Happy UWC Day!

I was seventeen years old when I left my parent’s home in the Philippines and moved to Costa Rica to share life, learning and boarding school with over a hundred teenagers from roughly seventy different countries. It was a life changing, mind stretching, and heart strengthening experience – my first solo adventure that began as a two year education but evolved into a way of living and being.

The school was called the United World College Costa Rica. It was 2006 and I was joining the pioneer class of the school. Our school was but one new piece, a part of an international movement of many schools all across the world that were using education to change the world in a very special way.


Last night, I fell into the vacuum of looking through old photos from that special season of life. My intention was just to find one photo to share in celebration of UWC Day, but that intention turned into a couple of hours of flipping through the digital albums. The experiences felt like they happened so long ago, but as the photo flipping went on, I felt like I was living in those moments all over again.

Because so much time has passed since, I struggle to write about the experience with balance.  I don’t want to downplay the impact nor exaggerate it, but it was truly beyond and beautiful – the intensity of which remains unparalleled in my adult life, mostly because it all happened when I was so young and had at that time I had still experienced so little.
There are years worth of storytelling that I can share from my time at UWC. Even as I write this, I don’t know where to start or how to bottle it up and express it. I look back with joy, wonder, amazement, nostalgia, pride and love.

I was a shy teenager on her first trip away from her family. I can’t believe I had the privilege to go the distance that I did, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t.

At UWC I discovered what I believe in. Every day, my ideas and ideals were challenged, questioned, nurtured, tested, strengthened or broken down – in the classrooms, yes, but more significantly in the regular day to day life on a UWC campus. From the moment you woke up, you were immersed in diversity. I shared a room with two other girls, the three of us representing three distinct continents. On our floor of twelve girls, we could collectively  speak about seven or eight different languages. In our literature class where we discussed colonialism or the slave trade, romance or family ties, we had a room of fifteen students speaking up for fifteen different cultures and ideas. Every meal in the dining hall (which was basically every single meal you had) was a meal with the world.

We were all young humans, only half-molded into the adults we would later become. Living the way we did would leave a mark on us, even on those that didn’t want to be changed.

It is still so magical to me – the simple method of bringing young people together the way that UWC does. The idea has not grown old, not in the eleven years since I first stepped on campus, not since the fifty five years when the movement first began. And if you’ve been watching the news, you know we still need more of these experiences that build friendships and understanding between differences.

Even after so many years, I hold on to many memories. As I looked through my photos last night, trains of recollections ran through my imagination. Here are but a few: Meeting one of my best friends while brushing our teeth on our first night in the dorm, mouths foaming and toothbrushes poking out of our smiles. My first informal salsa lesson. Lining up at the outdoor pay phone so I could call home with a phone card (Yes, a pay phone. Yes, a phone card with the scratch out code!) Shedding tears because the cafeteria food was so bad one night. And then the surprise of friends bringing a cheeseburger to you late at night to make up for the bad meal.Tequila shots for 500 colones each (roughly $1). Sleeping outside on the beach with your friends. Holding somebody’s hand. Learning to speak up when you don’t feel like it. Being a Spice Girl. Joining late night impromptu worship sessions in the music room. Dancing in the ampitheatre to let out steam. Learning how to read another language using the packaging of instant noodles as you wait for the water to boil. Learning how to make pre-columbian style pottery from scratch. Learning the tinikling from online videos (was it YouTube already back then?) and then teaching it to your friends. Going into the neighboring “forest” area with the college gardener and his machete, to gather bamboo for the tinkling performance. Getting a scorpion in my hair. Carrying my country’s flag around town during the independence day parade. Performing for Queen Noor of Jordan, talking to her about my art. Walking in the rain forest looking for tiny frogs with funky patterns on their backs. Late night conversations on the hammock. Late night conversations after watching strange movies. Impromptu dance parties in the dorm room. More late night conversations. Going out for pizza to celebrate my roommate’s country finally being internationally recognized as a country! Weeping at graduation – from the joy of having made it to the finish line and for the despair of life apart from some of your favorite people in the world. 

You will later gratefully discover that life allows you to keep those precious friendships – for this I am incredibly grateful.

As for keeping the UWC spirit alive, as an adult it becomes a choice you have to make – to continuously draw near to the heart of the movement or to snuff out whatever spark of it was left in you. After all these years do we only hold on to memories and ideals – or have we also transformed these into action and impact?

