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
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There is nothing our human hands can do

There is nothing our human hands can do to deserve a world so beautifully and intricately crafted. Nothing. Not even our minds, powerfully designed as they are. 

But if we lead with our hearts, our mighty, broken, open hearts, we might just have a chance at growing the love that this world was created with.

Baler, Philippines. January 2017.

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!

Do not forget when you were little.

img_0385
Dad and me by Lake Tahoe. Brothers playing in the background. It was dad’s birthday yesterday – happy birthday, Dad!

 

Do not forget when you were little; a lifetime shorter than all the rest. 

Today we hold our egos high, stuck out like scrunched-up chins set on stone-cold jaws, taunting the world to hit us with something good. There’s a pride in us, webbed into our very bones, our childhood growth spurts dictating how much of the pride is faulty, how much of it is made of honor.

Do not forget when you were little; tiny hand reaching out for direction, for love. 

As children, we held out our hands for guidance and just knew that someone would hold it. We trusted that we would be led to something good. Doubt was still a game then; not yet the crutch,  nightmare, or dirty secret that it later morphs into.

As children, we didn’t second guess our need for someone else to be there for us. It was fully part of our flesh, this affection. We didn’t resist the arm of a loved one reaching out to hold us. For a loved one to turn away simply confused us. There was yet no shame in reaching out first.

Today, we hide in reflection and conclude that perhaps to reach out is to be needy, or worse, to reach out is to be selfish. When did love dress up as weakness? Deconstruct what strength and worth you have in this life, and you’ll find that there is no you without love, whether a trace or a flood of it.

Do not forget when you were little; because everyone says this life goes by in the blink of an eye. 

When we were young, we hurried to grow up. We held precious moments with a clumsy, absent-mindedness, interest always lost to the next distraction. Thankfully we were born with memory. It was not a switch we needed to turn on, a skill we had to learn or a trophy to deserve. If it were, we’d be scavenging for our history. Our biology keeps record of who we are, where we’ve been – in the tangles of our mind or in tracks left on skin. In adult life, we salvage what snapshots our memory can bring to mind, but at that point we can no longer choose what moments endure as milestones. What kind of story does our memory preserve for us?

Do not forget when you were little, because no matter how old we are, we are still and always not yet fully grown.

To be human is to be flawed, to be small in the universe, to be complex and never fully unmistakably understood. We are little beings in this grand world. Little beings not meant to be alone.

——–
This post is in response to our #CreativeNeighbor prompt by Art in the Neighborhood: a photo from your past. Join us as we make room for creativity and community. 
If you’re like us and need a push to get those creative wheels turning again, join our weekly art challenge! Here’s how it works:

 

Every SUNDAY, we’ll post a creative prompt.
Take the week to respond in your own medium and style. Write, paint, sing, dance, shoot.

There are no rules, but we challenge you to slow down your creative process. Think less digital and more analog.

On SATURDAY, share your work.
Post your response online along with the hashtags #creativeneighbor and#neighborhoodph. Read, watch and listen to what others have shared. Then look out for the next prompt on following Sunday!

 

february artist happenings: postcards, workshops and an installation

This month I get to share my art.

This is exciting and terrifying, in the best and happiest sense. If you are around Manila, I hope you will consider checking out of a few of the things I am up to this month:

You, in Particular

On Sundays of February, a limited run of new artist postcards will be released at Local Edition, a coffee shop on Perea Street, Makati. My work, You, in Particular, is part of their 3//8 Print Series, featuring three local artists. Each artist uses a series of 8 postcards to create a larger work of art. Mine is a mix of drawing and poetry. We launched the series last week, and here’s a peak at my first two pieces. Postcards are on sale while they last, for P160 each.

launch

 

what wakes you

The main project I’m currently working on is an art installation that opens on February 20th! The work is called what wakes you, and is made up of poetry and paintings. I begin installing the work tomorrow, and will slowly develop the work from day to day, until it’s final launch on the following Saturday at 4pm. This will also be at Local Edition.

Drop by while it’s in progress or at the opening reception! And if you miss the opening, the work will be up through March 2016.

white.jpg

workshops

This month also marks the beginning of my journey teaching art and writing.

charcoalDRAWING: If you’re interested in visual art, I’m teaching a drawing workshop that doesn’t require any drawing experience! It’ll be both dynamic and therapeutic as we play with charcoal and pastels. Email prismgalleryph@gmail.com to sign up! Fee is P1,800 including materials and snacks.
February 17, Wednesday, 6-9pm.
at Prism Gallery, Island Tower, Salcedo Street, Makati.

 

 

WRITING: If you’re interested in writing, I’mplaying with words.jpg teaching a creative writing workshop for writers and non-writers who are feeling a little stuck. We’ll play with rhythm and repetition in your writing. Using the pattern of poetic forms like the villanelle and the pantoum as building blocks, we’ll discover new ways to keep writing fun and fresh. No writing experience necessary! Workshop fee: P850 with materials and a free regular drink of your choice at the cafe.

February 20, Saturday, 10am-12nn. at Local Edition Coffee & Tea on Perea Street. 

 

Here are some links if you’d like to keep up with my artist adventures:

website // facebook page // instagram feed