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Lawrence Pan

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Lawrence is a student from China who came to the United States for education and moved to the Philippines to become a doctor. He compared the Philippines to the United States in terms of Costco and the American values the store represents.

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0:03:22

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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Lawrence Pan has done more moving and traveling than most in his life. At 35 , he’s called three countries and six cities home. Born in Shanghai, China in 1983, his mother left Shanghai only a few months after his birth to pursue a student visa in the United States. Lawrence and his father would join her in San Diego, California, three years later. Spending his youth and college years in San Diego. A Ph.D. lead him to Berkeley, California, where he spent most of his twenties. Nearing his thirties, however, he decided to change careers, and found himself enrolled in a medical school catering to American students in Manila, Philippines. It was this move that he described to me as the most impactful on his life.

A world apart from the quiet tree-lined streets of Berkeley, Manila is a bustling metropolis of a developing nation. Lawrence described the jump from first-world to third-world as a culture shock. As he said, “this is a nation that if you have even a little bit of coin, you’ll have some coverings for your feet – a pair of cheap flip-flops. There were people that didn’t have even that.” As part of his medical training, he would regularly rotate in the Philippines' governmental hospitals, where the poorest of poor are treated. It was here that he felt the most useful in the struggle against the suffering of so many.

While dealing with inequalities and poverty in the hospitals, there was one thing he missed the most from home: Costco. “It is the embodiment of the American Dream”. The efficiency, the food court, the ability to buy sixty gallons of maple syrup if you so desire. As a young child in a new immigrant family, it was a place of legend where his family could afford extra-large slices of pizza and giant boxes of ice-cream, along with free samples.

When homesickness was too much, the Philippines has a Costco-like store of its own: S&R. Importing Kirkland Brand products, it has the wide aisles, giant shopping carts, and giant slices of pizza like it’s American inspiration, even if they also offered a shrimp-chili pizza. Lawrence described it this way: “It seemed very much like a bad copy, but it still felt like home there”. While he spent most of his time eating Filipino food and living among locals, the brief moments in the air-conditioned warehouse store would be like a breath of home.

Coming back to America, he was reminded of the things he had taken for granted: water that was safe to drink, decently paved roads, American customer service, proximity to loved ones, and of course, Costco. Now that his medical school is done, he’s back in the United States for good. The experience has given him a new career, a new purpose in helping others, and an awareness of the privilege of an American passport. On his weekends away from rotation, there's one place you’ll like find him looking for deals and samples: Costco.