After being cultured by Rizal, we had to really earn our next meal. We boarded bankas (or pump-boats) to cross Lake Taal to get to the Taal Volcano. It was a choppy ride...we got soaking wet, and fortunately none of us had sea sickness. However, nothing says adventure like riding a horse up the mountain to the top of the volcano where a glorious caldera lake awaits, that and 360 degree vistas of the lake below. The caldera is a lake on an island in the middle of a lake on an island...think abou that! Taal Volcano is actually considered quite dangerous and is labeled as a Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ), but that didn't stop yours truly and her intrepid counterparts (and our amazing island guides) from making the trek. Needless to say the adventure was awesome, we laughed a lot, told great stories, recounted our respective experiences in the schools and otherwise reflected on the time we had reveling in Filipino culture.
At the end of the day, the group of 15 teachers who went to the Philippines, went our separate ways, some back to the U.S., others continuing their travel adventures (stay tuned for my updates). Each of us agreed we had been profoundly impacted by this experience. There was a general sense that we were changed as teachers and as human beings. The Philippines is a country that struggles with its place on a global stage. Their complex history coupled with their rich national pride propel them forward. Their implementation of a new compulsory kindergarten to grade 12 education system is just a part of what will allow Filipinos to engage with their Asian (and global) counterparts in the 21st century. However, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that while they are a country rich in culture and replete with other assets and resources, they are still a developing country. There are many living in extreme poverty. There are children who still don't go to school, and people who are living in conditions many of us cannot imagine. For me these sights and encounters were certainly a reminder, not only to be grateful for that which I have, but it is also a reminder of the power of education. With knowledge and hard work, one can improve the quality of their life, or perhaps the lives of the next generation.
I cannot help but be ultimately moved by the worlds of Senator J. William Fulbright who said, "The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy - the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see or see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program...is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope..." It is because of Senator Fulbright's vision and understanding that programs like Teachers for Global Classrooms happen. I move forward with his words echoing in my mind, and the genuine belief that my time in the Philippines was successful in achieving an avenue of hope, for those I met in the Philippines, for my students back home in Portland, and selfishly, for myself.