When Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines in November, it struck close to home for Naperville native Jonathan Miers. The 2003 Naperville High School graduate and North Central College alumnus has lived and worked in the Southeast Asian country since 2012.
“One of my life goals has always been to live and work abroad, (which) was established after my study abroad experience in London through North Central’s study abroad program,” the 29-year-old said.
Typhoon Haiyan, also called Typhoon Yolanda, made landfall in early November, wreaking havoc on the Philippines. Tacloban City, where Miers lives and works for Colorado-based GoAbroad.com, was particularly decimated.
“The experience has made me learn a lot about both myself and my host culture,” Miers said. “There are not many times in your life that you will be placed in a situation like experiencing the strongest storm while you are living abroad, but, it happened and you have to move forward with it.”
The typhoon — called one of the worst in history — caused significant damage to Miers’ offices, where he oversees 80 employees.
“I also do the higher level project management of website development for GoAbroad.com and a few external websites like Buggl.com,” he said.
Four days after the storm, he had the opportunity to evacuate via the Philippine Air Force.
“I was pegged to go back to the U.S. after evacuation, but (within) just a few days in Manila, I knew it was best that I stay in the Philippines,” he said. “With good luck and lots of networking, I had secured temporary office space in Cebu City and had a small group of employees back online within 15 days of the storm.”
In December, Miers visited Naperville to share his survival story and discuss the evacuation and rescue efforts in the typhoon’s aftermath. About 100 people gathered to hear him speak at North Central College.
“I wanted to share (my story) at North Central because it is a place I have such a strong tie to,” he said. “I love what the college stands for in terms of leadership and ethics; I felt that I was proving this mission during my time after the storm.”
Rick Spencer, North Central College vice president for institutional advancement, said Miers is a “great example of the type of passionate, committed and caring person who graduates from North Central College.”
“As a student here, and later as an admission counselor, he always had a desire to do something that would have a global impact,” Spencer said. “He’s a great example of a leader and his talk here on campus was a wonderful opportunity to welcome back an alumnus and celebrate the accomplishments of one of Naperville’s native sons.”
Deb Newman, of Aurora, was on hand to hear his story.
“What struck me was the incredible maturity and compassion Jon found within himself by going through this experience,” she said. “He described initially worrying about his own welfare and whether he would see his family again, and ultimately realizing the suffering and chaos around him was calling to him to be part of a greater solution.”
Part of the solution for Miers was becoming chairman of a nonprofit organization founded by GoAbroad called Volunteers for the Visayans. The nonprofit organization raises funds for those affected by the typhoon.
Miers is still running GoAbroad.com operations from Cebu, but hopes the Tacloban City office will reopen shortly.
Through it all, he has remained positive.
“Life is full of obstacles, and it is just figuring out how to step over them, power through them, or determine if the hurdle is too much and you go to plan ‘B,’” he said. “(The typhoon) made me realize how amazing the Filipino culture is. They have this certain aura of resilience and compassion even after losing everything or have an incredibly traumatic experience.”