• Pia Guballa—the wandering med student



    “Why do you travel?” is a question that is hardly asked or thought about these days simply because booking holidays has become so easy. Add to that, vacations in general take us away from our present realities in the first place that to think about why we travel almost seems pointless.

    This is not the case, however, for a coming of age artist-cum medical student by the name of Pia Guballa. To those who see her endless travel posts on social media, she may seem like the typical millennial who desires to see and experience everything “now.” But in reality, she has a more compelling reason to answer the question why she travels, if only anyone took the time to ask.

    Pia Guballa during one of her many travels in Cambodia

    Pia Guballa during one of her many travels in Cambodia

    I have known Pia—whom I fondly call Soeur—since she was an artisitic 13-year-old. Blessed with a good head on her shoulders too, I wasn’t surprised when she eventually chose to go on to med school after college.

    Suddenly though, some 18 months ago, Pia appeared to be on a travel binge from Asia to the United States.

    And to an outsider, her posts would either elicit envy or admiration, but as in any story, there was in fact something deeper that could not be deemed by the naked eye.

    Pia’s year of exploration began when her body suddenly couldn’t take the pressure med school and just shut down.

    “After a tough couple of years, my spirit and body were more beaten that I ever imagined. I ended up with a slew of medical conditions,” she recalled.

    Besides being the sickliest she had ever been in her life, Pia was also deflated from inside.
    A creative child thrust in the medical field, it had been a while since she had the chance to write her thoughts, take photographs of her surroundings, and pursue other artistic things, which had been an important part of her life. In med school, she became withdrawn and a recluse of some sort.

    Determined to take control of her physical health and emotional well being, she knew in her heart she needed to do something to overcome the person she had become.

    With mom, children’s advocate and grief counselor, Cathy Babao-Guballa

    With mom, children’s advocate and grief counselor, Cathy Babao-Guballa

    From working so hard to become a doctor, she took a break from med school and decided to travel the world and work as a freelance photographer and writer—a move she swears has brought her back to life again.

    “Learning how to ‘people’ again through meeting different individuals as I traveled was a source of joy. It helped me overcome a certain shyness and hesitance that developed over the years. Work also gave me a great sense of independence and empowerment,” she shared.

    It was also through this last year and a half that she learned how to take care of herself, which she realized is a vital tool in healing.

    “I transitioned into a ‘tita way of life’ primarily out of necessity—by taking charge of things like what I ate, how much sleep I was getting, even little things like skin care, which I hardly took notice of before.”

    Reiterating the importance of self-care, she noted, “We live in a society and time that discourages self-care because it is deemed selfish. I’ve learned that sometimes taking time to stop and rest is the kindest thing you can do for yourself and that’s OK.”

    More importantly, Pia is grateful for the most important lesson she learned during her introspection. “ I have learned to ask for help when I need it. And I’m also trying to be more positive everyday, and to be grateful for little things that make me the happiest.”

    Today, Pia is back in medical school and charged with a different perspective—one she gained from a clinical exposure in New York’s Columbia University.

    “Clinical exposure put a face on the importance of what I was doing. It refreshed me and made me gain a better understanding of what my education was worth.”

    Disneyland will always bring out the happy in anyoneWith

    Disneyland will always bring out the happy in anyoneWith

    Pia’s story taught me two things. First, that it is OK to take a break from the rigors of life. That in a world that constantly tells you to keep going, it is OK to take a different route and take a breather. The world, along with all its opportunities, will still be there when you are well and ready.

    Secondly, I’ve learned that everyone is fighting an unknown battle—in their minds, in their hearts, and in their souls. While it is easy to dismiss someone as having the “perfect life” or envy them just by what you see, it is best to remember that everyone has challenges to face.

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    To know more about Pia Guballa log on to www.photograpia.ph or follow her on Instagram: @photograpia.

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