Then if you had followed her to the place where she worked—Sual National High School—it might’ve dawned on you that, of course, she must be a Peace Corps volunteer. And you would’ve been exactly right for that’s what Brittony Hubbard was.
A native of Sturgis, South Dakota, Hubbard was teaching English at the school at the time, and for two years she lived the life of an ordinary Filipino. Well, almost.
Hubbard is tall. At six-foot-one, she literally stood out as she moved about in Sual and as traveled around the country. Her height, in fact, was the most challenging part of her experience in the Philippines, she says.
“People would stop and stare open-mouthed at me,” the 33-year-old says. “Even after two years living in the same small town the townsfolk would stare and point. It was hard not to take personally, even though I know some of them had never seen an American before, let alone a six-foot-one female American.”
Then there was the small matter of public transportation.
Hubbard, who played volleyball in college, says she developed what they in the Peace Corps call a “jeepney hunch.”
“All the jeepneys, (tricycles) and even some of the buses had really low ceilings, so when I got into the vehicle I could never sit up straight—I’d have to hunch over.”
“And of course the Filipinos I was riding with found it hilarious every time I hit my head on the roof of the jeepney!”
But for all that inconveniences and the other challenges of living in the Philippines, she gained a high regard for Filipinos.
She says she left the country “with lots of love for the Filipino family I had formed, and respect for all Filipino people for all that they deal with and overcome throughout their lives. Filipinos are a truly industrious, creative and resilient people.”
Did she have any favorite foods while she was living in the Philippines?
“I loved Bicol Express,” she says. “That was my favorite by far. And the banana cue, of course. I really, really miss the fresh mangoes—really all the fruits, generally—Philippine bananas, jackfruit, green mangoes, coconuts.”
She says she managed to avoid eating balut, but she did try “goat brains” once, at a party.
“I finished the entire cup,” she says, “because I didn’t want to be rude, but I did not like them.”
In all, Hubbard, who now lives in Petaluma, California, where she works as a researcher for an online publishing company, spent 27 months in the Philippines—three months in Subic for Peace Corps training, and two years in Sual.
She taught at the school for those two years, but she picked up a couple of lessons of her own during her time in the country, which was the first time she had ever spent a significant period outside the U.S.
She lived for a time with a host family in Sual, and from them she learned that Filipinos are “so kind and hospitable, and they really want visitors to be as comfortable as possible.”
“My host family would go out of their way to do whatever they could to make me feel at home,” she says.
She appreciated it especially since she got homesick in the beginning; but then her host parents thought she was “‘too delicate’ to do any kind of manual labor because I was an American.”
“I liked to help them harvest their mung beans, but I could only be out in the field for about five minutes before they would insist, very strongly, that I go ‘take a rest.’”
Then there was her run-in with a spider.
Hubbard says she never liked spiders even before she went to the Philippines. But she says she realized she had never truly seen one before because Philippine spiders are, to use her word, “huge.” She saw one in her room in Sual and she went running to her host sister. She was terrified, she says.
“And my host family thought it was hilarious because they couldn’t understand why I would be afraid of a harmless spider. But they very kindly got it out of my room for me, even though they were laughing the whole time.”
She had many other memorable experiences; but another that stands out, she says, was her despedida at the school.
Says Hubbard: “I was leaving in a couple days to go back to the United States, and had spent two years at this school with these teachers and students. It was like an assembly—the entire school was there in the gym, and it was so moving to see all my fellow teachers get up on stage and say how much I had touched their lives, and how much they were going to miss me. And I felt the same way about them. They had all been so kind and welcoming to me my entire time at the school. I was just so grateful to have had the chance to become their family, because that’s truly what I had become.”
There was laughing and crying, and there was poor Tagalog—spoken by her, she says.
To be sure, Hubbard faced other challenges while living in the Philippines. But, asked to recall her time there and what she took away from it, she’s quick to point to “some really fantastic experiences” and “amazing” friends that would stay with her, she says, for the rest of her life.
Would she ever go back to visit?
“Definitely,” she says.
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