Thursday, December 1, 2022

Wanderlust in South Korea

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by Roberto Klemente R. Timonera

Chilling at Scooby’s, Portal West one day, you might have seen that little morena with short black hair and sprite-like features, poring over some newspapers and wearing her signature accessory: an ID cord wrapped around her wrist. She may look all young and naïve, but don’t let her petite frame fool you— this girl is sharp.

Camille Ibarra,a senior MassCom student at Silliman, just got home the other week, after around a semester in Hannam University in South Korea where she was an exchange student. Her daily routine consisted of a Korean class from 9 AM to 1 PM, a job at the Foreign Language Education Center (FLEC) where she would have leisurely chats with Koreans who wanted to improve their English, and an Asian Studies class from 4:30-5:45.

Long before she applied for the program, she’d already harbored a sense of wanderlust: “I’ve always imagined my life post-university to go somewhat like this—become a librarian in England, a writer for a cheap magazine in Tokyo, a window washer in Rome and so on,” she says. “The idea of being restrained in a routine life day in and day out in the same place with the same people bothered me especially knowing that there is a whole world out there with so many things to see, to experience, to learn from.” As early as her first year at Silliman she began collecting pamphlets and asking about exchange programs, but never really fit the bill due to some tiny technicality—being too young or too old for a given program, for instance, or simply having taken major units that were considered irrelevant to the program. So she put her plans aside for the time being.

And then, rather conveniently, two women came along who would be Camille’s role models because they were living precisely the life she had dreamed of.

The first was Judith Rowland, a 22-year-old American graduate student who travels the world in the name of charity and education. A couple of years ago she visited Silliman University and Camille got to interview her for a class under Prof. Celia Acedo. A piece of advice Rowland shared was that one should just keep applying for scholarships, regardless of whether one feels qualified or not—one might just get lucky. The second was Florence Santos, Camille’s upperclassman in MassCom and last year’s exchange student to Hannam. Seeing her friend in her dream position convinced Camille that she herself could do it too.

Her stay at Hannam University— as well as what it took to get there— left her with several precious insights. “When it comes to your dream, be so annoyingly s t u b b o r n that even the universe will change its mind,” Camille says. “If you don’t ask, the answer is no.”

It was in Korea that she realized how much she loved the Philippines, as for the duration of the program she (and her fellow Filipino Ivan) would be the country’s representative. But what moved Camille the most was “ w i t n e s s i n g the beauty of humanity which transcended all divides.” During one session in her Asian Studies class, the professor let the group sit in a circle and asked each person to talk about his own religion. It was an eclectic mix of beliefs; there were Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and even atheists, but there was no hostility there. When it was someone’s turn to speak, the rest of the circle just listened. “In that moment I thought that maybe all across the continents humans aren’t really so different after all,” Camille says

Outside of school, Camille sustains an insatiable thirst for knowledge. She enjoys reading (voraciously—her tastes range from books to newspapers to gay fanfiction), writing, and watching “an unhealthy amount of TV series, movies, and short films until the most ungodly hours.” She has even been known to (literally) mark errors in newspapers for a pastime. “I go crazy when there’s no input so I make it a point to read and watch something every day,” she says. In spite of this she has not lost a childlike sense of wonder at things; when she first experienced snow in Korea, she made her first snow angel and snow drawing.

Camille is currently taking a break at her hometown in Zamboanga. She resumes her MassCom studies in Silliman next semester.

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