Syracuse Elementary is pleased to welcome second grade teacher, Kim Erica Alilin. Alilin hoped to start last fall, but since she is from the Philippines, there were many hoops to jump through getting to the United States.
According to elementary principal Liz Plunkett, the biggest challenge was being patient. “The process began when Kim was hired last May. She applied online, and we had about a 45 minute Zoom interview. I really liked her, we had a great conversation, she wanted to come to the states and teach so we decided to make it work.”
Plunkett explained they were initially told it would be end of September, first of October, “We thought that’s not great, but we’ll make it work by hiring a sub.”
Superintendent Paul Larkin explained working with an Embassy in the country they are coming from involves a lot of paperwork and a lot of time waiting, “It’s how their government works.”
“Part of the process involved, that protects US workers, is making sure it’s a field in which we need to bring someone in from outside the United States. I don’t know what was going on, but it was delayed a lot more than we anticipated, but we are glad she is here now,” said Larkin.
Alilin traveled by three different airplanes for more than 24 hours, arriving in Denver on December 19.
She said, “There was fear, but more excitement, I did not shed a tear, especially when I saw snow on the ground for the first time in Korea,.In Seattle I saw snow falling from the sky, I became more excited and then when I landed in Denver, it was really cold!” she added, “It was really amazing.” She recalls Liz asking her if she wanted to go back because it was so cold.
Describing the weather in the Philippians, “It’s like living in an oven, it’s so hot and humid, we cannot wear long sleeves, we have to wear shorts and light fabrics, I saw snow falling on my third day here and I thought, dreams really do come true,” said Alilin.
Her first impression of the United States was when she met Plunkett at baggage claim in Denver, “When I got off the plane, I thought, oh my gosh this is it! Then I connected with Liz, she greeted me with a big smile and gave me a hug. She is such an amazing soul and I thought ‘I’m in a good community!’”
One of the questions she asked Liz was if there was a Walmart or Target in Syracuse. “I have heard about them and wondered if Syracuse had one, but we stopped in Lamar at Walmart on the way home and Liz said, “Welcome to Walmart!” she added, “I was amazed at the self-checkout.”
Alilin grew up in a small town of Cebu, Philippines, “Bigger than Syracuse, and very crowded.” She attended elementary school in Cebu then transferred to a bigger high school in a neighboring town. Cebuano is her primary language, but in high school they were not allowed to speak any language other than English, “Because English is the universal language,” she said.
“I have always wanted to teach, when I was in the third grade, I remember after I would get home, I got my teacher stuff, chalks, books, paper, blackboard, then I looked for the newspaper, rolled it up and that was my teacher’s stick.” Every day she would conduct her imaginary lessons, “I was the teacher and the student.”
It was no surprise she majored in elementary education in college, while living at home she commuted to a larger city, “It wasn’t that far, but because of traffic it took two hours.”
After college she began teaching fourth through sixth grade math and science in a private school. While on vacation in Manila, Philippines, COVID happened. “I got stopped, so I knew I could not stay home doing nothing and I missed teaching so looked for a job in a private school.” She stayed for a year while she was processing her application to the United States.
It was her dream to teach in the United States, “I pitied the education system of the Philippines, so I said to myself I wanted to see and experience the educational system so I would have something to share with my community.” She also had contact with co teachers in Arizona and Florida, “They said good things about the educational system in the U.S.”
Arriving in Syracuse on that Monday in December, Liz dropped her off at her new home and said I hope you like this little house. She was prepared to sleep on the floor for a few days until she could get her own bed.
“The house had everything, even items in the kitchen and there was a bed with Christmas blankets, I thought, me, living in Syracuse, thousands of miles away, it was big leap of faith but I felt safe in my new home.”
That evening before leaving Alilin, Liz asked her if she wanted to come to school the next morning, it was the last day of school before winter break, “I said yes without hesitation; Waiting in the Philippines gave me such anxiety because I was very eager to go.” The next day, she felt like she built connections with her students, “They were asking me questions and needed my help.”
Communicating with her family back home became a priority, letting them know how things were going. “I bought a SIM Card, giving me data, but I did not have internet at home so I went to school to get it set up, but it did not work because I needed a phone purchased in the U.S.,” she added sadly, “That was the first time I felt alone and I began crying, here I was in the school, all alone and crying right there at that table!”
But Liz helped me get a hot spot from the library and one of my friends in the US sent me a phone,” said Alilin, “Now I can call them when I wake up and when I go to sleep.”
“I have family here, my friend Tonet! (Hirsh), “So I’m not really homesick.” One thing she and Tonet share is they have both lived in Cebu and they share the same native language. Tonet took her shopping and gave her some warm clothes. Her husband, Larry, accompanied her to Pioneer Communications to help get internet at home.
She feels like her excitement will be multiplied 1000 times for her first day after break since meeting the students and faculty the day after she arrived in Syracuse. “I have already received a lot of help and offers from the teachers, I have only been here a couple weeks and am loving it, I have found home, all the people here are nice.”
Her last classroom in the Philippines consisted of 46 third grade students, “This set up is way different and Jessica Stimatze is my mentor, and the student’s substitute (Mazie Stude) will be with me for a few days,” adding, “I really do love kids. During the summers when I was not teaching, I would set up a classroom in the basement and teach them for free, that’s how much I love it.”
When she is not at school, she likes to cook, read, travel, and enjoys singing. “I am fond of exploring different recipes, I also love to visit with people and getting to know their interests and I also love to play basketball, I hope I get to play some while I’m here.”
In closing, Alilin said, “Surprisingly I thought I would be crying for a few days, because I have lived with my parents and close to all my important people, but I have already found peace. This is the peace I have been craving, I enjoy the quiet and my new home.”
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