ILAING   For incoming college student Bryant Acoba, it was “nabangsit” or “smelly.” And the second word was, of course, “nabanglo (fragrant).”

Laetitia Marie Nazareno Mahoney, who goes by the nome-de-arte Chika, first said, “Mama” but when she realized it was an international word, she mentioned “nabsug (satiated or stuffed).”

Devani Gaoing Agbayani mentioned “digos (bath)” and “naturog (slept).”

Acoba, Mahoney and Agbayani were three of the six young students from Hawaii who arrived to Ilocos Sur to practice their Ilocano which they learned beforehand three months back in Hawaii.

They were among the 15 Hawaiian students, 18 to 23 years old of Ilocano ancestry, who took part in the iLAING (Ilocano Language Acquisition and Immersion for the New Generation) at the Filipino Community Center in Hawaii.     iLAING (which comes from “laing” or “smart”) was created by Dr. Aurelio Agcaoili of the University of Hawaii Ilocano language program. It consisted of 20 short lessons focusing on Ilocano as a second or heritage language which according to Agcaoili, is equivalent to Level One oral proficiency. After three months, five of the students would be brought to Ilocos to commingle with the people and talk to them in Ilocano.

Other than the three, chosen iLAING students included Kendrick Go and Christian Paulo Alimbuyao. Vanessa Jacob later joined them. Because the project was initiated by the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu and partner organizations FilCom Center, Candonians of Hawaii, the offices of Ilocos Sur Representative Eric Singson and Candon City Mayor Ericson Singson, Etrata Foundation, Philippine Airlines and Western Union, the chosen students came to the Philippines for free.

Candon City, being the newest sister city of the capital city of Honolulu, was the host of the six.

“We were glad to host them. A chance to showcase our culture and tradition for their immersion program,” Singson said.

Singson said that the city government prepared well as he asked some villages and schools to host them in immersion stint.

“We wanted that their stay to be very memorable,” Singson said

In their short stay, the students got to use “nabsug,” “digos” and “awan turog (no sleep)” a lot. We don’t know if Acoba was able to use “nabangsit” and “nabanglo” though.

It was especially historical for Acoba because it was his first visit to the Philippines. He as well as Agbayani and Mahoney are also descendants of the sakadas, the first overseas Filipino workers to the United States (if you consider the Igorots to the 1904 St. Louis Fair in Missouri as the first overseas cultural workers). The first 15 sakadas to Hawaii went there as sugarcane workers in 1906 were from Candon.

Bryant’s great grandfathers were Tito Barnacha from Candon and Mariano Acoba from Sarrat in Ilocos Norte, who both arrived in Hawaii after WWII in 1946. Devani’s great grandfather, John Remigeo Gaoing, was from Dingras also in Ilocos Norte. Mahoney’s ancestor, Ramon Nazareno, came much earlier in 1912.

Agbayani said that her Lolo told her about his hard life in the Philippines. “He was a farmer. He moved in Hawaii because he wanted a better life,” she said.

Mahoney was more candid, saying that her great great Lolo already had a girlfriend when he met his wife.

Their short stay in Ilocos was full of memories in dance, food and intermingling with students with their age. They held a mini concert in Candon and listened to Ilocano songs.

And the food! “Making the transition of having 10 meals a day with mango and fresh fruits to only 3,” tweeted Acoba when he returned to Hawaii last Monday.

Alimbuyao also tweeted, “Still the same weight. I swear I should have gained 20 lbs.”

Other highlights for the six are the visit to a Candon high school with the differently-abled and a mural painting in another school there, something that Mahoney, a respected graffiti artist in Roosevelt High in Hawaii, cherished. They also went to a cockfight and were serenaded by Baguio tenor John Glenn Gaerlan with an operatic version of “Duduaem Pay (If You Still Doubt).”

iLAING director Agbayani said that they will expand the program next year, starting in February and ending in May with the immersion still in June. He said that the sponsors are glad to be back next year as well.

As Acoba said, “Blessings on blessings on blessings. Ti Ayat ti Dios unconditional.” (Frank Cimatu and LBJ)

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