Trixia Apiado of Kettering lost her dream trip to Italy and Greece because of a visa snafu, but she learned an all-American lesson in tenacity.
The 16-year-old Philippine citizen, who has a permanent residency card, was left stranded on June 14 at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport because she did not have a visa. Apiado believed she had prepared properly for the journey and had never been told that she needed a visa, even after asking the airline and the tour company directly. “I was devastated,” she said.
After five weeks of effort and endless phone calls, Trixia was informed Friday that EF Educational Tours will provide the full $3,800 refund instead of the 50-percent it initially offered.
Trixia and her fellow Latin students arrived at the Cincinnati airport on June 14 literally jumping up and down with excitement. She planned to soak up the culture as avidly as she has embraced American culture since emigrating to the United States from the Philippines five years ago.
Two hours later, Trixia stayed behind while her 14 fellow Kettering Fairmont High School students embarked on the trip of a lifetime.
A cheerful ticketing agent informed her, “Look at this as an education.”
“It’s an expensive one — almost four grand,” Trixia replied, failing, for once, to muster her usual cheerful resilience as she contemplated what the loss of $3,800 would mean for her hard-working immigrant family.
Since then, Trixia has gained an education very different from what she expected — an introduction to the basics of American consumerism as she fought for the full refund. “I do not deserve the stress and worries that have plagued me with this trip,” she wrote in a complaint to the Better Business Bureau. “Despite the inadequate schooling I received from the public schools in the Philippines and not knowing the English language when we arrived in the U.S., I studied hard to catch up and get on the honors track.”
Trixia tackled her mission with the same intensity with which she has taken on her studies. She enlisted the help of Fairmont High School East Unit principal Hank Jackoby, Kettering Superintendent Jim Schoenlein, State Sen. Peggy Lehner and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner.
Trixia said that she was told repeatedly by EF Tours representations that a 50-percent refund was an extraordinary exception and that nothing more could be done. “A big burden has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said Friday after learning of the full refund.
Jessica Novey, spokeswoman for the Cambridge, Mass.-based tour company, announced the decision several days after the Dayton Daily News first made inquiries about the situation. “Because we feel it is the right thing to do in this unique situation, we have now offered Trixia her choice of either a full refund or a voucher for a future trip,” Novey said. “It is absolutely heartbreaking that she had to miss out on a trip of a lifetime to Italy and Greece, and it is our hope that she will be able to experience a future tour.”
She added, “We felt it was an exceptionally unfortunate circumstance and we wanted to help.”
Novey, however, challenged Trixia’s account that the tour company told her that she did not need a visa. “Every student who travels on an EF Educational Tour receives, in writing, detailed information on what they are responsible for, including all of the necessary paperwork to travel,” Novey said.
Trixia’s supporters questioned why the two EF Tours representatives left for their flights for Boston, leaving the 16-year-old with the family of a Fairmont student she did not know. “They were strangers,” she said.
Novey replied, “Two EF staff members were on hand and offered to do everything that they could to help her through the expedited visa process and book her a flight in order to travel the next day.” Trixia said that the consulates for Italy and Greece both informed her that the visa could not be expedited for weeks. “The only way the people at EF Tours helped me was by scribbling the numbers for the consulate on the envelope,” she said. “Their instructions turned out to be impossible.”
In a letter to the tour company, Jackoby called Trixia “an outstanding and resilient student” who “has excelled academically in a rigorous course load despite encountering verbal and cultural barriers.” He wrote, “I have no doubt that if she was aware of what she needed to do, Trixia would have completed every step in a timely manner.”
Trixia said she purchased “all-inclusive trip insurance, which it turns out, excludes just about everything that could go wrong including a visa problem.”
Trixia said she fought for the full refund out of concern for her family’s finanial well-being. “A big burden has just been lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
The $3,800 price tag for the trip was a great sacrifice for this family with four children. Trixia’s parents, Pearl and Robert, decided to emigrate to the United States when Pearl was offered a nursing job at Miami Valley Hospital.
Trixia spoke no English when her family came to the U.S., but she has earned a 4.0 grade point average while pursuing the academically rigorous international baccalaureate diploma. “I was very behind in all my classes when I first came here,” she said. “I worked hard to catch up.”
Her three younger siblings — brothers Christian, 15, and Angelo, 7, and sister Angel, 12 — also have eagerly embraced the American way of life, becoming involved with youth theater, youth orchestra and the swim team. Her parents work long hours in order to provide them with the kind of educational and cultural opportunities they never could have known in the Philippines. “There are sometimes 70 students in a classroom,” Pearl said. “I wanted a better life for my children.” Some Filipino nurses come to the United States and send money back home, but Pearl and Robert wouldn’t leave until the children could emigrate with them.
When Trixia learned this spring that her maternal grandfather was dying in the Philippines, she offered to cancel her trip to Italy and Greece in order to provide more money for her mother’s trip back home. Her parents would not hear of it. “Trixia is a very good daughter, and she worked very hard and she deserved this,” Robert Apiado said.
Trixia was so stressed out about her family’s financial loss, and so distraught about the ordeal, that she sought counseling.
“My parents were ready to give up because it was giving me so much grief and pressure, but I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “They don’t deserve to lose the money.”
Trixia never got to tour the Vatican, a lifelong dream for the devout Catholic. But she may have gained something equally precious: “I learned tenaciousness, and that you should never give up. And it worked.”
Contact this reporter at 225-2209 or firstname.lastname@example.org.