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I Am Leaving Home To Study Abroad At 26

Everyone should say yes to something extremely terrifying once in a while.
PHOTO: Jico Joson

I'm 26 and have never lived away from home.

When you are a Pinay, the idea of leaving home doesn't occur to you until you get married. After all, it is so much more convenient to live with your parents when you have access to their car, free WiFi (important), and a fridge full of food (even more important). I also blame it on big, extended Pinoy families, which I happen to have. I grew up spending Sundays with two sets of grandparents and at least nine cousins. My house has always felt like a home. It still does. 

I grew up sheltered. I graduated high school from a private Catholic high school, and went to study in Ateneo de Manila University, which is not exactly known for cultivating a life of independence. After graduation, I went to work for a publishing company—and well, never left.

I've been working non-stop for five years—four years of which I've spent writing and editing, Best Website In The World.

The best years of my life were spent writing for this brand. Over the years, I’ve formed solid friendships with my teammates, who happen to be among my favorite people now. I've made a career out of digital publishing, where nothing stays the same. Every day I go to the office and ask, “Work, what do you have for me today?” And every day, something different happens—I love that.

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But when I turned 25 last year, there was a biological time bomb that exploded. It was a reminder that no matter how comfortable I was, how secure I was in my career, and how I loved being at home, there was something I still had to do. It's different for a lot of people—some people get engaged or married, others leave a long-term relationship in search of something more, some quit work to pursue a passion project, while others leave home. That's me. 

I was also anxious about turning 25. "25? 'Di ba parang late 20s na 'yun if you round it up to the nearest whole number?" I asked a friend. It didn't help that every time I opened my Facebook account, my friends were busy buying cars, designer bags, condos, and getting married. "Married?! But we're only 25!!!" I said.

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So what was next for me?

I obviously wasn't ready to get married or have children. But I thought of applying to grad school abroad, because it was The Big Dream since I was little. I toyed with the idea, and started talking to people who did it. I went to my boss and mentor, who studied in NYU, one Monday morning and said, "So...grad school. Where do I start?"

I didn't know where to go or what to study. I met up with friends, and visited a student agency to get me started. I eventually dropped the agency and did some Googling instead. I came across a Digital Publishing course in a university in Oxford and went for it. (Was I bent on studying publishing? Hell yes. Did I also want to meet Kate Middleton? Of course.)

I spent most of my weekends studying for my International English Language Testing System (IELTS), so I could make the required cut-off grade, wrote a gazillion essays on why I Was The Best Student Ever, applied to two different scholarships, and asked college professors and bosses to write me kick-ass recommendation letters.

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In January of this year, I finally got a Skype interview with one of the department heads, who offered me a spot in school. "What time is it in the Philippines?" she asked. "11 p.m." I answered.

"I think now might be a good time to celebrate with a glass of wine," she said.

A week later, I learned that both my scholarship applications were denied.

I spent my Saturday crying in bed, eating gummy worms. I called up my mom and said, "It ends here—I failed.”

"No, you didn't. We'll make this work," she replied.

Without the scholarship, I needed financial help from my parents. I felt guilty. My parents were having their dream house built and were also paying for my sister's college education. They weren’t obligated to pay for my school, but they were going to. I promised them I was going to pay them back eventually. "Matagal lang ah, pero I will make it up to you. Promise," I told them.

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Of course, I didn’t want to rely on my parents for everything. I saved whatever I could from work and sacrificed little luxuries for at least a year, just so I could pay for some of the university costs. I stopped saying yes to dinners with friends and never left the house during the weekends (books are life, you guys). When it was time to shell out money for my school's downpayment, my flight to London, and my dorm, I was ready.

Was I broke? Sure. Was I happy? You have no idea.

So here I am, on my last day of working for, writing this! 

I leave for Oxford exactly a month from now. Everything I possibly need in life, I have access to in Manila—but I am leaving my life of comfort to chase after an old dream and maybe find a new one. The thought of being away from home is extremely terrifying for someone who has never left home. I don’t have a plan, which is the worst kind of plan if you’re a planner like me. (I also hate cooking, which is another problem, according to my parents.)

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My advice to anyone who's going through a little slump is to find a dream worth pursuing and to go for it. Wing it. I know it sounds a lot like #YOLO, which is dumb millennial advice if you take it literally, but everyone should say yes to something extremely terrifying once in a while. My takeaway is that if you find yourself stuck or stagnant (even if you do love what you do), there probably is something you haven’t tried yet, and your job is to find out what it is and do something about it—even if it means leaving home.

There is nothing wrong with living a steady life, because steady is good. But so is seeking out an adventure, finding something new that makes your heart sing, and discovering that one thing that makes it easier for you to get up in the morning.

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