I am not sure about every other Pinoy but I was excited when I heard the news that the company is sending me and 2 other employees to the land of milk and honey. The other one happens to be my best friend, so it’s like a field trip fully paid for u – except we had to work long hours (which we didn’t mind!).
I work as part of the training team for a BPO company that services American clients and with proper preparation and grooming (believe me, I have been rejected for projects that I want a few times), I got chosen to be one of those who will be trained in the US.
Although the company processed my visa requirements, appointments, down to the visa fee (all I had to do was answer a few forms and show up for the interview), I will share some tips on a separate article on how to successfully get a tourist visa to the United States, if you have a Philippine Passport.
We flew with Delta from Manila to Cincinnati with stop-overs at Narita and Hartsfield-Jackson Airports in Tokyo and Atlanta respectively. That’s 4 hours Manila-Narita, 14 hours Narita-Atlanta, 2 hours Atlanta-Cincinnati. Prior to that, my longest flight had only been 4 hours when my friends and I flew to Tokyo for my birthday in 2015.
To fight boredom on the plane, I watched movies over the in-flight entertainment of Delta, slept, ate, and then listened to music. It was economy class, but compared to the budget airlines I have been used to, it felt like business class to me. Food was served every 2-3 hours, blanket, pillows, headsets and eye covers were provided for our comfort. All 3 of us were seated separately so it felt like I was flying solo.
We got there in November and we were so happy to have played with the autumn leaves, the gold-yellow-brown leaves, crisply decorating every road and park we saw. The climate in Ohio is a little frantic, as our clients said. It does get cold and warm quite quickly. One day I was able to wear a pair of shorts to get some supplies at the nearby gas station. A few days later we were running from the office to the hotel where we were lodged in, because it was 3 freaking degrees and the wind made it even more unbearable.
Unlike states with a large Asian population, Ohio’s rice meals were scarce. We bought some microwaveable food from Walmart and we weren’t happy about how it tasted. At one point, I was depressed because I hadn’t eaten rice nor adobo for 2 weeks or so. So Jons had to cook it for us. Am I not lucky?
As I mentioned, we worked long hours and I am happy to have brought with me my mother’s cinnamon barks for tea. No kidding. These were legit tree barks that I boiled and I drank it as tea instead of coffee, since I needed to frequently drink something hot as it was already cold outside. Jons feasted on the available brewed coffee and tea at the inn we were staying at.
My favorite thing about Cincinnati was the Cincinnati Premium Outlets, where we scored Nike items at ridiculously low prices, and some watches at the Saks Fifth Avenue (Fossil and Anne Klein). Imagine that Jons and I had to buy an XL-sized luggage at TK Maxx to fit in all the footwear and chocolates we bought for our families back home. This is also why one of us was over-baggage and at the Delta counter, had we not met Lorna, a fellow Filipina, we would have done the “That Thing Called Tadhana” – throwing some of our clothes to avoid paying a hefty fee.
Two weeks passed and we had to head to Joplin, a small town in Missouri. I did some research before heading there and I was surprised at what I found. The town had almost been wiped out due to a deadly tornado that rummaged through it in May 2011, which was later dubbed as the costliest tornado in US history for its $2.8 billion worth of damages.
There was a thunderstorm on the first night we were there and it was funny because since we stayed in our own hotel rooms, the power went out and I could hear the wind howling outside. It’s a good thing it didn’t happen anymore in the entire week we were there. It had been raining, but not too strongly anymore, though it made it much, much colder than when we were in Cincinnati.
From Cincinnati to Joplin we had to fly twice from the Cincinnati/North Kentucky Airport to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Springfield, Missouri on a weekend. We were met by Apple’s friend Deb who took us around Joplin, dinner at a Chinese buffet restaurant.
The site we went to happened to be across the head quarters of Precious Moments in Carthage, Missouri. In between work, we went there for the free tour, buy some stuff, and we luckily met another Filipina who said she hasn’t seen quite too many Filipinos in Missouri. She cooked tortang talong with bagoong for us the following day before we finally left for Manila. What a sweetheart!
The flight back home was both exciting and hopeful. Now that I was granted a 10-year multiple-entry visa to the US, I knew my passport had just gone stronger. Also, I wished I had more money to buy more stuff from the outlet store, but I had to stop myself from overspending because I only 44kgs to carry back home and I still planned on buying some chocolates (Royce!) at the Narita Airport.
Meanwhile, let me share with you some eye-openers during my stint in the USA:
- Tap water is generally safe. I say generally because there is a water crisis in Michigan. For us in both Cincinnati and Joplin, we drank straight from the faucet.
- Don’t walk where there’s no side-walk. We are so used to walking along the road in Manila that when we did that along Kenwood Road, we got honks here and there because apparently, that could have gotten us killed!
- When you check the weather, don’t believe it if it says 15 degrees. More than anything, look at the “what it feels like” because the wind will make it seem like it’s 5 degrees.
- Always bring your heat tech under garments if you’re leaving the tropics. I always bring mine since I first went to Japan in March of the same year, and China in 2016 where it was still brutally cold in March.
- For a Pinoy, you might crave for Pinoy stuff like adobo. Cook it, if you have to. But if you want sinigang, bring your own sinigang mix.
- Bring just a few clothes because the outlet stores will drive you over baggage.
- Be friendly at the airport. You will never know when you will need help.
- Tipping is customary. The amount of your tips speaks volumes of how you are rating the service.
- You have to have a car to get somewhere, anywhere. Unless you are willing to pay the cab at all times. We are lucky that on our last night, our office mate Michele and her daughter Syd showed us around Cincinnati and even bought us dinner at the Montgomery Inn. Jhogs also drove us around, took us to the outlet store, and went to church with us that Sunday.
- Read the signs – when Michele was driving, we almost got apprehended because we entered a road that was restricted. We were so nervous I could have sworn I heard my own heartbeat.
- There is a to-go box for buffet restaurants. We filled a $2 box of meat that we ate for 3 more breakfasts – we wanted to save badly so we can buy more pasalubong.
On a separate article, I will write about how to get a US tourist visa for Philippine passport holders.
Hope you had fun reading my “American dream” article. It sure is something I want to happen again, I still have 9 years with that visa!