Filipina Elsewhere: Bianca Consunji

Read the series introduction.

I've known Bianca since our college days at the UP Department of Journalism. Here, she talks about the "humbling" experience of being an NYC intern in her late 20s, being lectured by an editor for correcting copy, ending a long-term relationship, and finally fitting in.

Without further adieu--
(Just kidding, Bianca.)
I added emphases (boldface type, italics), links, and photos throughout the text. All photos in this post were provided by Eula Gonzales.

Name: Bianca Consunji
Current Location: New York City
Age: 31

What was your job back in the Philippines?
I was a magazine editor and lifestyle writer for a major broadsheet.

What are you doing now?
I currently work at Bustle, a women's website, as Director of Video. Prior to that, I was a video producer at Mashable.

Where/what did you study?
I got my master's degree at the Columbia Journalism School and specialized in documentary filmmaking/longform journalism.

Why did you decide to study/work abroad?
E.B. White wrote, "There is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last -- the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in a slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company."

It was a New York-or-bust situation, mostly because I don't drive (and therefore couldn't live in most of the other states), but also because New York seemed like a place for dreamers. You don't get out of a big city like Manila to move to small town America. I was restless working in the magazine/newspaper industry and didn't know how I could possibly reset my career. I was unhappy all the time, and constantly yearned to leave the country. I did a couple of international courses here and there, a few months in Germany, a conference in Vienna. Small things. Then one of my instructors in Berlin told me that if I wanted to make a real difference in my career, I should study abroad. I looked up journalism schools and Columbia came up at the top. I applied to school, got a scholarship, learned video production, got an internship that turned into a job, got another job.

What was your biggest challenge when you went abroad?
Moving to a place where nobody knows you or anything you've done was both a blessing and a curse. No one cared if I wrote for a national newspaper in the Philippines, or had several years of experience. I was an intern at 28 years old, and that was extremely humbling. My first boss was two years younger than me. One time, I spotted an error in the copy and let the editor know so she could change it. The story said something like "without further adieu" when the writer clearly meant "without further ado," but instead of making the changes, the copy editor gave me a two-minute lecture on what the phrase meant. I knew what it meant, but I think there was something about getting edits from a foreign intern that didn't sit well with her. People are also constantly surprised that I could pretty write well to a degree, partly because I'm from another country, and partly because I'm a video producer by profession. Sometimes I want to yell: English was my first language! I was a writer long before I even touched video! But then I just accept that it's part of shedding my old identity.

And what was the best thing that happened to you?
When I first moved to New York, it was with the understanding that it was going to be a temporary situation. I was in a long-term relationship, and as with any long-term relationships, we had kind of planned on getting married, starting a life together, etc. Going to NYC was just a stop on a pre-planned route to stability. Of course I was devastated when we broke up, but it also felt like the skies opened and the possibilities were limitless -- I didn't have to return to a life that increasingly felt out of sync with my own dreams.

If I were to go fly to where you are, what would you say is:

  • The best place to eat? Smorgasburg, the weekend food market in Williamsburg. It's super packed, but you can get a good selection of food without breaking the bank. Some of the stalls have gone on to brick-and-mortar shops because they got a very dedicated following from Smorgasburg. I can't recommend a particular restaurant because there are too many good ones
  • The best place to visit? On a warm weekend, taking a picnic basket, a (hidden) bottle of wine and a frisbee to Central Park or Prospect Park is a good way to see the locals.
  • The best thing to do? Take in a show, whether it's a big Broadway musical, a performance at New York City Ballet, immersive theater like Sleep No More, or a jazz band at a dive bar.

Would you consider returning to the Philippines? Why? 
Not anytime soon, and for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the media industry in the Philippines has a lot of catching up to do, particularly for online video. If I want to get any better at my job, I'll have to stay here in the meantime.

More importantly, for a lot of my adult life, I didn't feel like I really fit in, whether it was as a college student or a glossy magazine editor. That changed when I found friends who were funny, ambitious, hardworking, dorky, and above all, frank about what they wanted from life (and their friends). I think that many people whom I grew up with had a hard time saying what they really meant, and it was exhausting to constantly try to figure out what people wanted from me.

Your #1 tip to those thinking of studying/working outside the Philippines:
Hustle and leave your ego at the door.

Photo from here.

Photo from here.

Sleep No More
Photo from here.

Thank you, Bianca!


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