Graduate School

A New Beginning in America

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Nearly 15 years ago, Melody Parajillo stepped foot in America for the first time and was greeted with a new sense of life and opportunity.

With her immediate family at her side, she immigrated from her home country of the Philippines to their new home in San Francisco. For her, life was just now beginning.

Parajillo is a happily married 42-year-old mother of two and an Airbnb host. Her husband Edmund and their two son’s, Mark and Patrick, live in a quiet neighborhood in central San Diego, just minutes from the beach.

When her journey to America first began, she cautiously admitted that she had no idea what to expect. “All I knew was that living in America allowed you to live a better life,” Parajillo said. “Most people in the Philippines grew up hearing about how great life was in America but that was about all we knew.”

Growing up in a small city on the second largest island in the Philippines — Mindanao — her childhood wasn’t always easy. Her parents worked tirelessly to provide a decent life for her and her sister, but it hardly ever seemed to be enough. However, to Parajillo and her family, it was evident what really meant most to them.

“My mother and father never felt like we lived in a safe country,” she said. “They didn’t really allow us to do things on our own but once I grew up and was able to understand things a little better, they were right to do that.”

Parajillo grew up under martial law for much of the early parts of her childhood. It wasn’t until
1986 when she was 12-years-old that her country’s government began reclaiming its democracy. She describes the Philippines in the 80’s and 90’s as a time and place she’s glad her children didn’t have to experience.

When martial law was lifted in 1983, the poverty rate in her home country reached upwards of 50%. She recalls this time in her life as being filled with confusion and fear.

“It seemed like a lot of my friends and family members were living poor and struggling to make ends meet,” said Parajillo, with a look of sadness. “I remember my school’s being in really bad condition and having to be home schooled for a couple of years.”

Knowing their circumstances, her family uprooted and moved to a different part of the island. They moved to an area where they knew Parajillo and her sister would be safer and would have the opportunity to receive a more worthwhile education.

While her home country continued to have its struggles in the face of a communist insurgency and a series of natural disasters — including the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo — the move worked in Parajillo’s favor as she worked her way through high school and was able to gain acceptance into a local university.

“I still remember that day like it was yesterday,” she said with a smile. “I remember my parents looked scared cause they knew I would be leaving home but I knew they were proud of me.”

Four years later, Parajillo graduated with a degree in Business Administration. She returned back home and began the search for a job but quickly realized that the economy in the Philippines was still recovering. She spent a few years working odd jobs before she landed a position at a bank. Even though she was able to find employment, it became increasingly evident to her and her family that the window of opportunity was beginning to close.

After months of deliberation and added turmoil in the Philippines, Parajillo and her family made the move to the United States. Her parents knew a close friend from their home island of Mindanao who had immigrated to San Francisco, further helping to justify their move.

“I was terrified to move here,” admitted Parajillo. “I had to say goodbye to my relatives, friends… pretty much everyone I knew.”

It was a daunting decision but one that benefitted both her and her younger sister.

Parajillo quickly found a job as a receptionist at an accounting firm. It wasn’t long after that she made a connection with a fellow Filipino immigrant — who now happens to be her husband.

What really made an impact on Parajillo though, was her adoration for the American people. It was their respect for her as an immigrant and ability to make her feel at home that led to her becoming an Airbnb host.

“15 years later, she still really loves the people here in America,” said her husband, Edmund. “When we first met she used to always tell me about how the people here were so nice to her.”

Now living in San Diego, Parajillo and her family have graciously opened up their home to travelers from all over the world. It was after a friend had returned from a backpacking trip in Europe that the thought of being a host became a possible reality.

“It was all her idea from the start,” Edmund said, pointing to his wife with a smile. “She heard about Airbnb and the next morning she was already on the computer looking up how to become a host.”

Her youngest son Mark can attest to what being an Airbnb host has been like for his mother. While he wasn’t immediately on board with the idea, he has an idea of why she chose to do so.

“Both my parents had tough childhoods, especially my mom,” he said. “I think her giving other people a place to stay is her way of saying thank you for letting me stay in your country.”

For Parajillo, her life in the Philippines is far behind her. Now an American citizen, it’s her upbringing in her home country that taught her the virtues of being thankful for everything that she has in life. She may never be able to give back to others what they’ve provided for her, but being an Airbnb host is just one way for her to do that.

“America gave me a home and a chance to start a new life,” she said. “By being a host to other people I just want to make them feel the same way even if it’s in a small way.”

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