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December 14, 2020

Student and family stranded in the Philippines during pandemic

Vanessa McCarron and her partner, Brian, decided they wanted a change — they needed a change. The racial and civil unrest plaguing America was the tipping point that steered them toward international travel. They were also tired of living to work instead of working to live. They landed remote-access jobs and started planning their escape from the suburban mundane.

"It’s never too late or too impossible to do great things that mean something to you." — Vanessa M., JCCC General Sciences student

Their journey encompassed three months in Norway and a trip to the Philippines to build relationships with Vanessa’s extended family. When early whispers about the coronavirus were in the news cycle, the citizens of the Philippines were tensely watching rumblings about the Taal volcano eruption. When the Philippine government abruptly grounded air travel due to the pandemic, the McCarrons’ adventure came to a halt. The family was literally marooned on an island.

JCCC Made Distance Learning 8,089 Miles Away Welcoming

When McCarron realized she and her family were stranded, she felt disappointed. She wanted to take summer and fall classes at JCCC. While battling a bout of insomnia, she randomly checked JCCC’s website and found she was still able to enroll — and distance learning was being developed for 80% of classes. “I was so excited,” she said.

McCarron has been staring down her educational goals for 17 years and attended several colleges. “Most of them just felt like buildings you could learn at,” she said. “It was a toss-up whether I got a quality teacher. Not at JCCC. It feels like a community space. It’s welcoming as a physical space, and now I’ve found it’s the same in a virtual space.”

McCarron believes distance learning and online options are changing the course of education.

“I think a lot more flaky, procrastinating, worn-out parents like me would be more motivated to get a degree,” she said.

She is pursuing an Associate of Science degree in General Sciences at JCCC with a goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in biological anthropology and archaeology.

"JCCC staff were wonderful when I first enrolled and they continue to blow me away with their knowledge, resources and compassion." — Vanessa M., JCCC General Science student

“JCCC staff were wonderful when I first enrolled and they continue to blow me away with their knowledge, resources and compassion,” she said. “They’re so quick to respond and ready to help. I’ve never felt like I was drowning because I knew I could always ask someone.”

Travel. Learn. Experience.

McCarron, who was raised in Los Angeles, California, by a single immigrant mother, wanted her children to be free-spirited. She believes money is “a sad necessity.” Due to the lack of it, her life in the U.S. was a struggle — a constant juggle from paycheck to paycheck between bills and having money left for food and daycare. She’s confident her education will improve her family’s finances and allow her to have a job she believes in.

“But money is just money,” she said. “It won't be there for you when you die.”

“I don’t want my children to feel like they have to be rooted somewhere permanently in order to be successful,” she said. “There is so much to learn out there and what I want is not set within the confines of a cubicle.”

Island Life

Since the pandemic, the family found long-term housing and started integrating themselves into the community. Brian has supported Vanessa’s unconventional ideas, including packing up their lives to globetrot.

McCarron also home-schools her daughters — Oswin, 6, and Evelyn, 14. Math is a challenging subject, with her youngest writing her own equations and her oldest helping Vanessa with her Intermediate Algebra course. “Overall, it feels like they’ve had a much easier time with learning since Mom is also learning with them,” she said.

The McCarrons talk about everything. What they’ve experienced, going back to the U.S. to see friends, what they miss about home, what future plans look like, their goals for schoolwork, are all topics that come up often.

What are the first things the McCarrons want to do when they get back home? Go on a hike and drink tap water! There’s not a lot of elbow room in the urban area where they now live, and refillable tanks of purified water are used for cooking and drinking.

“Access to clean drinking water is something we really take for granted in the U.S.,” McCarron said. “We’re much more conservative with our water usage now.”

“We aren’t a perfect family, but we are like a goofy old cuckoo clock with gears that still work relatively well,” she said. “Whenever one of us is really struggling or missing something we issue an alert for an ‘emergency hug’ — stat.”

And just to keep things interesting, the McCarrons also adopted a bunny, Kaffe Bunjamin Latte.

The World Is Your Classroom

As McCarron has discovered, JCCC’s flexible course delivery options make learning possible no matter where you are. With 2,500 online classes to choose from, you can affordably start and finish your educational goal from anywhere on the planet with internet access. Enroll  today! The world of learning is yours — go get it.