Far from the hustle and bustle of Metropolitan Manila, the vast plains of Missouri became home to one Filipino Fulbright scholar for two years.
Karol Anne Ilagan pursued her master’s degree as a Fulbright scholar from 2014 to 2016. At the University of Missouri-Columbia, she specialized in Investigative Reporting and Data Journalism.
“I am a reporter for an investigative nonprofit, native of Maragondon, Cavite, and daughter to the most kind and supportive parents,” she describes herself. She enjoys hiking and watching horror movies. Her more recent favorite activity is reading books about wars and despots.
Currently, she is a reporter of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, an organization reputed for defending and asserting press freedom and freedom of information.
“I hope to use the lessons I’ve learned to help my community through good journalism and by educating them about the work involved in journalism. The recent election speaks volumes about the significant amount of work we need to do as a nation, and the news media in particular to better inform the public,” Ilagan reflected.
Of the two years that Ilagan spent in the U.S., she named three that were most memorable for her: (a) covering the 2014 midterm elections in Mid-Missouri, (b) attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) and (c) working at the Investigative Reporting Workshop. “I got to meet President Barack Obama and the First Lady, [during the WHCD] and working at the Investigative Reporting Workshop [was] where I had the opportunity to report for the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Washington Post.”
The annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner is attended by the President and Vice President of the United States. It is traditionally held on the evening of the last Saturday in April at the Washington Hilton for gifted students in college journalism programs. Ms. Ilagan’s distinction, however, was not garnered without challenges.
“Working as a reporter in a city, country, and culture, which in many ways is different from where I come from, was a challenge. There’s really no easy way to go about it. I just had to immerse myself and learn in the process and from my mistakes too,” she said.
Of the things she missed about being the Philippines, Karol had one answer: “I missed commuting in Metro Manila. For the most part of my stay in the U.S., I lived in a university town in the Midwest where public transportation is not as efficient as in the more cosmopolitan areas. Being able to bring myself — on my own–from point A to point B felt like a luxury sometimes.”
Two years can be a long time away for many people but for her, it was worth it. “My two-year study in the U.S. has given me time to appreciate everything I have here at home – my family and friends, my work, my roots and everything I’ve grown up with here. At the same time, my being away has given me the chance to reflect on how I could be of better use, of better service to my community, my country.”
Time apart as a Fulbright scholar gives people a broader perspective of their home countries. Their learnings, experiences and renewed determination have touched countless lives and will continue to do so for years to come.