Requiem: Learning and Struggles of Studying Abroad

For us Filipinos, studying abroad is definitely an overwhelming and special experience because we’re not accustomed to the idea and lifestyle of going overseas to pursue further studies. We’re not used to hear that our neighboor from the other side of the block went to another continent not to work but to spend his time in the halls of a foreign university. Thus, the desire to go out of the country to be a student and not as a tourist or a migrant worker/an expatriate is not a usual dream for Filipinos. Aside from limited economic resources to realize this experience, the idea sometimes creates negative perception as those people who wish to do academic studies abroad are often adjudged as too ambitious and are not contented to what the Philippine educational institutions can offer. In addition, coming from our colonial past, it became our both subconscious and conscious fear and shame that we cannot stand side by side with foreigners and not at par in terms of intelligence and skills. We weren’t properly educated to have confidence when time comes we go head to head with other nationalities. These mentalities cultivate mediocrity, discourage people to dream big, and water down goals.

And that’s where the value of studying abroad comes in, to be well aware and knowledgeable of the world around us. We cannot live in our own bubble and be afraid for the rest of our lives. We exist not to identify ourselves as different from the other but as equal citizens of the world. We push for development for the benefit of the whole humanity not only for a certain group of people. We were born to unravel the truths, discover what is yet to learn, and question the things around. These beliefs became the foundation of our dream and purpose of pursuing further studies outside the Philippines.

Preparation and Readiness

Of course the materialization of this dream didn’t come easily. Years and hopes had passed before we were able to get the opportunity to study at the other side of the world, thousands of kilometres away from our families and friends. Getting into the scholarship programme was already difficult but settling into a foreign land was in another degree of toughness. Even though we whole-heartedly wanted the experience we were having at that time and have physically, mentally, emotionally, and “fashionably” prepared for it, sometimes sh*t happened and we broke down and doubted ourselves if we could survive.

Coming from the Philippines, it was only natural for us to feel insecure and be nervous. We were afraid that we might perform below average in class because of lack of extensive educational background. At the other side of the coin, we also felt prepared and put our faith on the training and knowledge we have acquired from our alma mater. In other words, we believed that we had enough ammunitions to bring but failed to realize that the struggle was long and found ourselves almost losing in battle both mentally and emotionally.

Insecurities and Differences

During the first days of school, we did feel being the below average students in class because we were surrounded by European classmates whom we thought were intellectually superior. We were also concerned on our capability to follow the pacing of the lessons as we were about to experience the western way of learning which back in the Philippines have been made us to believe as the best in the world. We’ve been waiting for this kind of opportunity where we would be able to learn from the best teachers, practice the best methods, and use the most advanced techniques and modern instruments. Nervousness and insecurities immediately started to eat us alive as we try to adjust and integrate ourselves in school and in the local community.

Adjustments were necessary due to differences in learning methods as we noticed that what we were accustomed to do was not their norm. One example was when we would do oral presentations. It was perfectly fine for them to stand in front of the class with sheets of paper to read from. From experience in the Philippines, when our professors saw us with sheets of papers in hand, they would immediately say that should we decide to read entirely from our notes, it would be best to photocopy it for the class to read and that it was not worth the time to do the oral presentation. We were trained to speak confidently without cue cards, maintain eye contact, be animated and engage the audience during the oral report. Because of the dissimilarity, for days, we would toss and turn in our sleep, have nightmares and anxious about how our report would turn out. We were afraid that our classmates would not appreciate the manner by which we present and that they would lose interest and end up not listening to us. We were even more afraid that the professors would not understand our method and that our grades would suffer. Surprisingly, the professors were understanding and they appreciated our efforts. To them, it was a breath of fresh air to see another style of presentation and even commended us for having presented very professionally and interactively. In the end, our style served as a good example of how oral presentations should be done.

Another example of our assimilation in school was the language. We speak enough French to get us through a three-hour lesson or a full day of class discussions entirely conducted in French. But since French was a foreign language, the understanding did not come quickly as it would to Francophone students. During the first few weeks, we felt lost because we thought that, since it took us more time to understand, the subject matter was difficult. Later when it all finally sank in, we soon realized that it was not that we did not understand the subject but rather, it took us double the time to register what was said because of the language barrier. At one point, we even realized that we already knew what was being talked about - that it has already been discussed years ago in our subjects back in the Philippines. It was a thrilling moment to know that we were way advanced in some topics.

