An undergraduate student, graduate student, and mid-career professional share their experiences
by Sonya Schoenberger
Studying in the US can seem daunting, but the experience is often life-changing. This post will profile three Filipinos—one undergraduate student, one graduate student, and one mid-career professional—who pursued degree and non-degree studies at US Universities. Each hoped to expand his or her worldview by taking time off from studies and jobs in the Philippines to explore the resources and cultural diversity of American institutions. Jhesset Enano, an undergraduate journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, pursued one year of non-degree studies at the University of Mississippi through the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program. Missy Maramara received a Masters Degree in Drama from the University of Arkansas over a three-year period. Atty. Arnel Bañas pursued one year of non-degree study and professional development opportunities at the University of Washington as a Hubert Humphrey Fellow. All were supported by the Philippine American Education Foundation (PAEF), the Fulbright Commission in the Philippines. While these three fellows had distinct academic experiences, they all found that their studies in the United States not only enlarged their worldviews, but also influenced the way they perceive and approach their lives back here in the Philippines.
Jhesset Thrina Enano, who will begin her senior year as a journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman this August, recently returned from a year of non-degree studies at the University of Mississippi. Jhesset’s overseas experience was supported by a grant from the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, which is administered by the Philippine-American Educational Foundation and funded by the US Department of State.
Jhesset, who loves travel, adventure, and academics, decided to study in the US because she wanted to experience an international education firsthand. At the University of Mississippi, Jhesset took classes in news and feature writing, multimedia production, photojournalism, and design. Jhesset also studied the history of journalism in the United States and found time to take Spanish language, American government, and documentary photography courses. Outside of class, Jhesset volunteered with the local public library, a respite day service, and a campus sustainability program. She also became involved with the University of Mississippi’s large international student community and shared Philippine culture, food, and language at international events.
According to Jhesset, studying at a US University is fairly similar to studying at an institution in the Philippines. One difference she did note, though, is the number of resources that US universities provide to support the academic and professional goals of students.
“From digital laboratories to extensive libraries, the US universities really foster an environment of learning for their students. It is only up to us to take advantage of these resources.”—Jhesset Enano
Jhesset found the diversity of her peers at the University of Mississippi one of the most rewarding aspects of her experience in the United States. She now has friends not only in the United States, but also in Egypt, Montenegro, El Salvador, Japan, Germany, Venezuela, Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam, and Pakistan. The experiences and perspectives Jhesset gained from this diversity, she says, have helped her to become a true global citizen.
During her nine months in the US, Jhesset traveled to nearly 20 states, experiencing many different American geographies and cultures. One of her favorite travel experiences was a spontaneous trip she took to New Orleans, Louisiana with a friend. After driving for six hours, they watched the sun rise over the Mississippi river and indulged in French beignets and creole jambalaya while listening to New Orleans jazz. Jhesset also gushes about Washington DC’s museums and the amazing architecture of Chicago, Illinois.
One challenge that Jhesset did experience during her year abroad was a bit of homesickness. Thanks to Skype, though, she was able to connect with loved ones back home. In terms of how her US study will influence her life and career back in the Philippines, Jhesset believes her nine months in Mississippi were truly formative. “My US experience has given me a stronger voice to stand for what I truly believe in,” she wrote. “It motivated me to be a better leader and to be of better service to the Filipino people . . . I am excited to pursue my final year in journalism and soon enter the journalism field with more perspective, more knowledge and stronger belief that I can contribute change in society, one story at a time.”
“It may be quite short as it was only for nine months, but the exchange program did not feel like just a slice of my life, but rather, a lifetime of experiences. Coming back, I can say that I have definitely become more confident. I feel that I have grown and matured more as a person, and in facing my life back here in the Philippines, I am more than excited to know what I can contribute to the table and to share the knowledge and experiences that I had with my friends and colleagues.”—Jhesset Thrina Enano
Jhesset has simple advice for Filipino students thinking about study in the US: “have an open mind and heart, and be courageous!” And, importantly: “Have fun!”
Missy Maramara earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama at the University of Arkansas (UofA) in 2014. During her three years in the United States, Missy became involved in the University of Arkansas campus community. She co-founded Kapisanan ng Mag-aaral na Pilipino, a registered student organization for Filipinos, Fil-Americans, and UofA students interested in Filipino culture, and served as founding Vice President of the UofA Fulbright Scholars. Missy also traveled around the United States and made frequent trips to New York. In the fall of 2013, she performed “Love, Liz,” a one-person show she wrote herself, in New York City’s United Solo Festival. Missy created “Love, Liz” as a satire of the quest for the American Hollywood dream from the perspective of a Filipino in a small American town—a script inspired by her own experiences in Arkansas.
