“A sojourner is never the same every time she returns home.”
Just as Gandalf the Grey of the Lord of the Rings said that not all who wander are lost, many Filipino Fulbright scholars undergo life-changing experiences in the U.S. and come back equipped to bring positive change in their Filipino communities.
Maria Nela Florendo, a history professor at the University of the Philippines- Baguio had her first Fulbright grant under the Senior Research Program in 2008 at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. In August of this year, she will be leaving for the second time around as the only Filipino scholar-in-residence to be sent to the University of Memphis-Lambuth, Jackson, Tennessee.
Memories of Ann Arbor
“My stay in the US under the Fulbright Senior Research Program (2008) was on the whole, memorable. The climate was interesting. In politics it was an Obama vs Clinton primaries until the US elected its first black president. It was a great time to be an observer of the making of American history,” Dr. Florendo said.
The new environment was exciting for Dr. Florendo but she admitted that she also faced challenges along the way. The weather was harsh at that time as Michigan received the highest snowfall among all American states. Nonetheless, she found strength where she could:
“Amidst this impact of climate change I could not forget the warmth of the Filipino community in Ann Arbor,” she continued, I found a great friend in the person of an Ann Arbor-based Ilocano lady. It was like being home.”
She said that although she is just like everyone else—longing for her family and Filipino food—she has always been an independent traveler.
Dr. Florendo feared coming face-to-face with racial discrimination. Fortunately, this never happened. “When people learned I was a Fulbrighter, there was always the respect and the curiosity about my research interest,” she added.
Life Back Home
Teaching became her means of paying it forward after coming back to the Philippines from her grant in 2008. Because she believes that everyone is a “student for life”, she has imparted her knowledge as an academic to many teachers and communities.
In coming back, she admits her guilty pleasure involves watching teleseryes of Filipino star pairings such as James Reid and Nadine Luistre (JaDine), and Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil (LizQuen). The prime time drama show Ang Probinsyano has also been one of her favorites.
Dr. Florendo is looking forward to starting her second grant. “I am excited about my handling American students. I ask the questions: ‘Will my pedagogy work? Will they appreciate the Asian perspective to history?’”
Her simple wish upon finishing her residency in the University of Memphis- Lambuth is to be remembered in her American community as one of the best teachers. To hear that students will love learning under her mentorship is a joy she will truly keep in her heart for years to come.