Academic wise, it was honestly tough but we did overcome the struggles because of our determination and exerted extra effort all throughout the duration of the programme. We intensified our study habits because we wanted to prove to ourselves and to our classes that Filipinos can deliver and perform excellently. In addition, we also wanted to show to the scholarship coordinators that we were worthy of each cent of our allowance. We believed that being Filipinos and coming from an academic environment that promotes resourcefulness definitely gave us the advantage to prevail over adversities and look for various ways to capitalized in times of scarcity.

Coping and Surviving

It was not easy to come up with ways to cope with difficult situations especially during mental and emotional breakdowns. It did not come overnight, the next day, the next week, or the next month. And it definitely did not come just from ourselves. This is where family, friends, the Filipino community come in and justifies the need to travel and yes, to some extent, to party.

Thanks to modern technology, despite the distance and the six/seven-hour difference, we were able to reach out to our loved ones back in the country who would listen to our nights of rambling and crying. They would relentlessly give us some pieces of advice and most especially, encourage us. It was their belief in us that got us through in most of the difficult times and kept us going. reminded us why we wanted this opportunity in the first place, kept us back on track and kept our feet on the ground.

The Filipino community made us feel home again, even for just a little while. There’s nothing like the “aruga”, jokes and empathy that a Filipino tita/tito or ate/kuya could give. Home-cooked Filipino meals like sinigang, or local products like Chocnut and pancit canton… were still what our palettes would search for in spite of the plethora of cheese, wine, meat, pasta, etc. We had created a very amicable relationships with our classmates, dormmates, and people we met in various social engagements but being with our countrymen definitely had a different feeling of home and sense of belongingness and acceptance.

Our best escape was to travel somewhere far to give ourselves a time to breath, with the hope of seeing things clearer or sharper. Most people think this is all we do. Sure, we have the means and the time but without the proximity of friends and family, this is the best we could do to make the most out of the opportunity we have and the very least, stay sane. In search of, maybe, the slightest chance to take a look elsewhere, seek for another angle, and vision of diverse corners of life. It is when we travel that we assume another role, not as students trying to integrate but a visitor discovering something new, or reliving something we might have already known but somehow forgot along the way.

Lastly, partying became one of the ways to cope and get along with life abroad. We’ve been warned before flying to the party animal city but it totally made sense why partying was such an avenue when it came to learning and practicing how to have fun. We didn’t let our nocturnal lifestyle affect our studies and that’s something to be proud of as we learned how to balance our morning and evening engagements.

Lessons for Life

The experience was both a process and a journey. We learned along the way and realized things from different situations may it be during joyful or challenging times.

Studying abroad taught us to be more understanding to the people around us especially because we lived in a multi-cultured community as the city is a well-known tourist area and attracts diverse nationalities for migration. In consequence, we learned to be more compassionate and helpful towards other people especially to our fellow foreign students. Showing empathy won’t hurt and will never serve as your weakness.

This might sound cliché but we realized to forgive ourselves the soonest when we do mistakes as it’s natural to get tripped and experience some bumps along the way. The most important is we learned from our mistakes and use those lessons to move forward and be a better person.

Things don’t come easy thus patience is totally a virtue and we can attest to that. It takes a lot hard work, commitment, and determination to get what we want. Sacrifice definitely does count.

We learned to be more proud as Filipinos and couldn’t be more proud than we were before. By recognizing our roots means believing in ourselves and our capabilities as Filipinos. We became more appreciative of our dispositions in life because not everybody can have the same opportunity as what we had.

Truth be told, most of our days, while filled with smiles and laughter were also filled with sadness, longingness, fear and tears, but also of priceless life lessons. We learned that in order to profoundly understand oneself, one must look at the other. To be able to understand the other, one must look deep inside himself. This, in a nutshell, is how we can sum up our experience studying abroad.