things that I can wholly trust. But in that trip, I broke out of character and wore my heart on my sleeve. There was someone in my life. It was so fleeting, JTA was, but traveling after so many years of not experiencing it made my defenses drop. And then, suddenly, there wasn’t anyone in my life anymore. Was I in love with him, which I doubt now, or with the sensuality of travel?
The not-quite-a-relationship ended badly when I returned to the Philippines. I had been fine coasting through my earlier years of college with mediocre grades, but JTA and the things that happened to me there had flipped a switch in me. I became intense—a competition junkie and party girl. I achieved 1st honors. I joined and won a total of 5 national and international competitions. I would clock 3 hours of sleep per night, working on my grades on weekdays and going out to clubs or parties on weekends. In other words, I became a zombie who no longer had time to enjoy my victories or a cocktail. Everything I did had to have a result or a purpose. I had given up my core identity to become a resume and QPI or a tagged photo on Facebook.
It had reached a point where I no longer liked who I was becoming. I was afraid of what I was doing to myself. My health was deteriorating, I wasn’t happy at all, and I was burning out. One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, mocked me during the hours I slept: “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” I was beating, beating, beating my head against the wall—competing against people who were not even conscious that there was such a competition going on. That horrified me that I become what I had spent years disdaining—a second-hander, a person who had started judging herself from the opinions of others.
I hated what I was becoming, and I decided to pare my life down to the bare minimum: my passions, namely my lust for travel and marketing. I needed to get away. How would I achieve this? I found my solution in the AIESEC Global Internship Program. This opportunity contained both of the things that I loved, and I eventually flew away again.
I am running all the time—running towards something, running away from something. Yes, I can empathize with the stereotypical gypsies because they are nomads.
But something also feels wrong with this. I recall reading somewhere that more than doing something once or twice, what you do consistently is the indication of what kind of character that you have. I believe I have integrity of character, but am I living like a person with integrity, with my fear of committing myself to anything? Looking back on a lot of the things that I’ve gone through, I wonder if I am just an escapist. What is the difference between escapism and making use of opportunity? I have wandered all my life, and some quiet little part of me wonders when my travels will end. Am I avoiding responsibility—or searching for something that will make me finally want to stop?