Thank you, UWC, for the ounces of courage and compassion in my heart that were a gift from you.

If you know someone young who could use a grand adventure to mold, stretch, challenge life – consider inviting them to apply to UWC through the UWC Philippines National Committee here: www.ph.uwc.org.

If you would like to contribute to the movement and help send more Filipino scholars to UWC campuses around the world – consider donating to the UWC Ph National Committee. You may also visit www.baa-ul.com where you can benefit the UWC cause just by shopping for gifts – use the discount code UNITEDWORLDCOLLEGEPH when you check out. The code will give your FREE SHIPPING* and 5% of your purchase will donated to UWC Ph.  

Today there are 17 UWC campuses in 17 different countries. Students from 150 countries are sent to those campuses every year, with a growing alumni of over 60,000 people, after about 55 years of the movement.
*Free shipping to Philippine addresses only

There is story after story after story about this place

There is story after story after story about this place, even from way before I was born. And every story reminds us of how God never abandoned our family, not even in the darkest and most trying days, not ever. It’s these stories that laid a map down for my faith in God and that shaped my capacity to hope – for they are stories that are my history, not fairy tales or make believe. You have stories like these in your life. Do not tire of recalling or retelling them. They are the stories that will lead you home, stories that will help you put one foot in front of the other, in front of the other, in front of the other, even when the last thing you think you are able to do is stand. 

Pedestrian Problems in Legazpi Village

All I want to do is be a responsible, respectful pedestrian.
I’m grateful for the traffic lights that help maintain order in messy street intersections. I’m also grateful for the improvements that the my village has been working on in terms of the sidewalks – replacing tiles, smoothening sidewalks and installing more covered areas. (Thank you, Legazpi Village!)

However, the traffic light changes that were made to the Salcedo/Gamboa Street intersection are very frustrating for a pedestrian. Tonight, in particular, I crossed this street a number of times and my sustained discomfort finally pushed me to write out my thoughts and feelings at length. The concern may seem like a small matter, but I’ve seen the lights at the intersection put motorists and pedestrians in danger (or anger) enough times to feel like this needs attention.

It’s only been a few months since the lights were installed, but I cross Gamboa Street (from the corner with the BPI toward Legazpi Active Park/Legazpi Parking Lot and back) very often. On foot, this intersection gets me to most places I go on a regular basis, so the past weeks have allowed me lots of opportunity to observe and draw some agitating conclusions:

(If you are not living in Manila, this may be a good time for you to proceed to other more useful, happy, relevant reading, as I am about to break down my observations and recommendations regarding a pedestrian/traffic matter in the Philippines.)

Crossing the street tonight.

1. It seems like the pedestrian never gets a go signal. 

The pedestrian light on my usual crossing barely ever turns to WALK (in reality, the white-light walking man). This particular crossing is on Gamboa street, on the Legazpi park  side of Salcedo Street.

On many, many occasions, I have stood at the corner for a long time, trying to be obedient to the light. An orange hand signalling STOP is ever-present. I understand that is there to keep me safe. But often, you are held in this spot long enough to wonder if it will ever be your turn to cross. (I have also tried the “push to cross” button, but have not yet experienced the actual effects of this on the lights.., perhaps I’ve been too impatient?) 

2. The traffic enforcer, during every occasion I’ve experienced, helps to move vehicular traffic in this intersection, with little mind to the pedestrians. 

On many busy times of the day, the traffic lights are supplemented by a human traffic enforcer who keeps the vehicles moving. This is all well for those that ride in cars, making sure there are no bottlenecks or  not-so-smart-or-respectful cars that block the backed up intersection. But this it is not well for pedestrians, it seems the human traffic enforcer often forgets them as they stand waiting their turn. I have tried waiting.

3. The traffic lights assist cars, but not pedestrians. The current program of the traffic lights puts pedestrians in danger of getting run over. 

Because of instances 1 and 2, and their often simultaneous occurrence (no pedestrian go signal + human traffic enforcer forgetting humans traveling on foot),  pedestrians awkwardly and dangerously try to find their way across a street.

