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The Journey: From Igorotlandia to Barcelona

By: Fargo Bcn

When I first came to Spain to take up TESOL/TEFL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages or Teaching English as Foreign Language), I had virtually no framework in which to fit the experiences I had encountered during my first week in Barcelona. I felt a bit strange being the only Asian in a class full of Americans and British. But as I stayed in the city, I discovered that experiences like these were not so unordinary and that my study here would need to extend beyond attending English lectures and preparing lesson plans. I had to take some lessons in Spanish culture, learn Castellano, Catalan, and whatever knowledge and skills I needed to survive in this foreign land. Little did I expect, though, that these lessons would be so many and varied. Here in Spain, I’ve learned not only about language and culture but also about the community, about God, and about life. On the day my plane touched down at Barcelona airport, my social network in the city was zero. I posted announcements on Bibaknets, IGO-Igorot Global Organization, and Interactive Cordillera websites. I exchanged emails with a few friends of friends while I was in the Philippines (None of whom I had ever met in person). Then I learned that someone whom I worked with within the radio communications back in the Cordillera is a resident here. Other than that, I knew nobody. I had to build a whole new network of friends from the ground up. Soon after my arrival, I attended an orientation seminar organized by the study abroad company that arranged my study program. I met some other foreign students here but didn’t make lasting connections with them. I spent many of my first days wandering to unfamiliar streets alone, stopping by some stores once in a while to have a look at labels written in Español, French, German, and Italian but very few in English.

It was a good thing then, that during a week of my adventure, through the help of my temporary host from Abra who is already a long-time Spanish citizen, I got to know Centro Filipino. I met Sr. Pau Astillero, the president of CF and I desperately asked her if she knew anybody from Cordillera whom I could get in touch with. She promised to find ways to contact a few acquaintances she still has. As months went by, my small group and the larger community of Centro Filipino in Barcelona became dear to me.

Inspired by good people, it encouraged me to join the Spanish service choir on Sundays. My commitment to the Filipino community didn’t stop there. The good influence of the people surrounding me persuaded me to become part of Centro Filipino volunteers. Despite studies and workloads, I devote my three hours of free time on Saturday afternoons to teach English at the Iskwelang Pinoy. A special educational program is offered to Filipino children who are born and raised in Barcelona to learn their mother tongue. Here they learn to appreciate their own Filipino culture, especially learning to speak their mother tongue-Tagalog and giving importance to English as a second language.

It was through people like them that the true meaning of life became real to me. I started to understand the real meaning of sharing one’s talents and working together in harmony and submitting to the more important task of loving and serving God and people together despite differences in ideologies and backgrounds.

The companionship I found here was a welcome change from the relative loneliness. Thanks to Centro Filipino who helped me be connected to my kakailians from the Igorotlandia here in Spain. After a few months, BIBAK Barcelona was organized and started to flourish.

The Filipino Community in Barcelona

The existence of the Filipino community in Barcelona started in the early1970s with few overseas workers until it slowly grew. It was only during the 90s that several students came to study for a semester, and some as exchange students. They stayed longer to further their studies when they finally leaned to speak Castellano and Catalan. In 1999, two decades passed, and the face of the Filipino community has been very different since then.

The demography became a lot more diverse in such a short time. Apart from the overseas workers, language students, embassy staff, and personnel, the Philippine national banks started branching out in the city. Now there are more people from all walks of life in Barcelona. Many who have finished their language study would take the opportunity to further their studies and enroll in university courses; instead of returning home to their countries. Many undergo an extensive selection process to enter one of the many acknowledged Spanish state universities with limited seats for foreigners. They don't stop there. Many even pursue their master's degrees and face fierce competition, with tens of thousands of fresh graduates securing jobs.

Those who don't believe in white-collar lifestyles brave themselves as entrepreneurs and put up their businesses. It is hard enough to set up an owned business, let alone doing it in an ever-changing country like Spain. It is a considerable challenge, but some will brave it. Somehow these hardworking fellows thrive. Their business varies from home-based catering service to multi-business engagement.

This diversity is not a barrier for many Filipinos to stay together in a foreign land. Filipinos are global-minded people yet strongly bond with where we come from. We have a deep sense of belonging, and we feel the need to be connected and together in some ways. In Barcelona, there are many existing organizations, religious groups, and networking associations for everyone to gather and share their experiences and passion. One particular organization worth mentioning is BIBAK Barcelona, which was newly organized on May 3, 2009, by Cordillers/Igorots residing in the province of Catalunya. We were proud to elect our first set of officers with Mr. Gil Catimo as the president. I'm grateful to have been a part of the making and establishing the BIBAK Barcelona during my first year in Europe.

The BIBAK Barcelona waiting for their turn to perform during the Philippine Independence Day celebration in Barcelona, Spain.


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