Filipino Native Determined to Achieve American Dream

A Filipino Loyola Student’s Adaptation to American Life
By: Matt Theis


“You don’t have to be perfect…You just have to be someone who tries..”

This is the philosophy of Loyola Business student Zyan Wilven. The immigrant from the Philippines started from a point of stability, but he realizes that not everyone has that opportunity. “We would constantly see poor people on the streets…To put into perspective, if you are middle class here in America…you would already be considered mid-upper class or lower-upper class in the Philippines.”


Early Childhood

Wilven realized the stark differences between the Philippines and the United States, at the  age of six. When he moved to the United States with his family, the first thing he noticed was how different the two countries’ lifestyles are.

“I was very culture shocked by how wide and big America was. Walmart was this immense place.That doesn’t happen in the Philippines. It’s very claustrophobic there,” he stated. American life changed Wilven’s lifestyle and expectations.

“I had grown up my whole entire life talking about how America was this magnificent place. People don’t realize the things you see in America that you that you don’t see anywhere else.” Sites like the Sears Tower and Navy Pier amazed Wilven. Even at a young age, Wilven noticed the opportunity that America held for him.

While Zyan adapted to American life, his parents preferred the way things were done in the Philippines.

“My parents are very hardworking. They want us to succeed. What is common among Asian families is they are focused on the way their way was back from where they came from. They want to raise us from the way it was in the Philippines, but we want to be out with our friends.”  

High School

“For the first part of my high school, my parents were very strict. They always told me I had to be home before the sun goes down. That definitely ruined a lot of my high school friendships. ” Wilven was understanding of these rules, even though he felt they applied more to the Philippines than America. Rather than rebelling against his parents, he decided to see where they were coming from with their decision.

“I think that also relates to the Philippines because you could get jumped or shot in broad daylight. It could be days before anyone figured out that you’re actually dead. That’s what happens when you have a high amount of crime and police that are paid barely anything.” Wilven abided to his parents’ strict rules because he knew they held their Filipino lifestyle perspective.

By focusing on his studies and abiding to his parent’s rules, Wilven made it to high school, where he was exposed to a wide variety of students from different backgrounds.

“Growing up in high school, that’s what made me become so understanding. I was so exposed to many people with different views…I couldn’t pick a side.” High school is also where the Filipino immigrant encountered some of the hardest struggles in his life.

“I think the hardest struggle in my life has and probably always will be trying to relate to others when you haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced.”  Even though he can’t always understand what some people are going through, he makes an effort to listen and try his best. This is especially true in difficult situations, such as talking to people with depression.

“With some people it’s like their depression is just ‘I just want to sit here and be alone in my thoughts.’ When you can tell that something is really affecting them, there is no right answer you could possibly say to them other than I understand you’re going through something, you have my support, and you’re not alone”

Rather than telling people to cheer up or get over it, Wilven decides to listen to their stories and offer his support in whatever respectful way he can. This holds true for people with controversial views too.

“Some people didn’t want to deal with this guy I knew…He was somebody that is the most hateful person I’ve ever seen….I felt really sad for him..I realized that he was alone and he just wanted friends…so I would always invite him to watch anime with my friends…and after a while he started to feel a sense of comradery with us…

He still maintained his pessimistic views…but when I caught up with him I found out he’s getting married and he’s kept in contact with some of our friends…and he has a career going for him…One of the things he said is ‘thanks for being one of my first friends’…

He was honestly the school shooter type…He hated his family and school and wanted to burn it all down…He was alone and isolated…but I wasn’t going to kick him out of our group because I realized that he was just lonely and wanted friends.”



Wilven maintained this open-minded attitude throughout high school, into Joliet Junior College, and where he currently is, at Loyola University. With human relationships and ethics at the forefront, Wilven is currently writing a fantasy novel, Call Upon the Anti-Gods, which has a strong emphasis on character study and understanding. While writing his novel, he is also working toward a business degree.

Wilven’s reason for pursuing a business degree is simple; he wants to help people.

“I want to be able to have a career that would help provide for as many people as I can…To be financially secure enough to loan $25000 and it doesn’t matter. Those are some of the strongest people. Business seems like the best way to get that job.”

Life is not all sunshine and lollipops for Wilven though, as he has many obstacles ahead of him.

Moving Forward

“I see life as a revolving door. People come and go out of our lives. Sometimes people are like books that you put on the shelf to go back to later. The people I go to school have different majors. I don’t think I’m going to be able to see them again…What’s the point of building up a friendship if I’m not going to see people in two years? I think that’s a huge obstacle that I have to deal with.”  

The Loyola student went on to describe his personal obstacles.

“Another big weakness of mine is that I care too much. I don’t care if that jeopardizes me. That can by a strength, but only if you aren’t hurting yourself in the process.”

While these thoughts bother the Loyola student greatly, he finds ways to motivate himself.

“Sometimes you have to be the person that says I’m doing this for my friends. They’re out there fighting their own battles. I can’t stay behind…”

“He’s such a spontaneous and creative person,” says friend George Pitsoulakis. “When I think of Zyan I think of excitement in general…Zyan is the kind of guy that will get off the couch and drag you to an awesome place. Everyday that I learn more about him, I realize just how great of a person he is. He gives really great guidance and advice and he gets along with anyone.”

Pitsoulakis explains how much Zyan cares about his friends and others. This theme of caring for people and their situations is also reflected in his book, Call Upon the Anti-Gods.

“One thing that I think is missing is not everyone has a hero they can relate to. There’s a lot of unrealistic heroes. They don’t have character flaws. I want to be able to create a hero that people can relate to. There are certain topics that I feel aren’t covered enough. How to re-motivate yourself after failure, how to fix a mistake.”  

When asked what motivated him to keep writing his novel to more than 200 pages, Wilven replied,  “Everyone being able to say that the character I wrote is relatable and funny. You know he’s trying to be a hero but he fails at it .But there’s nothing wrong with failure. You want to do the good thing but when you make mistakes it’s also important to realize what the best course of actions are after you make those mistakes.”

This motivation and encouragement from friends and family helped the aspiring writer to continue his novel and recognize his own strengths.

“If I fail, I just get up and go again. I find new ways to deal with my problems. You have to be able to understand that everyone have different experiences…I think I’m the person that’s strong enough to say ‘I respect your opinion.’”

Moving forward, Wilven has some things he hopes to show people with his novel and attitude in general.

“The one thing I want to change is the unrealistic ideas of how the world works. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be someone who tries. Someone who tries to be a better person is a lot better than a person who is really good at what they’re doing but they aren’t willing to change. What’s important is realizing what we can do to improve.”

From his responses, it is clear that Zyan Wilven is a person that cares about others and wants to do the right thing to help as many people as he can.

By listening, having an open mind, and accepting people for who they are, Wilven paints a picture of how to live life without of fear of judgement or expectations to live up to. This looks to be a theme that he will bring with him going forward in business, writing, and life in general.