I would describe myself as a Kentuckian, born in Lexington, a senior at Henry Clay High and headed for UK next year.
Yet, when I reflect on my childhood my thoughts roam to Cebu, Philippines.
Contrary to my classmates’ beliefs, the Philippines are not part of Philadelphia. In fact, they are a collection of islands in Asia – Cebu being one of the main four.
Moving to the Philippines had been easy. I was only 9 and the cultural shock hit my parents much harder than me. Still, when I returned to America, I felt like an outlier.
It wasn’t American culture that rocked me – I had spent the first nine years of my life here and visited often from Cebu – I struggled to adjust to the Kentucky education system.
During my four years abroad, I spent grades fourth through seventh in a private, international school before returning to Kentucky and enrolling at Hayes Middle School.
Teachers and students at Hayes all seemed the same and shared the same worldview. Not so at Cebu International School.
Walking the halls of CIS, I encountered students and teachers from Germany, Egypt, Spain, England, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and especially Korea.
(Wealthy Korean parents send their children – with nannies as guardians – to the Philippines to learn English.)
Class discussions regularly revealed astonishing anecdotes, underlining the stark differences between my world and that of my classmates.
My fifth grade teacher was a Filipina who recounted a World War II story during history class. Her family painted the Rising Sun flag on their roof so Japanese pilots would not bomb them.
Not surprisingly, stories like these enhanced my perspective. Because I was lucky enough to study abroad, I accept and sympathize readily with those different from me.
CIS not only exposed me to different cultures, it gave me a rigorous education.
At CIS, teachers demand the same work ethic from sixth graders as they do seniors.
Since Cebu is in Asia, we students were expected to respect our elders and finish our schoolwork correctly, the first time, without complaint.
Teacher expectations heightened classroom difficulty. College-like lectures began when I was in sixth grade.
Homework consisted of writing essays and finishing projects at home. (I favor that to filling in worksheets and reading textbooks.)
The schoolwork I am most of proud from CIS? The projects.
In sixth grade, our math class built a scale model of world attractions out of recyclable materials.
My group tackled the Taj Mahal. The finished product was kind of awesome, if I say so myself.
In seventh grade music class, we produced a music video of Justin Bieber’s “Back Down to Earth” that could surpass the real one.
As memorable as the CIS class projects were, nothing rivaled the field trips.
Every year my whole grade took a week-long trip to one of the islands – the trip was called Philippines Week.
Though teachers filled the first two days with museum and historical site tours, the rest of the week consisted of interactive team-building activities and hitting the tourist spots such as visiting amusement parks, hiking up mountains and marveling at waterfalls.
We also visited local, impoverished schools – an eye-opening experience that sticks with me to this day.
I remember painting walls (many, many walls) at these schools. Filipino schools routinely consist of one large room, invariably painted pale blue. Surrounding most structures sit three-foot high cement walls topped with broken glass or spikes.
Prior to our visit, my classmates and I spent time putting together gift bags filled with school supplies, while the teachers arranged lunch for everyone.
After lunch, we began painting. Sometimes murals would pop up. Other times we simply painted the wall a new, brighter color.
We visited these local schools so we could leave students with new supplies, full bellies and a more attractive school.
I find myself missing the Philippines regularly. What I learned there has shaped the largest part of who I am.
Initially, I resented Lexmark for moving my family halfway across the globe.
Now, I am grateful for my time in the Philippines, an experience that no 9-year-old could have imagined.
Katherine Dicello is a senior at Henry Clay High who worked an internship at Lexington Family Magazine.