A story of persistence: how a Filipino journalist made it through Columbia University

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Photo from Dafna Ashkenazy
  • Read the story of a Filipino journalist and author who made it through Columbia University to pursue his passion.
  • While he was initially trained to be an economist, 34-year-old Caleb Galaraga braved his way in learning more about journalism abroad and integrate his experience in working for the government and private firms as a professional writer.
  • He also authored ‘The Power of Speaking Life: How to Develop a Positive Attitude, Influence People’, and ‘Conquer the Odds by Speaking the Right Words and Wisdom and Declarations: What the World’s Wisest King Says about the Power of Word’.

In the immortal words of former American senator Bill Bradley, “ambition is the path to success and persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”

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Caleb with friends Chaweon, Theo and Wufei. Photo from Caleb Galaraga

Every day, we encounter different stories of hustle and grit from our fellow Filipinos. And they do leave a mark especially with those who see the gift that comes from the art of the struggle.

34-year-old Caleb Galaraga, a recent graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has had his own share of struggles as a student, as a professional writer, and as an adult.

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Caleb with two exceptional Filipino graduates, Ms. Cheska Regalado and Ms. Isabelle Lee. Photo from Caleb Galaraga

At 32, Caleb braved his way to fulfilling what has remained his passion for more than ten years.

“Columbia Journalism School was a wild ride and at 32 when I began school, I’m one of the oldest members of our batch,” he told The Pacific Voice.

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Caleb with his best friend Brandon Lori after the Journalism School commencement exercises. Photo from Caleb Galaraga

Caleb first graduated with a degree in Applied Economics at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in 2005, trained to analyze the world in mathematics and figures.

“I was trained as an economist and I initially wanted to pursue a career in either marketing, corporate or development because I did my internship at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP),” he said.

In 2009, Caleb was offered a job in the United States as a marketing and a public relations assistant for a private firm. 

“And that’s what led me to journalism… I never really had an academic training in writing and I thought going into journalism school was the best way for me to enrich my writing. I thought journalism would be a better avenue for me to develop my skills in writing. I never did any kinds of reporting in my professional career as a writer so I thought, ‘why not do it?’” he added.

From 2014 to 2018, Caleb moved back to the Philippines as a country manager for a company, and then as a speechwriter for the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) under former Philippine Information Agency Director General Harold Clavite, right before leaving again for New York in 2018.

“My stint at the PIA…was an important turning point in my life—it has made me love the Philippines more. I have done 15 presentations and talks during my time at the PIA, speaking to more than 500 government communicators and equipping them on the significance of content development, storytelling and basic writing,” Caleb said.

“The day before my flight for NYC, I spoke at an event for UNESCO on how the vulnerabilities of the youth to violent extremism in the digital age,” he noted.

Caleb refused to back down from a financial hurdle which almost prevented him from finishing his graduate studies.

“My friends and colleagues at CJS supported a GoFundme drive and helped me raise a portion of my funds. A $20,000 loan that came in 2 days before the deadline from a good friend allowed me to move into the Spring semester and graduate in May,” Caleb shared, admitting that he initially did not want to tell people about his situation abroad.

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Caleb received overwhelming support from friends who helped him set up a Gofundme account to finish his studiesPhotos from Caleb Galaraga

“It’s a huge blessing and I was able to overcome it.  Now, my goal is to address all my debts which are sizeable so I need to hustle here,” he said.

With his current work as a freelance journalist, Caleb seeks to have an in-depth coverage in key areas of conflict and religion in the near future.

“If I have a dream beat as a journalist, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to cover the Catholic Church in the Vatican!” he told The Pacific Voice.

He is also working on “repackaging to the world” one of his books which he previously authored and self-published, titled The Power of Speaking Life: How to Develop a Positive Attitude, Influence People, and Conquer the Odds by Speaking the Right Words.

“That book is something that I’m rewriting right now. I am reintegrating [things] that I learned from journalism school. I am improving on it praying that I may get a publisher because self-publishing is quite expensive,” he added.

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Photo from Goodreads

Prior to this, Caleb’s first book, Wisdom and Declarations: What the World’s Wisest King Says about the Power of Words was published in 2016.

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Photo from Goodreads

Caleb’s resilience also stemmed from the support of his parents who were the biggest source of his inspiration when he wrote his books.

He narrated that he and his family are all evangelical Christians. His father and his brother are both pastors, while his mother is a Bible teacher. His sister was a campus missionary before becoming a humanitarian officer for the United Nations.

“I grew up in a very faith-based setting. Religion wasn’t something shoved into our throats but was rather mold. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but we are not poor. Papa and Mama would cast a vision and they were the inspiration behind [my books], which I am grateful for,” he said.

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Caleb with his family. Photo from Caleb Galaraga

When it comes to books, one of Caleb’s personal favorites was the first one given by his father: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

“When I was in grade school up to high school I wasn’t really a people person. I didn’t really talk to anyone. I couldn’t really converse before but I tried to be interested in people and took that to heart. Now, I love people and I don’t think I won’t be doing journalism if I don’t have interest in what people are going through,” he said.

He also considers himself a fan of Mitch Albom, admitting that he once cried over Tuesdays with Morrie after reading it in just one sitting.

Over time, Caleb grew more convinced that if it were not for his faith and determination, he would not reach these significant milestones in his life.

“[I always believe that] sincerity is golden—whether it comes to reporting, writing, conversing with parents, and talking to [people in general]. In doing your work, it is important to be sincere and put your heart into it,” he said.

In grasping the concept of success, he also lives by the words of Napoleon Hill: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”

“That’s why your thoughts are very important, that whatever it is that you set your mind into, what matter is that you believe that you can do, it could manifest into your reality,” he said.

— Pacific Standard

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