It gets agitating when there is actually a legitimate pedestrian crossing but no properly allotted time programmed for human beings to cross it safely. Cars also do not tend to give way, as they are simply following the traffic lights themselves. Drivers also will tend to get mad at pedestrians that try to cross whenever they can, without knowing that the pedestrians are not being provided a safe and timely moment to cross.

If pedestrians are conscientious, or shy street-crossers, they will do their best to wait. I see many try. I often do. But often the wait is just too long for it to make sense. You notice the lights go through their full cycle, all the cars have been let through, and yet you are still standing there waiting.

4. The traffic lights themselves are confusing for drivers. 

Not only is it dangerous for pedestrians, but this Gamboa Street, traveling in the direction of Amorsolo street, has two stop lights that have the following:

  • a green and yellow light for cars going straight,
  • a green and yellow arrow light for cars turning left and
  • one red light.

This is a pretty new set of traffic lights, so many drivers are not familiar with it. They are particularly unfamiliar with the arrangement that they cannot turn left unless there is a left-turn green arrow. Most drivers assume that when there is a green light, they can go straight and also turn left without any problems. The problem with this assumption is that the opposing lanes have a green light at the same time. There is no left-turn red arrow to keep cars from turning left when it’s not their turn.

This is actually pretty dangerous. I’ve seen a couple of near accidents when cars turn left into Salcedo Street without knowing that the cars on the opposite lane are still allowed to keep going straight. The left-turning cars are not aware that they need to wait for a left-turn green arrow.

I’ve also seen drivers trying to wait patiently for the green left arrow, but impatient cars behind them honk without ceasing. In one specific occasion, the first car finally turned because the second car was pounding on his horn. First car turned safely, but the second car (the honking one) almost got hit by an oncoming car. The oncoming car had a proper green light. He honked back and wouldn’t let that second car go through.

You know that for many years there were no lights in this intersection?

5. Pedestrians can follow their walk light at their own risk.

I was talking to myself as I crossed the street for the last time today, does the pedestrian light ever allow anyone to cross? Does it ever turn white, or is that orange hand just always lit up? 

I paused and waited. And then, ta-daaa! the walk light finally signaled that I could walk across the street! (I was coming from the Legazpi park side.) 

For a moment, I was very happy! And then:

a. I realized the left turn arrow for cars on Salcedo (turning into Gamboa) was green, at the same time that my light (crossing Gamboa) told me to walk.

b. There was a vehicle turning left as I was trying to cross. Both our traffic/pedestrian lights told us we could proceed safely. Not true!

c. The driver didn’t see my pedestrian light and he was simply following his light.

d. I was also simply following my light.

e. I had to stop in the middle of the street/pedestrian crossing to not get run over by the car. I let it go ahead.

f. While I stood there midway, waiting for the vehicle to pass, my pedestrian light turned to a STOP light. That orange hand again. It had been barely a few seconds since I left the sidewalk.

g. Thankfully there was only one vehicle turning left, so I made it across safely. I noticed though that left turn green arrow into Gamboa was still green. Had there been more cars on the road, I still would not have been able to cross. I would’ve gotten stuck in the middle of the road as the cars on Gamboa get their green light to go straight. (This has happened to me before.)

6. This intersection is not fair. 

I really want to follow the rules. I understand how pedestrians crossing at random times and random places cause accidents and more unwanted traffic. But intersections like these make it difficult to follow the rules because the rules were programmed unfairly.

Because I hate to just complain, here are a few suggestions for how to improve the current situation:

A. Post clear signage that say help motorists know what’s going on (especially for instances where a special left-turn green light is required for turning left). Also post signage as changes are being made, to warn motorists in advance.

B. Adjust the programming of the lights to accommodate pedestrians. (Three seconds is hardly enough time to make it across the road, especially for senior citizens or children).

C. If a human traffic enforcer will be working the intersection, make sure they wear lots of reflective gear. (They are sometimes almost invisible!) Perhaps the traffic lights can flash rather than stick to regular programming, so motorists know to proceed with caution. Remind traffic enforcers to also allow pedestrians to cross at certain intervals. 


Now, how to get this feedback to the folks that can make some changes?

Open Doors, A 2016 Playlist

View from my window seat, on one of the many beautiful flights of the year.
Cheers, 2016! Thank you for your big skies and open doors!

I’ve prepared a taste of my past year through the music that has moved me through an adventure-filled 2016.

