“It was scary. I remember packing two suitcases thinking, ‘This is my life for two years.’”
This was one of many thoughts that ran through Bryan Cayabyab’s mind as he got ready to board a plane to Canada from Luzon, Philippines nine years ago.
He was headed to Lester B. Pearson College in British Columbia to join 200 other students from 100 different countries to undergo a two-year program at the international baccalaureate school (IB), the equivalent to AP-level classes in the United States.
“My first plane ride was very exciting. I had never been on a plane before. I was sad, excited, there were a lot of emotions. But mainly, it was something new. I didn’t really feel homesick for a while until later, because I’m the type of person who is pretty adventurous and my parents pretty much let me do whatever,” Cayabyab explained.
Cayabyab was raised by his grandmother. His parents worked abroad in Saudi Arabia, returned and retired five years before he left. In an odd way, this disconnect from his parents has seemingly benefited Cayabyab and his independence. He’s able to focus on his goals without being overly attached and homesick.
“My last time being home was four years ago. I’m used to being gone. I talk on the phone with my family once every couple weeks for like five minutes. It’s hard to explain to them what goes on here, so I just tell them I’m doing well,” chuckled Cayabyab.
While he is content on his own, family roots dig deep for him. Cayabyab is able to work as a Resident Director at Springfield College and get his Master’s Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology for free while simultaneously trying to help others.
“He cares a lot. He’s always putting others before himself, which is unique nowadays,” said Marissa Lischinsky, a fellow RD on campus. “He cares about family a lot. So, even though he doesn’t talk about them a lot, everything he does is to send money back home. He has a lot of different perspectives on the world coming from another country and living in different places.”
Cayabyab is indeed well traveled, going from Lester B. Pearson in Canada to Luther College in Iowa, a Liberal Arts College where he majored in Nursing while serving as a Resident Assistant in three of his four undergrad years there.
During this time, he spent a month in Chicago for a J-Term class that studied the city. He then spent one year in San Francisco working in a dementia care specialty nursing home while saving up money. It was then that Cayabyab found out that he was quite limited in the work force under his current circumstances.
“I didn’t realize that as a Filipino citizen, being a nurse here isn’t possible,” said Cayabyab.
He is currently in year two of his two-year Master’s program at Springfield College, which he hopes will further benefit him in landing a job at a major consulting firm.
Cayabyab’s ability to adapt and diversify within different career paths is a strong reflection of his diversity on the Springfield College campus. He is heavily involved in his schoolwork, even ambitious enough to take an advanced statistics class simply to satisfy his hunger for learning.
“I like to learn new skills. I like video editing, taking pictures and videos. I like cooking.
“Hobbies?” laughed Cayabyab. “I don’t have much free time right now. In college I mainly just hang out with friends. I’m pretty involved with different activities, so that keeps me busy.”
Keeping busy may be an understatement in this RD’s case. Along with his responsibilities as an RD, he is an intern at the International Center, where he handles many of the aspects of the intensive language program, college language and American Studies program.
“He’s a quiet force. He knows everybody, but doesn’t seem to be the sort of person who gathers attention,” noted Deborah Alm, director of the International Center. “He’s respected by the others; they enjoy him, he’s vastly intelligent, and has a great sense of humor. I suspect that when he’s not on his best behavior here, he’s probably a ball with his friends.”
Cayabyab has gotten used to a lot since leaving home at age 17. He has had to adapt to a socially and environmentally different atmosphere than he was used to.
In Luzon, there is a rainy six-month season and a dry six-month season with temperatures staying warm, ranging from a low of 60 degrees to a high of around 95. Typhoons are prevalent in the rainy season, and agriculture is a big part of life in the Philippines.
Farmers’ markets are utilized every day by Cayabyab’s family to buy groceries for meals instead of the stocking-up method used in the U.S. The Philippines has a higher percentage of people of the Christian faith than any other religion, similar to the U.S. However, as different as the immigration to Canada and then the U.S. might have been, it was never as drastic of a change as it was most recently.
“I didn’t have culture shock when I went to Canada, nor my stay in Iowa. But coming here to Springfield College, it was a culture shock,” explained Cayabyab. “Seeing that most people are involved in sports, athletic, and wearing shorts and sweats was something really different for me.”
At Cherished Moments High School back at home, they didn’t focus on sports, at least back when Cayabyab attended. Badminton and Taekwondo were the only sports offered, but you had to pay to rent out the facilities to play in, on top of the private school’s price of tuition..
“Because sports were not a priority when I was in school, it was not encouraged. Academics were highly encouraged. We joined competitions such as spelling bees and the math club. Public schools had teams and even other private schools had teams, but the admin. at our school just wasn’t prioritizing sports,” Cayabyab said.
Sports culture isn’t the only culture that varies from the Filipino culture.
Time isn’t valued as much. A meeting at 10 a.m. means within the hour, and people will show up at 10:30 or 11 a.m. Personal space isn’t a big deal either. In airports, for instance, the U.S is big on not invading each other’s personal space. In the Filipino culture, however, people aren’t worried about sitting close and having each other touch.
Kaitlan Gruber, one of Cayabyab’s closest friends and fellow RDs, talked about an experience that Cayabyab had while he was here over winter break.
“He went downtown for his birthday over break and met some random Filipino guy walking the streets of Springfield. They realized they were both Filipino and got to know each other, and he invited Bryan home. They ended up having Christmas dinner with him, and they hung out all the time and talked. It’s the culture – they all trust each other.”
Gruber went on to talk about Bryan as an RD and as a person.
“He understands us, who we work for, and the Springfield College mission, but also has that compassionate side to him that I don’t get with other RDs. When I was in my undergrad, I had a lot of connections here on campus. I could tell them anything, they really understood me, and they would back me up no matter what I did. Then I came to grad school, and I was wondering what the issue was with finding that type of connection where I could call them at any moment. Bryan is that person, and we feel like we actually would hang out with each other even if we weren’t in this atmosphere. We have that connection, and we’ve talked about how we’re the only people that we’d keep in contact with after we graduate.”
Bryan Cayabyab is the type of person that inspires people to follow the mission at Springfield College in embracing diversity and broadening our own knowledge outside of our cultures.
The lighthearted, effervescent aura that he projects with an infectious smile is seen making an impact wherever the wind takes him, coincidently right here on the campus at Springfield College. Alm knows this firsthand.
“Last year, there were four guys, one a visiting professor from Oman in the Middle East, one from India, one was Chinese, and Bryan from the Philippines. Those four guys used to hang out at a table, and would just discuss life and share amongst their cultures. That kind of willingness to share and be curious about other people and their cultures I think is really special, both to care about it and to live it.”