“I’m nervous and unsure of what I’ll do.”

This was the thought of the four Filipino students from Saint Theresa’s College (STC) of Cebu, Philippines when they arrived in the small, yet beautiful, land of Cedar City. They were bound to complete a one-week educational and cultural immersion program at Southern Utah University. Little did they know, it was to be a week that they would remember for a lifetime. Gloria Longakit, College Dean of STC Cebu, along with her four Mass Communication students Adrian Villaganas, Alexa Araneta, Joyce Villaflor and Kaye Santander were, for one week, going to experience being a Thunderbird.

Upon landing in the Cedar City Airport, they were warmly welcomed by Johnny Oh, director of International Affairs and former SUU professor of astronomy and program coordinator, Brent Sorensen, and their different home stay families.

To kick off their first day, the students got to have a glimpse of the university’s facilities as they toured the campus. They also had the opportunity to meet some faculty and staff who warmly welcomed them to the university.

“The campus is really big and the facilities are new and up to date,” Villaflor said. “The people are warm and welcoming. There is no reason why students wouldn’t enjoy their university life.”

On their second day, the students became official SUU students. They observed classes about entrepreneurship, teamwork and personal development. The students had the opportunity to interact with the other SUU students. The professors had various activities to involve them in the class, such as teaching the SUU students cultural norms in the Philippines, like how to shake hands. Each Filipino student was assigned into different groups to share how Filipinos do their handshake, and then each group presented it in class.

“It was amazing sharing how we greet each other in the Filipino culture,” Araneta said. “It is not only me who learned from them but they also learned from us.”

Their third day in SUU was a mixture of class observations and cross cultural experiences. One of the highlights of the day was the Student Scavenger Hunt and the Drum Ceremony and Bird Singing of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

The students were not limited to experiencing what is inside the walls of SUU, but also got to meet a lot of people from different cultures who live in Cedar, such as the Paiute Tribe.

The tribe is headed by Damon Poke, a Native American who introduced  the students to the tribe’s traditional songs such as the Drum Ceremony and the Bird Song. He even taught the students how to dance to traditional songs. While the men played the musical instruments, the women danced along to the beat.

The fourth day was filled with thrill and excitement as the students took on one of the biggest challenges of their trip: rappelling down a 45-ft cliff at Thunderbird Gardens.

“I didn’t expect that we would go on rappelling on the mountains,” Villaflor said. “ I was really nervous at that time because I have fear of heights. I thought that I wouldn’t able to make it, but I told myself if I won’t do this, I won’t be able to conquer my fear.  I’m so thankful for Allan, because he was so patient with me and he really taught me well. Also, I would like to thank my classmates and Madam Longakit for cheering me on. Indeed, it was a worthwhile experience I will forever keep.”

On the fifth day, they went to one of Utah’s National Parks, Bryce Canyon. As they reached the starting point of their hike, the students were amazed by the beauty of Bryce Canyon.

After their long hike, they went home to prepare for Forever Red. This is one of the homecoming events at SUU. The students were able to experience what it is like to attend a concert inside the campus.

“The Forever Red celebration was a blast,” Villaflor said. “It was fun meeting some of the SUU students. The event has good music, good company and good drinks to warm up our cold hands.”

On their last day at SUU, the students took part in the Homecoming Parade together with the International students in SUU. They held their own national flag along with SUU’s international students, who sported their own national flags. The students proudly waved their flag in the streets of Cedar City. It was extra special since this parade was their final walk as a Thunderbird.

Villaganas expressed, “Despite our short stay in Cedar City, I grew to love SUU and its people, especially those who we met and befriended along the way. For sure, I will definitely come back here in the near future.”

There is no doubt that being a Thunderbird for a short span of time left a massive impact in the lives of these students. So on behalf of the Saint Theresa College Cebu family, we thank you, Southern Utah University, for the remarkable experience.

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