This is a little annual tradition that has swung me into the past four new years: making a playlist to tie up the stories of my year. 2016 has added up to a generous helping of 31 songs. (My longest end-of-the-year playlist so far!)

You can also check out the playlist here: “Open Doors // SpeakSoon’s 2016 in Music”. A list of songs/artists also at the end of this post.

This year, I’ve added a new challenge. As a final piece and creative writing exercise, I borrowed words from all the songs of my 2016 and built a poem. You’ll find lines from all the different songs strung together with a bit of play from me. Does my year sound a lot like yours?

Open Doors

In these moments, I lose focus.
I don’t remember when we decided we could fly.
Put your head on my shoulders,
If you’re lost and you’re lonely, go and figure out why.

How do we mend a million pieces
strung out across the ground?
Hear the healing in your bones,
Sit in stillness for the silence of this sound.

Cry, my friend, no more,
you’ve seen your stars aligning I’m sure.
We all fear the sound of a closing door,
only your faith will prove to bring a cure.

All these vultures that surround you,
with cowardice speak their lies out loud.
Take my hand, I’ll give you strength,
just when you think all the streets have emptied out.

La soledad viene sin patria, have you missed the lonely call?
Leave what’s heavy.
Leave what’s heavy behind,
but I keep running for a soft place to fall.

A light against a darkened sky,
your truth must outshine all the lies,
You let your feet run wild and try
to tell the world that fiction is falling from up high.

The cross we bear is all we’ve got
para você vem dançar,
It’s like a bit of light in a touch of dark,
do you dare to look your losses right in the eyes?

While you were sleeping, I thought of you.
We might make it further if we learned to stay.
We’re here, eyes open, catching and releasing
what builds up throughout the day.

Live to dance in a hurricane,
find your heart standing in the eye,
I just hope you’ll stop me
before I build a world around me.

We are waiting on their sunshine and the morning dew,
for we live where the war is raging and where we miss the moon,
We’re all lonely together, no matter what we choose to do.
We can tell each other secrets, til we remember how to love.

I was listening to the ocean. I was dancing in the rain.
Words are so easy to say, we speak as though nothing could fall,
Slow down when you can, we’re not exempt from all pain,
This story’s a long one, take a deep breath, then five more. Stand tall.

Throw your arms in the air tonight. I won’t be no runaway.
I’ll go braving everything through the shine of the sun.
Darling, don’t be afraid when it’s time to stay,
but the doors are open. Run!

Playlists from previous years:

I’ve also just realized that I never shared 2015’s playlist, now also public on Spotify: SpeakSoon: 2015 in Music

Here are links to posts on past year’s playlists: 2014, 2013 and 2012.

And finally, a simple rundown of my 2016’s lovely playlist:

  1. Run – Lost Frequencies Radio Edit // Emma Bale
  2. On Our Knees (Feat. R.O) // Konoba
  3. I’ll Move Mountains // Roo Panes
  4. Tomorrow’s Song // Olafur Arnalds
  5. Tightropes // Robyn Sherwell
  6. Gorgeous // X Ambassadors
  7. Falling Faster // Andrew Ripp
  8. Moments – Acoustic Live // Kidnap Kid
  9. Spaceship – Popvilla Sessions // Comet Blue
  10. You’re Mine – Radio Edit // Raving George
  11. Deep End // Birdy
  12. No Angel // Birdy
  13. We Can Be Heroes // Ozark Henry
  14. The Eye // Brandi Carlie
  15. I Need a Forest Fire – feat Justin Vernon // James Blake
  16. Friends feat Bon Iver // Francis and the Lights
  17. Summer’s Almost Gone // The Temper Trap
  18. Lost // The Temper Trap
  19. New Afro Spanish Generation // Buika
  20. Light it Up (feat Nyla & Fuse ODG) // Major Lazer
  21. Dark Necessities // Red Hot Chili Peppers
  22. Sunset Lover // Petit Biscuit
  23. Way Down We Go – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC // Kaleo
  24. Para Voce // Gregor Salto
  25. Forever With You // Nathan Roberts
  26. Heavy // Birdtalker
  27. Good Together // HONNE
  28. Catch & Release – Deepend Mix // Matt Simons
  29. Show Me Love // Sam Feldt
  30. Runaway // AURORA
  31. Runaway // The National

2017, I’ll be listening for you!