While there are many cultural differences between Arkansas and Manila, Missy says she found her new community extremely warm and welcoming. She joined UofA’s Friendship Family program and celebrated holidays with a local American host family. One of the biggest differences between university study in the US and the Philippines, Missy says, is the relationship between students and teachers, which is much more informal in the United States. Missy also noted that the American universities give students a tremendous amount of resources and support services, including a Safe Ride program that brings students to their doors at night.
“Professors also have a different approach to teaching. I’m used to fearing Filipino Professors in the same Filipino way we revere our elders; they really work us to the bone and outwardly demand excellence. My professors in the UofA treated me like an equal. I felt that the work load was much lighter than I was used to and that I had enough time and space to accomplish the work load, which had the same effect in the sense that I HAD to give nothing less than excellence.”—Missy Maramara
Missy found the experience of teaching in an American classroom as a graduate student particularly rewarding, and enjoyed observing, and bridging, cultural differences between her students and herself. She also took pride in her dual-identity as both a Filipino and a student of the University of Arkansas—a rich duality she showcased in her performance on a New York stage. And as for how her experience in the US will shape her career back in the Philippines?
“I have a slightly different approach to my career now, whether it be teaching or acting. I’m still me and my personality is the same, but my “dual” perspective and wider, field-specific vocabulary give me a clearer way forward that I confidently pursue. My fear of failure has been replaced by an eagerness to explore different possibilities having the proper tools to forge my way forward.”
Missy encourages other Filipino students considering US study to fully explore the possibility, as overseas study experience plays an important role in developing the skills of global citizenship. Missy also has practical advice for any students preparing to apply to US programs: “Make sure to fully explore the program, the professors, the university and the state, because those will determine how you will grow—find the right fit!”
In 2007, Atty. Arnel Jose S. Bañas decided that he wanted to go back to school. As Deputy Secretary for the Administration and Financial Services at the Philippine Senate, Atty. Bañas recognized that taking time off from his senior position would be a surprising career move, but he was eager to pursue educational and professional development opportunities overseas that would enlarge his perspective on his work in the Philippines. Atty Bañas already held a BS in Tourism and a Bachelors and Master of Law at the time, so he decided to apply for a year of non-credit, non-degree study funded by the Hubert Humphrey fellowship. Today, he says that the fellowship was both a very positive and happy period of his life and a formative experience that has changed the way he approaches his work and relations with others back in the Philippines.
Placed in Seattle at the University of Washington (UW), Atty. Arnel studied Human Resources, Management, and Organizational Development. During his fellowship, he took two classes of his choice per term at the University of Washington, gave presentations on his professional background at various local institutions, traveled to Nevada and Washington D.C. for seminars, and engaged in professional development activities with the City of Seattle government and REI, a popular outdoor clothing and equipment company headquartered in Seattle. Through his pairing with a private and a government office, Atty. Arnel was exposed to American-style human resource management techniques, which place a strong emphasis on client and customer care. Back in the Philippines, he adapted these techniques to Filipino culture, encouraging his staff at the Senate to be both courteous and expressive, important values in American offices.
Humphrey Fellows are allowed to choose classes on any subject, of any level, without coursework completion requirements. Atty. Arnel took several non-credit classes with UW students during his fellowship, including a course on the History of the Philippines and a Tagalog Language class, both of which were taught by Filipino professors and attended by American and Filipino-American students. These UW courses were the most diverse, multicultural classroom environments Atty. Arnel had ever experienced, even compared to his other international experiences in Australia and the United Kingdom.
While at UW, Atty. Arnel also formed deep bonds with other Humphrey Fellows, who came from all over the world. He has continued to engage with this network in the years after his fellowship, visiting his former roommate in Estonia and other fellows in India and Indonesia as well. In the wake of typhoon Yolanda, Atty. Arnel received messages of goodwill from all around the world, from his UW classmates and Humphrey network.
Atty. Arnel continues to reflect fondly on his Humphrey year, and explains that, by working with people from diverse backgrounds, and by witnessing a wide variety of problem-solving approaches, he walked away from his year in the US with a deeper understanding of both himself and others. Atty. Arnel’s advice to prospective Fulbright students, at any stage in their studies and careers, is to “run after opportunity.” Studying in the States, he explains, is a “great opportunity to learn who you are, and to improve on yourself.”
For more information on study opportunities in the US funded by the Philippine-American Education Foundation, visit http://www.fulbright.org.ph/.