From UK to US

By: John Lenard Robles
ISFFA Los Angeles Chapter

In the summer of 2013, I had the honor of representing the Philippines in the International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC) held in London, United Kingdom. The IPSC is the largest public speaking competition in the world and, through all its qualifying levels, involves 40,000 students in over 50 countries. To qualify, a student must win his/her country’s national competition and must also be aged between 16 and 20 years old.

Until now, I can still remember the day of the national finals. It was a warm, summer afternoon, and I was seated at the farthest end of the room, nervously waiting for the announcement of the results. I had been in that same situation before, actually – not once, but twice. In both 2011 and 2012, I was able to reach the national finals, but unfortunately came up short.

Third time’s the charm, I kept thinking to myself, as I watched the judges shuffle back into the room. I listened intently as the head judge started speaking into the microphone. “This year’s Philippine representative to London is…” I closed my eyes, bracing myself for the news.

“…Lenard Robles!” I opened my eyes. Did she really call my name?! The room was in applause as I stood up and walked to the stage. I was ecstatic! One of my closest friends stretched out her hand to congratulate me, but in my excitement, I hugged her.

As it slowly dawned on me, I became teary-eyed. All those years of losing, struggling to pick myself up, and losing again finally paid off. I worked hard, pushed myself to constantly improve, and most importantly, never stopped chasing after my dreams. Finally, I was going to London. And it felt great.

London Tourists

So we flew – from the Philippines to the foreign land of the United Kingdom. I was accompanied by my mom and my two older sisters. While the IPSC lasted only 5 days, we stayed in London for 3 weeks. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us, and we wanted to breathe in the London air for as long as we could.

Before I could enjoy London, however, I had to go through the intensity of the IPSC. All participants were given around two months to write their prepared speeches based on a theme. For 2013, the theme was “Ideas are our Greatest Weapons”. My speech focused on my father and his role as a politician in our small hometown, San Juan, Batangas. I recounted how my father always told me that the most powerful ideas were not always the biggest, and that small ideas like giving slippers to poor children so that they could walk to school were often the most life-changing.

Unfortunately, I was not able to advance. Some of my fellow delegates who told me I was their favorite to win could not believe it. I felt sad, but not devastated. The IPSC is a tough competition, with the best of the best competing for the championship. To be in the midst of such impressive global talent was already a blessing in my eyes.

I don’t remember feeling that bad about losing, quite frankly. Perhaps because the IPSC helped me realize that achievements aren’t always measured by awards or prizes. And that sometimes, they are measured by the friends you make, the family members you delight, and by the self-development you undertake to keep moving forward.

I may have lost in the IPSC, but at the same time, I gained new friends and important lessons to last a lifetime.

US Immigrants

Fast forward to today where I am again in another foreign country. From the United Kingdom to the United States. The difference, however, is that I’m here not as a tourist, but as a green-card immigrant. Not as a transient alien, but as a permanent resident. Not as a student, but as a recent graduate looking for work.

As of this writing, it’s been 2 months since my family arrived here in California, and I still have trouble adjusting. While our biggest hurdles in settling-in have been overcome, the road to tomorrow is still full of challenges.

Currently, I’m in the hunt for a job in an audit firm, and at the same time, making preparations for the California CPA exam. These are difficult times ahead, I’m sure. But guided by the lessons London has taught me, I know I’ll be fine. All I need to do is to keep working hard, to never give up, and, most importantly, to never stop chasing after my dreams.