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A Prep School Halfway Around The World - Part 1

Greg is a retired manager having worked in his country for over 40 years. He and his wife are new residents living in the Tagaytay area.


Do You Want To Study In The US?

I still remember when my father asked me that question, over 40 years ago in 1971. I was only 13 years old then and barely old enough to shave let alone drive a car or go out with friends. My family life in Manila was boring and slowly driving me crazy, you would have to remember that the digital age of computers and of the internet had not been launched then, and I found that there was no real reason for me to stay at home. Sure, I would miss my Mom, but the prospect of living a new life, with its promise of a new culture and a familiar language I had grown up speaking while everyone else spoke Filipino felt like a dream come through. The next few months were spent getting my paperwork done and saying my goodbyes to countless relatives and to my high school classmates, but all I could think off every night was living the American dream. Needless to say there was a lot more in my father's question than I would have ever have thought off.

I left the Philippines in August of 1971 with my elder brother leading the way. Unlike me, he had spent more time in the US living with our grandparents on the West coast, so he was virtually a stranger with only a few shared childhood memories to remind me of our past lives together. As the hours drifted by on the turbo-prop (not quite a jet plane) I could almost feel myself slipping away into another persona that had been waiting for me all along. I had said my own personal good byes to my home and to my country as the planes wheels left the runaway, and I eagerly waited for my transition to a new life.

Touchdown in San Francisco and staying with my cousins was a totally mind blowing and exhilarating experience, I still remember loving the chill air and the fog of the city as we drove past the wide, hilly streets playing loud rock music! I had never heard of their music before, even the Philippines was still stuck on the Beatles and Elvis, but here I heard music that seemed to cater to my generation, from the Vietnam protest songs to the rock and roll music of the 70's and the South American mellow rock . What a world and what a time to fall into America, I felt like I was living in a totally alien planet which I found more suited to my lifestyle, and which I could easily understand since practically everyone spoke English, the vernacular of my youth! I could almost sink into the culture here and never be found again, I told myself, wistfully but I knew that a part of me would always miss the green fields and the jungles of my country and the smiles of the people.

After a few more days of living like this I was anxious to get to my new home and begin my studies.. My cousins didn't understand my haste to leave, I could feel even then that there was a difference in living life on the East versus the West Coast. It left me with my first feelings of trepidation and uncertainty that I was now going to enter a life that was totally foreign and strange to me. What have I got myself into?

What Planet Did You Come From?

After San Francisco, Pittsburgh was like a coal miner's bad dream. Our ride from the airport felt uneventful except for the color of the farm fields and forests, which had somehow decided to welcome me with a barrage of fall colors, symbolically saying goodbye for me to the west Coast and all its trappings of a sunny, hippy lifestyle. We were now headed to the Pittsburgh Greyhound Station which was a dusty, unwashed building on the wrong part of town next to some porno cinemas but which would form a landmark for myself whenever I had the chance to leave the school.

Inside the station, I had my first chance to see how the Great American Dream stood up to the realities of an economic recession. All over the station, people slept on the floor or waited for their scheduled rides on benches. Many of them watched blurry television from unclean coin operated vending machines while others stared into the crowd of onlookers and well wishers with blank gazes. Except for the occasional man in military uniform, the station look disheveled and awry, and overall there was a sense of the unwashed millions who had passed through. Finding a vacant bench, we hurriedly sat on it and waited for our ride as the cold rains of Pittsburgh dribbled off the roof, washing the dirt and pollution into the drains of the city and into the Allegheny River.

A Prep School In The Middle Of The Farms

As we entered past the well plowed farm lands of rural Pennsylvania, I readied myself for my first impressions of the prep school. I can still remember the wetness of the asphalt pavement and the dark foreboding clouds overhead as the Greyhound bus dropped us off by the side of a road. The white metal road sign gave the name as Kiski Prep, and we proceeded to walk down past the fall colored foliage of trees and bushes, the tree lined sidewalks, the school rooms and the soccer and football fields. Everything seemed so well planned at first I mistook the whole place for a golf course. But the brick lined buildings and the wooden Tudor architecture convinced me that I was far away in world not of my own choosing and sure enough as I entered a building at the end of a long ascending sidewalk , I reached the freshmen dormitory reserved for me and other lost souls like myself. After crossing the Pacific Ocean and making my way past the Wild Wild West, I had finally landed in Pennsylvania surrounded by farmlands and forest. My adventure in life was just beginning.

© 2018 Gregory Floro