Typically, although Rachelle agreed when I asked if I could write about her, she also said that she felt her life has been boring. Said, of course, with not just a hint of incredulity; and, again, typically self-effacing. The truth is, however, it has been anything but.
This is Rachelle Dumadapat-Ocampo that I am talking about. Valedictorian of the DLSL high school class of 1986. She was equally excellent with the Maths and Sciences as she was with the Arts and Social Sciences.
You would not have guessed it then; and neither will you be able to guess it now just by looking at her. So down-to-earth and devoid of any pretensions…
I have handled classes where the competition for top honours was cutthroat. In Rachelle’s class, the top students were all best of friends. If there was competition at all, it was just something that the school system invented and never allowed to get in the way of friendships.
Rachelle was among my nikniks (gnats), a group of smallish girls who came to pester me in the faculty room on occasions when they did not have to burrow their noses into their books. Twenty-six years after graduation, she still keeps in touch with the nikniks and other classmates thanks to the benefits brought about by technology.
“I chat with Josefina (Tumamao) on Facebook, exchange texts and voicemails with Lalaine (Umali), talk to Dinah (Bautista) via Magic Jack and post on each other’s Facebook walls, exchange messages or texts with Lea (Picar), Rama (Odeste) and Glinda (Masajo). We try to get together on the few times that we happen to be in the same country.”
It has been twenty-six years since graduation from high school. What had she been up to all those years?
Well, first, a college education. From DLSU-Manila, Rachelle obtained a bachelor’s degree in Manufacturing Engineering and Management. She would subsequently enrol in an MBA program; but by this time, career had kicked into high gear and she did not finish.
Fresh out of college, she went into a Citibank program that trained new hires to become programmers. Halfway through the training program, she was hired by Johnson and Johnson Philippines to do production planning and inventory control in the Consumer Products Division.
Six years into the job, she was offered the position of Regional Ergonomist, which would have meant supporting all Johnson and Johnson facilities in Southeast Asia and reporting directly to New Jersey. She turned the offer down, however, to live in the United States.
Her first job in the United States was with Agilent Technologies, with whom she stayed for all of eleven years. She was initially Product Life Cycle Planner but would also subsequently become Supply Process Engineer and Business Process Specialist.
From Agilent, she moved to United Airlines where she was Work-in-Process Controller and Master Scheduler working under the airline’s Component Repair Division.
“Anything that goes inside the airplane that failed or needed repair came off and got repaired in our Division,” Rachelle explains. “Think thousands of components that go through the repair cycle; so they needed someone to manage prioritizing which ones provided highest value back to the system if repaired first.”
Although Rachelle was happy with United, two years into the job another opportunity came knocking unexpectedly. “I was getting fat and happy with United when a corporate recruiter called me based on my LinkedIn profile.”
Rachelle and husband Manny make their home in a San Francisco suburb called Los Altos in the Silicon Valley Area. The couple has two girls: Isabelle aged 10; and Gabrielle aged 7.
“We are practically neighbours to Stanford (University), Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple, to name a few,” Rachelle describes the place where she lives. She adds, “It is for this reason that the school system is very good, at least by California standards. I’m also hoping that some of that sense of innovation and achievement will rub off on my kids.”
About her two girls, Rachelle proudly says, “They are very aware of their heritage and of diversity. They are aware of Filipino idiosyncrasies; like they know what the tabô and panghilod are for. They are proud to say they are Filipinos and feel kinship and pride about currently relevant Filipinos.”
Rachelle is, after all the years spent in the United States, of course also now an American citizen. The change of citizenship did not come completely without regrets. “I was weeping as I was reciting the oath. I felt like I was betraying my home country. Three years ago I filed for dual citizenship. I filed for my kids, too.”
Rachelle still recalls saying goodbye to her parents at LAX soon after her wedding. “Todo iyak at hikbî ako sa airport as soon as they were out of sight. It just hit me that up until that point, I had had a very happy and sheltered life, surrounded by friends and family. I left everything that I loved and was familiar to me.”
There were also the cultural differences that living in a different country brought that she had to deal with, particularly at the workplace. She had to learn and understand how people related with each other or expressed themselves. “You learn to live and let live. You learn to be independent. Most of all you learn to adapt.”
How does she cope with the stresses inevitably brought about by the workplace? “I sing. Mostly for therapeutic purposes; in the safety of my car during my long commute from work. It just makes me happy when I do, but I am finding out that I can still get better. On an inspired day I can reach high C.”
Rachelle says that, pragmatically, she and her family will probably continue to live in the States. That does not mean, however, that she no longer pines for the familiar comforts of ‘home.’
“I miss my friends and family; I miss the food; and I miss the people. When I came home last December, my brother and his fiancée took me to the mall because I wanted to check out the latest karaoke technology. When I told the salespeople what my purpose was, they all started busting out their own renditions of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé songs. Full blast ha! At may mga dance moves pa! I had so much fun with these people I didn’t even know.”
Filipina forever, then; whatever her passport currently says. And she has been around, having visited Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Canada, Italy and Jamaica; not to mention travelled extensively around the United States. It is being with fellow Filipinos that completes her as a person because she is and will always be one of us.
If her life has been boring, boy, how many of us will give an arm and a leg just to experience even a quarter of what she has accomplished! But Rachelle is just being Rachelle in not wanting to crow about all these where lesser mortals would have bragged to the death.
The years have been kind to her, mind. I saw her last December and thought she aged not a day from high school. Asked what her secret is, she replies with a laugh, “Naku kayo naman Sir. Nambola pa. Talaga?”
More pensively, she goes on, “I do remember that when Gabby was 4, she waved her plastic princess wand at me and declared that I was a super fairy with magical powers. I guess that would be my secret. And good lighting!”
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