By RISHI AHUJA
This article first appeared on CampusDiaries and subsequently reposted on GMA News Online with the author's permission
May — High school graduation
All throughout my schooling, I aspired to study Economics at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi University, but this aspiration was more a result of external factors rather than innate ones. I graduated from high school with good enough grades to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Hindu College. However, the 97% cutoff for Economics at St. Stephen’s was always going to be a long shot. I was just embracing myself for pursuing my undergraduate education in Delhi. I use the word embracing because having grown up in Delhi for the first 12 years of my life, I didn’t take too well to it. Granted that I was very young at the time, but the idea of Delhi being an aggressive city with terrible weather was strongly embedded in my head.
I had completed my secondary and high school education in Bangalore, and at the time, it was the place to be for me. It felt like Bangalore was meant for me. I made extremely close friends in high school (that are still my closest friends to this day) and right around graduation, I was also seeing someone I really liked. The prospect of leaving Bangalore felt like a nightmare because I knew I was leaving all of them behind me. And if it wasn’t going to be Bangalore, it definitely wasn’t going to be Delhi.
This is the reason that I pounced at the idea of moving to the Philippines with my parents to pursue my undergraduate education. My father’s job was taking him there, and while my elder sister was settled in Delhi, I fancied the idea of living with my parents and younger sister in a foreign country over studying in the unpleasantness that Delhi is.
The big move to the Philippines
In July 2009, I left for the Philippines with family. My college entrance exam was set to take place in early August and I was scheduled to join classes for it by mid-July. Leaving my friends and a potential romantic interest behind was extremely tough. I was very outgoing in school and derived a lot of happiness from being popular in school and meeting my friends on weekends. In fact, for these reasons, there was already a huge block in my head — that I wasn’t going to enjoy the Philippines. This mental block did not exhibit itself until I actually sat on the flight to the Philippines, because until then I was spending every free moment with my close friends.
Although, upon reaching the Philippines, I remember one of the first few things that impacted me was how amazing the city that we were going to be living in was. Makati City, the central business district located in Metro Manila, was probably ten times more developed than any Indian city that I had been to, be it Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, or Bangalore. Even though I had never been to Singapore, I remember imagining that Makati is what Singapore must look like. It was that amazing! Our house was beyond belief. It was big, spacious, and felt like it would take me a few weeks to just get used to that grandeur. Things were going good.
July-September — In a fortress of solitude
While the first week was spent in awe of the Philippines, then came the loneliness. I joined a class to prepare for my entrance exam. There was this sweet Filipino-Iranian girl, Farzaneh, that I met in my class. I would speak to her during the breaks, but that was about it. One friend. Fifteen minutes of conversation a day. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what to do in my free time. My friends in India were naturally busy with their first year college experience and I seldom got to speak to them. I felt like I was hanging on a tight, thin rope, but I couldn’t step on either side of it—I just had to be on that rope—that thin rope which had my amazing fun-filled life in India on one side, and this new lonely life in the Philippines on the other. I remember speaking to my then girlfriend for about three hours on the phone, using my dad’s India number! I still remember getting screwed for churning a roaming bill that ran into the thousands. Haha. Good times.
Three weeks into my stay, I went up to my parents and seriously told them that I had made the wrong decision and wanted to go back home to India and study at Hindu. In my head, I thought that my parents would agree, which is why I was shocked when they didn’t. “Give it some more time, son. This phase is natural,” was the reply I received. But I remember the transition from Delhi to Bangalore being so smooth, so I didn’t buy the whole this-was-completely-natural talk, because it wasn’t true! My father felt like a large part of the reason that I wanted to go back to India was my girlfriend. I mean, well, who wouldn’t after that three hour roaming bill? While she was a factor, it was the idea of just seeing familiar faces and being only a three hour flight away from my Bangalore friends that I really wanted to go back to India. After a phase of not talking to my parents for about a week, I came to terms with the fact that nothing was going to change—that their decision of not letting me go to India was going to remain. So I started making an effort to be happy and looked forward to join university.
Post-September — Feeling Filipino!
In September, I joined De La Salle University, Manila. It was founded in 1911 by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and is commonly touted as one of the most premiere institutions in the country. My first day started off with an international student orientation. It was comforting to know that there were others in the same boat as me. All of a sudden, my apprehensions started fading and things got easier. I could feel the loneliness creeping away. This was largely thanks to Mrs. Ohda Caballero, the International Student Coordinator at La Salle. Having an extremely amicable and supportive person like her at the International Center made it a smooth transition from being a stranger to fitting right in at Manila.
Apart from Mrs. Ohda, professor Raymond Paderna, an extremely dynamic and lively professor, taught me exceptionally well in our Management of Personnel class and I am in touch with him to this day! Also, the friendliness and warmth of the local Filipino students made me feel at home in no time. The Filipino culture in general is absolutely amazing. As a people, they are extremely friendly, warm, and embracing. Coming from India, it was a delight for me to immerse myself in their culture. The friends that I made at the Business Management Society and the Economics Organization are ones that made the effort to make me feel like one of them when I had nothing to give them in return. And as they say, it is an act of kindness only when you don’t expect something in return.
I got the opportunity to be a Junior Officer at the Training and Development Committee of the Business Management Society, a peer tutor in College Algebra, and was given an opportunity for self-fulfillment through community service with the Economics Organization.
The Philippines as a country and De La Salle University as an educational institution encourage international students to be a part of the community by giving them various opportunities and avenues for recognition. One such avenue is the annual “Search for the 3 Most Outstanding International Students of the Philippines,” an annual search organized by the Philippine International Friendship Organization (PIFO) since 1969. The search aims to focus community interest on the presence of foreign students, identify their leadership potential, encourage them to build their social consciousness, and promote international friendship and understanding. After a series of rounds, I was selected to represent La Salle on the national stage, and was fortunate to be chosen as one of the Most Outstanding International Students of the Philippines in 2010. A major part of the credit goes to PIFO and La Salle for spearheading such a wonderful opportunity for international students.
September 2011 — Leaving the Philippines for The Big Apple
In 2011, I transferred to New York University to complete the remainder of my undergraduate education. My stay in the Philippines had taught me a valuable life lesson—to embrace change and mature through transitions. I grew, not because of my age, but because of my exposure to a vibrant new culture. There is no better opportunity than pushing oneself in the mouth of change, much like the soldiers who burnt the bridges as they crossed them so that they could not turn back. I yearned for this change again and hence took the plunge to go to NYC.
However, my two-and-a-half year stay in the Philippines left me with a strong, heartfelt take away—I felt at home in the Philippines. This love for the Philippines is so strong that when new friends at NYU asked me where I’m from, I would proudly chime, the Philippines! Seeing a Filipino face in New York got me as excited as a child receiving a Christmas present. The warmth with which they greet you and the open arms with which La Salle embraced me are memories that I will never forget. I encourage students to experience the same by exploring the prospect of studying at La Salle, and I am happy for the international students that already are. You’re in a great place!
This article first appeared on CampusDiaries. Read source here