Eyes filled with unfathomable sadness greeted me in the room. The boy's eyelids were drooped as if he was ready to burst out sobbing anytime. His face was like of an angel-a lost angel.
Early that morning, I was informed that I would conduct an oral exam to an eleven-year-old boy, Craig, who was a transferee from another country. He was born and raised by Filipino parents in United States and his parents decided to make him experience the Filipino culture by studying in the Philippines even just for a year.
It was a difficult situation because the boy was not informed prior to his coming in the country about it. He thought he would just be in a vacation.
The oral exam did not go well as expected. Craig could hardly look at my eyes and he would mumble words as if not really interested in answering. After about five minutes, I realized that he would not go out of his shell. He did not like the place and worst, he did not like to study in the Philippines. Forcing him to answer my questions would be futile and clearly a waste of time.
I tried to steer our conversation about the places he visited in the Philippines but still he clammed up. All I could remember to his answers were, "I don't know", "maybe", "I forgot", "I want to go home," it was the most difficult conversation I ever had in my whole life. I knew that he had a clear idea what was about to happen in his life.
All I wanted to do that time was to hug him and let him know everything would be alright. But, I did not think he would appreciate it because he grew up in a different culture. I tapped his shoulders instead and allowed that touch to communicate my empathy.
The next day, Craig entered my class. Curious faces of other 11-year-old kids welcomed him. He was looking at the floor the whole time and I was not able to convince him to introduce himself in front of his classmates.
The following days proved to be the toughest in his life. For a boy who spent most of his life in another country, language was the biggest barrier. Though most of his classmates could speak English, understanding his accent was another thing. I tried to design some ways to make it easier for him but it was not simple. Craig was in misery barely a week that he was in school.
How do you understand Tagalog language if your language since birth was English? His biggest difficulty was understanding subjects taught in Filipino.
The first time I tutored him was like talking to a person thousand miles away. When I suddenly mentioned about his family, his face lit up and for the first time talked to me with eye contact. Craig showed to me the photos of his sister, his mom, his dad and his pet. Then he launched into incessant babbling about his friends, home and school.
We had regular tutorial sessions in my place during weekends and every time we do so, I would observe a more relax Craig. There was this gazebo at the back of our home and that's where we usually study. He fed chickens watched fish in the pond while we were studying.
Break time meant eating his favorite pizza and lasagna and playing with Mico (my dog). It seemed that after several weeks of being in difficulty, the boy finally accepted his new environment. We worked on his difficulties and slowly, he gained confidence. In doing so, he finally had new friends.
Craig loved telling stories and he would go on chattering about them every time he would come to my place for our tutorial. When his mom visited him for the first time that year, he talked endlessly about it.
But when his mom left, he was devastated again. He returned to his hard shell. He told me that his mom gave him some dollars and he's going to save it to buy ticket going back to U.S. There was this strong conviction the way he said it.
Craig made me realized a lot of things. First is to live a life of acceptance despite of frustrations. I knew that even with the difficulties he went through, he would treasure the times he spent here in the Philippines because he learned a lot of things.
He's one of my most unforgettable pupils because he made my first year as a teacher special in many ways. Every time I would look at those innocent eyes, my heart was filled with love for a boy who surpassed an ordeal at an early age.
The last time I saw him was during his sixth grade graduation day. He was extremely different from that boy I first met. Happiness and contentment were etched on his face while standing confidently surrounded by his friends.
Goodbyes were not easy but I said mine to my "lost angel" with glee because finally he realized he's home where he would be cradled with love.
“[Kids] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”