The past few months have been a blur. I can still remember the wall of humidity that hit me when I exited Manila's terminal as if it were yesterday. I honestly don't know how to do the entire experience justice in just a few paragraphs. I originally chose Manila as a study abroad experience without much of the "studying," but my time there was more like moving abroad to a completely foreign country for a new job than an actual "study abroad" period that most of my peers went on. But, in the end, I can probably say the experience went above and beyond what I had originally expected.
In 3 and a half months, just on my days off, I have traveled to multiple countries, climbed several mountains, scuba dived with turtles, and made many new friends. During my time in the ILO Country Office - Manila, I worked on two projects related to migrant workers and one project on domestic work, and joined the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda Crisis Response and Livelihood Rehabilitation Team. My work with the office had me organizing and participating in a forum on Migrant Labour in the ASEAN Region, and in IPEC's "Batang Malaya" soccer tournament and soccer clinic for former child laborers - where I had the opportunity to play soccer with the British Ambassador to the Philippines - and producing reports and rationales for the Decent Work Across Border's Terms of References. I also somehow became the de facto graphic designer for the Haiyan/Yolanda Response Team and found myself producing infographics, maps, and tables for the donor proposals and the UN Country-Office Directors. It felt oddly satisfying to see my maps and infographics being shown to the entire Livelihood Cluster team of 40+ government and NGO officials and being pasted into frameworks being sent in to Geneva for approval.
To be honest, I am not a graphic designer; I have little to no experience handling or manipulating maps or pictures, but the team needed certain results and I was willing to tackle the challenge. I was originally hired to be an intern for migration, but I found my time with the office to be much more fulfilling when I stepped out of my boundaries and sought to keep myself busy doing everything I can to help. Keeping an open mind and being willing to throw yourself out there defines the Southeast Asian experience. In the beginning, it was a little rough coming here alone and being the youngest in the office by 5+ years, but it only helped me explore myself and my new environment all the more easier.
ILR provided an unforgettable experience that I will never forget. My time with the office provided invaluable insight into the functionings of an international agency and facilitated my development and knowledge of global trends in labor. I learned more on the job than possibly an entire array of classes. It was much more than what I had first thought and I cannot wait to come back. I just hope I have not gotten too accustomed to the equatorial weather and that I will not freeze to death once I return to frigid Ithaca.
- Danny Qiao