Week 1: Travel and Arrival

Getting to the Philippines was an expectedly rough trip. I left my home in Central Illinois on the 9th at 3:00pm and arrived at University of the Philippines, Los Baños, for an initial sleeping place two days later. In total, it took 19 hours flight time and 3 hours driving – not to mention 9 hours spent inside airports. Still, the cramped seats, lack of sleep, and airplane culinary fare have all been worth their trouble now that I’ve really arrived here in Santa Rosa, the site of my internship.

There isn’t a great deal to say about my actual work at Human Nature because it wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I received my assignments for the next week, but I can say being at the company – in the space and with the people – has so far lived up to my expectations. The outer face of the company I’d seen in my research matches the atmosphere and initiatives observable through my feet-on-the-ground experience. Here’s what I mean:

My co-workers and I are allowed to come in between 7:00 and 10:00am and work for only 7 hours per day because of the company’s “flexi schedule,” a policy designed to make a wholesome family life easier for its employees. We will also all be going to Carmelray early Monday morning to the HN plant, where we’ll take part in an annual stock-taking; for a company to see the cost of this “lost” work day (or half workday, perhaps) as an investment in the employees’ joint ownership isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but here it feels genuine. “Bayanihan” is a concept in the Philippines that I will define from my understanding as “a sense of community,” and it’s one you see every day. So far, and without exception, the people at HN seem to be actively trying to make life better for their friends and coworkers. When a group of my now-colleagues went out to grab a snack at the drug store, they came back with the favorite treat of one of the employees who stayed behind. And, when I offered (innocently, even if foolishly) a light critique of a product’s appearance to a member of the design team, he responded good-naturedly, and with the assumption that I meant well in my comment. Later, he even invited me to speak up again because of my “fresh eyes!” All in all, it seems like the office at HN is going to be a happy, healthy place to work and learn for the next 7 weeks. I’m (still) looking forward to it.

There has been a great deal to process these first few days in-country, and I think the best way to share as much of it as possible is through only a slight filter. With that in mind, I’ve decided to adopt a lightning-round approach. Here goes:

Massages aren’t necessarily relaxing; I have a small bruise and a sore trapezius to prove it. If you want fresh fish in the Philippines, you can get it so fresh it’s still breathing and in schools. You need cash in a country where the transportation system is mostly run by private persons, and you need that cash in small denominations if you want to make friends. Being mildly tall by western standards makes you a walking landmark here and that makes plenty of people smile and laugh – until they have to squeeze into public transport in the space left over by your bulk (sorry, everybody; I’ll grab that jar of canned meat on the top shelf for you next time). If one were to divide the socioeconomic status of the country, it might readily be done in halves. The first half of the population lives and shops on one side of security guards, and the second on the other side – often in houses made of corrugated metal, cement blocks, and rough-laid mortar. The weather is hot, but not so hot that a citizen of Florida or Louisiana will feel out-of-place; in fact, once the sun goes down, the climate is much like a warm, pleasant night in Illinois.

Oh, and my roommate and I hiked Mount Taal, a nearby volcano:

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