Thursday, 16 March 2017

On the road: The trip that saved my life

Catherine Batac Walder Izon's Backpacker Journal On the Road Jack Kerouac

It was Jack Kerouac’s 95th birthday on March 12th
It reminded me to have a look at this journal 
from more than a decade ago.

Sometime in 2004, I started a plan. This led to major decisions that I was brave enough to make, given the circumstances. After years of unsuccessful applications for scholarships and jobs abroad straight out of university, I had a renewed interest to try again. I borrowed a neighbour’s camera to make a video of myself for job applications. My aunt in the US lent me funds so I could have my grades translated into their international equivalent by an agency in California. As for studying abroad, it had always been my dream since I was 13 but there was no way I could pay for it. I had a backup plan if the jobs or further studies didn’t work out. I was very close to finishing graduate school (Special Needs Education) at the University of the Philippines and would continue to teach special needs children. I just need more time, I thought, and then I could take the Licensure Examination for Teachers and keep polishing my CV until I was ready to try again. My father passed away in February, 2005 – I would need another post to chronicle the heartache of that, but how it related to my financial status was that it automatically made me the breadwinner of the family. My teaching job didn’t pay much and I had hoped that a graduate degree would get me a better-paying job. My mother agreed to help me with her savings so I could focus and so I quit my job and vowed to finish my degree that academic year. I intended to live on campus to get a cheaper rent but I knew that it might be difficult as the undergrads were prioritised for campus housing. I eventually got a place, courtesy of a lady who only had kind words for my late father and who was willing to help. I was so motivated I wouldn’t know how to describe that energy now, 13 years later. Or maybe I could – the core of such determination was one of those age-old stories. Aside from a lacklustre career, I was heartbroken I would find myself crying in public payphones and I was sometimes so distracted I could have been easily hit by a vehicle. Looking back now, it could have turned out to be one of those destructive obsessions hadn’t I had my head screwed on the right way. And that if I gave in to my stubbornness, life could have taken a different turn. (Although the above account attests to the fact that one can’t do it alone. I needed a lot of help both from loved ones and strangers along the way).
Catherine Batac Walder Izon's Backpacker Journal On the Road Jack Kerouac

Izon’s Backpacker’s Journal is packed 
with information and tips.
Now I’ve always loved road signs. It was in late 2003 when I started a notice on the white board in my bedroom (I remember this only because of journal entries). I would update the notice, my way of crossing out the days on a calendar. So for example, I wrote "Delight: 864,000 mins. (as of December, 2003)." I counted 864,000 minutes to August, 2005.  I chose that date so I could have plenty of time to plan, and August for the simple reason that academic years abroad start in September. I saw a “Delight: 2 mins” road sign from a television series I loved as a young girl. For some reason, this road sign stuck with me, it must have been a place called “Delight” or maybe a restaurant that was a two-minute drive away. But I always associated the sign with a feeling, something good, exciting, happy. It’s almost too magical to describe or explain, but it’s as though I knew, and felt, that something extraordinary would happen in August, 2005.

Coupled with this sign was an unused backpacker journal I bought at the Book Sale in 2004. I called it “On the Road: My Big Opening Day.” It was as though I knew I would need it. I was 27, I didn’t have resources to travel, I’d never been out of the Philippine island where I grew up, let alone ridden an aeroplane. In September 2006, I had mostly filled up this journal, travelling in Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland, England, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Monaco, Switzerland and Wales -- though  not from backpacking -- only 13 months after leaving my home country.

Catherine Batac Walder Izon's Backpacker Journal On the Road Jack Kerouac

Within 13 months I filled the journal with my 
own memories – ticket stubs, boarding passes, 
tags, even some notes from people I’ve met.
Whilst I’d always dreamed of graduate studies in England, I specifically wanted to apply to the University of Oslo (UiO) in Norway, primarily because of my admiration for Norwegian author and UiO alumnus Jostein Gaarder. As I said, I was sending lots of applications and didn’t have any idea which one would be successful. The UiO path in particular was a long process, including a pre-application that I almost gave up on. After my father had died, I spent most weeks in Manila that I almost missed the large envelope that had arrived in my home province informing me of my scholarship to the University of Oslo, with study periods in Finland and Portugal. I saw it two days just before the deadline to accept my place in the course was due.

Although I had cancelled the campus housing in UP and had renewed my passport (the first one I got from 2001 was near its expiration date and hadn’t been used), I had plan B running up till the end. I bought a plane ticket to Norway for 15th August 2005, a day after the Licensure Examination for Teachers which I had planned to take no matter what. That time, I didn’t think that I would be based in Europe after my two years of graduate studies were up so I thought a Philippine licence would be useful. I passed the exam, although my mind was already flying to Norway whilst taking it, where I knew a new adventure awaited me. 

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  1. You've certainly gone a long way from home and I'm impressed! :) That travel journal was certainly the beginning, wasn't it? It's a lovely story too Catherine :) I really ought to write that blimming email. Haha. Dean x

    1. Oh, thank you, Dean, I guess it was the beginning! The great thing about it is, in the end, I got my wish of getting married and having a child/children, so sometimes when things become really boring and repetitive with home life, I just remember and feel grateful that I got what I wanted (not many people are lucky to be stay-at-home mums like us, don't you think?). Would love to hear your story, of what brought you here xx


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