Identities Changing & Life-Changing

November 12th, 2015 2:29 pm

LoiLoi Almeron is a Journalism Graduate Student from University of California – Berkeley. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, Major in Communication Arts, from De La Salle University (Manila, Philippines). She gained her first years of professional work experience doing television documentaries and institutional videos from Unlimited Productions, an independent media production company and subsidiary of award-winning company Probe Productions based in the Philippines. She was trained in research, field production, writing and video editing. Her work experience has deepened her interest in documenting local government affairs and socially relevant topics on cultures and beliefs.

Loi is currently a reporter and producer based in California’s Bay Area. She constantly believes in the capability of media to inspire with credibility and accountability. She is optimistic to take part in anchoring the acumen of journalism with the service that it should provide.

This year, Loi was the representative of World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) North America both to the International Solidarity Mission in the Philippines, and to the WSCF-Europe and European Union of Jewish Students’ joint conference on Religions and Politics held in Czech Republic.

Changing. There is almost nothing you’ll forget about your first time in Europe. That is, at least true for me.

Let me start by saying that I am terribly missing everyone… And we will get back to that.

If there’s one thing that I find worthwhile and meaningful in conferences and assemblies, or even in life in general, it is when something gets me to critically think (or sometimes, just to think). That happened in my trip to Czech Republic. It had me reflecting holistically on the European situation during today’s historic refugee crisis and secularism. It is rare for me to come up to a speaker and discuss what I gathered from his/her lecture and just build up that conversation. I did that, and more.

Before coming to Europe, I had the privilege to last summer when the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in North America sponsored my participation in the International Solidarity Mission (ISM) in the Philippines. I was exposed to the realities and struggles of my own people, specifically the indigenous people. It was such a life-changing experience.

And even before I got home, Luciano Kovacs of WSCF-North America shared to me the possibility to participate in WSCF-Europe and European Union of Jewish Students’ joint conference on religions and politics, and multiculturalism in Europe. I vividly remember typing down my application essay on my phone while I was in a bumpy ride in ISM. I was not sure if it would be enough and clear for WSCF-Europe to at least consider my application, especially that I was upfront in my intention and interest to broaden my knowledge within the themes of religions, cultures and faith, and in a journalistic capacity. And as soon as I returned here in the United States, I received the good news of welcome. Interesting, I thought, so we moved forward.

From figuring out my study and work schedule here to the most tedious visa application ever and last minute (and schedule specific!) ticketing purchase, it was a back -and-forth of deciding whether to go or not. But Zuzka Babicova and Natia Tsintsadze were patient with me. I kept reminding myself that it would be all worth it. And it was.

After the ISM I told myself that the next time I participate in an exposure opportunity again, I should record a video or audio of myself everyday to keep track of reflections. But even if I planned to do so, my priorities while in Czech Republic were more on spending the most time as I could with my fellow participants.

It took a while before the idea that I am in Europe sunk in me. I kept telling myself… Yes I am in Europe… Yes I am in Europe… Yes I am in Europe.

Litomysl was a sweet little town. The everyday and evening walks, and the curiosities of where the actual residents are and why a bar named after hell (after translation) has the coolest music and awesome caramel dessert, of course what vegetarian food we would have next add up to the closeness of the group.

Honestly, I was surprised with how sociable I was there. It has always been easy for me to be personal and open up, and it became more intimate because the group made me feel included every single time. I was happy to render support in conducting WSCF’s interviews. It’s always fulfilling to do anything related to my field. Fellow international delegates even furthered my understanding of beliefs in Latin America and Indonesia. The organizers were accommodating and just amazing. Not enough words, really.

It was funny when I realized that not only was it my first time in Europe, it was the first time that I was surrounded by mostly Europeans all the time. It became unbelievable how the group was brought together and had a perfect chemistry. I had the sweetest roommates, ever. How I miss everyone.

In my application essay, I mentioned how my interests as a journalist are on religions, faiths and cultures. To learn, even the most vague situation, about a European religion or belief was a profound moment for me. I was never up close with learning about Christianity, especially Judaism, in Europe. I found myself observing and listening to everyone’s stories and realities. Before I thought I knew enough about the world, but the whole trip showed how much more we could actually learn through personal interactions and dialogues, and immersion into cultures.

In my most recent essay for my Ethics class in the Graduate School of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley, I cannot help but include a relevant topic from the conference. I wrote about my ethical dilemma as a journalist who participated in ISM, and in it I discussed the lessons on freedom of conscience and thought that was part of a bigger lecture on freedom of religion.

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite rare that I approach lecture speakers to have a deeper conversation. I recall that after the very first lecture, on multiculturalism and secularism in Europe, I went up to Dennis Goldstoff and just shared how I did not fully realize the arguments on both fostering and rejecting multiculturalism within nations. The argument that diversity of cultures and beliefs enriches society and lends support to immigrants, and the argument that the constant migration may lead to lost cultures and national identities. Before my thinking was that we should always open our doors to those who need help. It was a no-brainer. But it is true that losing identity is detrimental to a society.

This is something familiar to me, especially nowadays that I have been reporting on the struggle for self-determination of the indigenous people and Muslims in the Philippines. People need that. We long for identity and freedom to be our own. (Interestingly, coming as a representative of WSCF-North America and bringing more of my Filipino heritage was enough identity crisis for me.)

To see how the same struggle happens in different realities across distances, it changes not only who we are but also who we become in the most unexpected way.

I have no idea how many times my life can be changed in a single year. And this strongly proved there is no quota in that respect. Thank you.

World Student Christian Federation – Europe
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The work of WSCF-Europe is financially supported by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.

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