Living and Leaving the American Dream

READER’S VIEWS (The Freeman) - April 19, 2021 - 12:00am

It was one fine day in August 12, 2016 when the news that I was hired in Cumberland County Schools in the US came. It was an opportunity of a lifetime so to speak. A million teachers would kill for this rare chance. Of course, I am just exaggerating! With my J-1 visa approved, I was all set for my journey to teach in the land of the milk and honey.

The first few months were filled with making the necessary adjustments and coping with the challenges brought about by a completely different environment. I cannot just pack up my things, walk right out of the door of my apartment, and take a jeepney to return to the Philippines.

I remember vividly how my first day at school was like. I caught one student giggling at my Filipino accent. Well, what I had in my classes were typical American teenagers. If you watched High School Musical or Riverdale then you have a clear picture about how they behave. Those shows exactly depict what it is like to teach high school students.

One of the better memories I had in the US was visiting some of the famous landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and Niagara Falls. I even marveled at how snowflakes landed on my palms. In all of these, you’ll see me beaming with a smile – all for social media purposes!

But little did people know that behind that smile was a heavy heart that slowly gave in to loneliness. It was a fake smile that I put on every time I posed before the cameras. Deep inside, I was longing for home!

Home – this was everything that filled my head during my second year in the US. I pondered whether or not resigning was the best option. Should I let go of earning dollars? For a time, I felt depressed. I even had thoughts of crashing my car into a tree while driving from home to school. It was aggravated by the fact that my mother was critically ill. It took a big leap of faith to decide to quit and end my stint as a J-1 exchange teacher.

People might think that I made a crazy decision to let that opportunity of a lifetime slip away. While it was true that I was better off financially while teaching in the US, truth is, a huge portion of my earnings were just enough to cover the bills and insurance. If teachers in the Philippines complain about their low pay, the same was true for teachers in the US. After all, I had no regrets that I chose to stay in my home country.

Presently, I am back happily teaching senior high school students in one of the public schools in the Philippines. Do I still have plans to go back to the US? Well, we do not know what is in store for us. Only time will tell. For me, I was living the American Dream for a short while, but now, I am leaving it all behind!

Henry C. Lumangtad

Former J-1 exchange teacher

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