Trying and Triumph

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A Student’s Writing Story

By Pamela Lira as told to Nichelle Dizon

Hindi na yata ako makakabalik do’n!” (I don’t think I can ever go back there!) I was on my flight from Vienna to Dubai and flight attendants approached me one by one to ask if I was OK. I replied that I was just dealing with some personal stuff. I sobbed as I laid down on three empty seats during the entire four-hour flight. I felt the heaving in my chest and I was out of breath. The noisy passengers made things worse, adding to my stress. I came from an international conference where I represented the Philippines, but my trip was cut short. With the quarantine restrictions, unexpected expenses, plus the load of school requirements, I was angry and overwhelmed. In the midst of my turmoil inflight, I turned to what comforted me—writing. And what seemed to be a burden turned into a blessing in disguise.

What Writing Did for Me

I love writing. And I love to join writing contests. I am a twenty-two-year-old graduating student from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, taking up BS Geology. In 2021 during the pandemic, I became interested in a writing contest online. It was an essay contest for the International Atomic Energy Agency. I joined the contest because it was “international,” and the conference would be held in Vienna, Austria. I also liked that I would get a certificate of participation. I was stuck in Leyte when I joined the contest, and there were struggles like having no Internet connection at home, online classes, and no private space.

My first challenge was to raise the money because I would only receive the funds from the organization when I get there. No one in my family has traveled abroad so I didn’t know where to source my funds. These concerns piled up on top of my requirements in school. In the end, the organization I was part of in UP helped me to get the right network to source the needed funds. A government agency that read my essay said, “This is not the product of a twenty-year-old; this is from someone who is working already.” They were impressed and decided to fund my trip. Everything fell into place in the middle of the school year, and I attended the conference while balancing my academics. I met people from the UN and NASA during coffee breaks and I was overwhelmed by the diversity. It just hit me that this was a worldwide event. I was the youngest in the entire conference filled with professionals and experts. I had the so- called imposter syndrome and doubted myself at times. I enjoyed discovering new things, having the opportunity to learn and ask questions until I received a phone call that dampened my spirit.

Frustrations and Trials

That phone call was from my sponsor who asked me to move my flight home to an earlier date since the embassy granted me only a seven-day stay. I had planned to stay for ten days and go around Europe after the five-day conference. Since it was my first time to travel, I didn’t know that a seven-day stay should be strictly followed. I went to to the restroom and cried my heart out. It was a heavy feeling in my chest. “Di man lang yata ako makakapag-ikot-ikot. I’m in Europe already!” (It seems like I won’t be able to go around.) It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I felt I would never have the chance to return. I rebooked my flight and when the conference ended, I encountered problems at the airport. My flight was from Vienna to Dubai, then from Dubai to Cebu, and from Cebu to Manila. I learned that I had booked the wrong quarantine hotel in Manila. I needed to book another one in Cebu so that they would allow me to board the plane. But I was able to board the plane thirty minutes before the flight. It was so stressful that all I did was cry during the entire flight.

From Frustrations to Flourishing

My anger fueled me to join another essay contest which I learned about through a poster I saw at the conference. I was in quarantine for ten days so I wrote and maximized my energy and brain power. After much research, I submitted my essay about Nuclear Law. After a month, the agency reached out and this time, they invited me as a speaker. I returned for another fully funded conference with a visa grant of two weeks. I was grateful for trying again even if I did not know what would happen. This time I was able to go around and do some country hopping. I impulsively went and stayed for three days in Paris thinking that I might not have the chance to go back. All I can say is that writing has taken me to places- literally.

Telling Him My Story

During my stay in Europe, I was able to reflect upon the great blessings that I received. I was fortunate to visit many churches, and every time I would go inside one, I would comment, “God’s here too.” I was amazed that He was everywhere. I was immersed in the religious experience in a more geographical sense. Everything I knew about God and religion was just within the Philippine context. It was enlightening to experience Him during those times when I had so many challenges, when I needed someone to listen. He is someone whom I can tell my story while I’m journaling. And I am grateful that He never left me and watches my story as it unfolds.

*This article is taken from Feast e-magazine August 2023 issue available at*

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