School away from home

By Ina R. Hernando – While many lament the decrease in quality of education here in the Philippines, the influx of foreign students may disprove just that. Major universities and colleges in Metro Manila have noted an increase in students coming from other countries.

For instance, a growing number of students from Iran take up medical courses at Centro Escolar University (CEU) because CEU is among the few schools that the Iranian government accredits.

For Dentistry students Reza Gholami, Misagh Bahadoran, and Golnar Baharloo, studying in the Philippines is the best option for them to be able to finish the course that they really wanted to take.

“There is a big problem in our country,” Reza says. “When you want to go to a national university, you have to pass the national entrance exam.”

In the Philippines, Reza says, once a student graduates, he may take the board exams and work after he passes it. “In our country, it’s the other way around. You have to take the entrance exam after your high school education before you can get to either a public or private university. This exam is a very hard exam and if you cannot pass, you cannot enter.”

Misagh is half-Filipino and half-Iranian.

Being half Filipino proves to be an advantage because he was familiar with the Philippines even before he came here in 2004. “ I came here because I want to know more about the Philippines because of mom,” he says. Believing in the quality of education that the schools in the Philippines have to offer, Misagh’s sisters are also in the country studying.

For University of Santo Tomas (UST) second year Medicine student Kirti Ghimire, the Philippines is the better option. This 23-years-old half-Filipino, half-Nepalese student shares that upon utmost consideration and research, she found out the UST is one of the good schools for medicine. “I never considered any other school,” she says.

EVERYTHING NEW

Living in another country opens up so many possibilities to Ivan Linde, a Swedish national who took up Marketing at the Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU). Whatever knowledge he had about the Philippines, Ivan got from his childhood friend who was born here.

Ivan stayed here for 11 months and is now back in Sweden but will always hold a special spot in his heart for the Philippines.

The first major adjustment that he did was to adhere to how students and teachers behave and think inside the classroom. “For example, [you need] to stand up when you talk. I’m used to be at the same level in conversations with a teacher. I think that was the hardest thing for me to adjust to. Another thing was the memorization that we had to do which I haven’t done since I was seven years old. I had a really hard time with that.”

UST senior Pharmacy student Perpetual Olisa is from Nigeria. “When I came here five years ago, the experience was different. It was a new country, new people, new language. For you not to constantly remind everybody to speak English when you’re around, you really have to learn to speak the language right away.” It took her almost a year to finally have a grasp of the language and mix it with English. “When I was on my second year, I really needed to speak Tagalog because that’s the time when I started commuting on FX and MRT,” she shares.

Mikail Kurkcu is an English major at the University of the East (UE). He is from Istanbul, Turkey. “I noticed that when you put Filipinos together in a room you can’t stop them from speaking
Tagalog of which I learned only a few words. I also needed to adjust to the teachers’ hand gesture, different accents and jokes,” he says.

Food is another major adjustment for most of them. Perpetual, in fact, only recently enjoyed Filipino food coming from Nigeria where food is typically spicy. “On the first year I was here, I didn’t understand why sauce or gravy had to be put on rice, that is a huge adjustment and still adjusting!”

Reza from Iran says food here is much sweeter, but eventually, he started enjoying eating Filipino dishes such as fried lumpia and sinigang. “I also eat in the cafeteria now,” he proudly says.

LOVING THE PHILIPPINES

Mikail from Turkey says the Philippines is definitely in the world map when it comes to education primarily because the medium of instruction is English. “And you know the people here are very happy, talented people,” he adds.

Kirti and Perpetual could not agree more. Both of them are even officers in different organizations in UST. “Our organizations have become our families,” they say.

They also marvel at how huge Filipino celebrations are especially Christmas. “There are just so many lights!”

LESSONS TO TAKE HOME

When they finish their courses, these foreign students will go back to their respective countries to pursue their careers. But with their experiences and friendships built here, they won’t go home empty handed.

Ivan from Sweden considers his stay here as a very enriching experience.

“The big experience was the everyday life outside the school and I can say that I’ve grown a lot as a person during my stay in the Philippines,” he says.

Reza advises foreign students to be familiar first with the culture of the Filipino people. “Being foreigners, we are the ones who should adjust. Even if we don’t like some of the customs, this is their country and this is their freedom,” he says.

For Kirti and Perpetual, acceptance is the key to survive here. “ Be open-minded and try to learn the language as soon as possible so it would be harder to get along,” they say.

Mikail says they should learn to study and work hard. “If one doesn’t burn the midnight candle, it will be very hard for him/her to survive not just here in the Philippines but anywhere in the world.” He also adds that patience and appreciation of other nations’ culture are also needed to adjust easily.

“Enjoy and make the most out of your stay here in the Philippines. There are so many things to do here; you just need to discover them and discovering can be a really fun process,” he ends.

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