The world is their classroom

LIFE & STYLE - LIFE & STYLE By Millet M. Mananquil () - August 3, 2003 - 12:00am
All the world’s a stage... and each one plays many parts – William Shakespeare

Alohomora – Harry Potter

PORTS-MOUTH, England – With Shakespeare on my mind and Harry Potter in my heart, I went to Portsmouth in England to attend the graduation of Filipino students.

I had no choice but to have images of the bald English bard filling my mind. Shakespearean theater lights were blinding my eyes in London where our Pinoy media group was choosing between Mamma Mia and Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the latter starring Matthew Perry and Minnie Driver. Alas and alack, we chose, what else but the latter, and such perversity of choice allowed us to catch up on sleep, as we were all still suffering from jetlag. Wherefore art thou, oh, better judgment! Funny, it wasn’t. Sexy, Matthew wasn’t.

As for Harry Potter, though I confess I never really went gaga over him, I was beginning to find this little boy endearingly cute, as his ubiquitous books filled the show window of every bookstore in London. But of course, there were other images entertaining my consciousness. From the sleazy tabloids, there were stories screaming about Prince Charles’ trysts with Camille prior to his marriage to Princess Di. From the lifestyle pages, mod creations by Vivienne Westwood and then yeah, yeah, yeah more nostalgic stories about the Beatles.

That is the nice thing about England. Your mind wanders from the glorious Elizabethan past to the gorgeous Elizabeth Hurleyish present. It is such a good place for learning.

With such mindset, I climbed the labyrinthine stairs of the University of Portsmouth’s Guildhall where, among its 500 plus graduates this trimester, there were six Filipinos.

Proudly for us, these six Filipinos were all graduating with honors. And they finished their business courses in only three years – two years in Thames International Business School founded by Vivienne Tan and Joel Santos in the Philippines, and one year of fast-tracked, full-load studying at Portsmouth.

The Congregation for the Conferment of Academic Awards (graduation for us) was a smooth, swift ceremony, so very proper and elegant, so very British.

In this university by the sea founded in 1870, a graduation ceremony with music by Handel (Music for the Royal Fireworks), Bach (Liebster Jesu) and Walton (Suite from Henry Vth), played in an old-fashioned organ, seemed like a refreshing breeze. Breezy, in fact was the whole ceremony, that before we knew it, we were out in the university square waiting for the graduates to do the ceremonial toss of their caps.

After the cheering and tossing, we sat down for some heartwarming stories.

Blood, sweat and tears. That’s how proud father Ramon Juson describes the academic triumph of his daughter Jojan. "Studying at Thames was her choice, but at first, we weren’t sure if we could afford her UK tuition," Mr. Juson, an employee in a Philippine trading firm, narrates. "We attended Thames’ pre-enrollment seminar and we saw the need to be globally competitive. Fortunately, I took my retirement pay and used it for Jojan’s tuition. Then, my mother and sister based in Canada offered to send her allowances."

What stunned Mr. Juson was the way his daughter’s study habits dramatically changed at Thames. "She became so responsible, she preferred to study than watch TV. She was reading her books in advance, and everything became easier. Thames opened the opportunity and we, as parents, responded by giving it our all, our resources. Thames brought out the best in my daughter."

Jojan, for her part, says tearfully: "I really appreciated my family’s all-out efforts and I realized how much they really love me."

Mr. Juson says one of his happiest moments came when she got an "A" in her first exam. "From St. Paul’s in Pasig, she originally dreamed of going to UP for college. Yes, UP it was going to be, but even better – the University of Portsmouth! I never dreamed that my daughter would graduate from a good school in England."

Jojan says Thames literally opened doors for her after graduation (B.S. Business IT). Last June, even before her graduation march, Jojan was already hired by a new Metrobank subsidiary company in London.

On the other hand, another St. Paul’s high schooler, Jenny Ong (BS Business IT) recently finished her contract at Philippine National Bank (PNB) London as a student employee and is coming back to Manila. Her mom Nenita says, "Our goal was to give our daughter a good education." Her father, Antonio Ong, a banker, must be so proud.

"Studying abroad through Thames made me stronger and more open-minded," Jenny explains. "Now I feel so globally competitive and ready to face the world."

Like his parents – Exequiel Lampa, president/director of AstraZeneoca in Indonesia, and Sonia Lampa, an executive (on leave) of the Asian Development Bank Eleazar Lampa (BS Business IT) now feels that after graduation from Portsmouth, his workplace can be anywhere in the world.

Coming from Ateneo de Manila High School, Eleazar entered Thames Philippines and at first felt intimidated by the volume of analytical research work. When he moved on to the University of Portsmouth for his final year, Eleazar would sometimes e-mail his school essays to dad Exequiel in Jakarta.

The father was impressed. "His essays were already equivalent to my work at Ateneo MBA," Mr. Lampa narrates.

Mom Sonia sighs: "It is every parent’s dream to see his or her child finish college, and our son even did it with honors. A good education is really the best legacy we can give our children."

Jeremy Ngaw (BA Business Administration) says he enrolled at Thames and finished his degree abroad "to experience other cultures and get a competitive edge." A very religious person, Jeremy believes God helped him through everything.

Kerri Gail Ong (BS Business IT) said she decided to attend Portsmouth after she joined Thames’ UK campus tour which allowed her to choose which school fits her best. She spent high school at Sacred Heart School in Cebu, and hopes that she will be an asset when she joins her family’s business firm in Cebu.

Fellow Cebuano Jedfrey Tan (BS Business IT), who graduated valedictorian from Cebu Eastern College, hopes to contribute to the economic growth of his province when he returns.

Joel Santos explains that some 80 percent of Thames students come from families engaged in business. "We owe a lot to the parents who trusted us, especially when Thames was just new. Most Filipino children are too sheltered and overprotected, and we’re glad parents note the transformation of Thames students into independent-minded individuals."

John Pacifico "PJ" Castro (BA Business Administration), who went from Thames to Hertfordshire University, laughs that his mother couldn’t believe that he was graduating with honors. "Would you believe she was even asking for proof that I was an honor student?" This scion of the clan behind Kameraworld is ready to help in the family business once he returns, but seems inclined to take postgrad courses. "There is so much to learn and discover in the UK," he explains.

And so is Rosemarie Bonifacio (BA Business Studies), who is eager to go back to Pangasinan to help in the family business. From Thames, she went to Middlesex University. "I learned to be more analytical and critical. Our professors encouraged us to come up with original ideas. My school has given me tools to survive in the business world."

Mark Seng (BA Marketing), who came from Davao Christian College and Ateneo University, says: "Studying abroad has opened my mind. I stopped limiting myself." Mark also values the work experience he got as a working student at Middlesex University. His parttime work at Starbucks enabled him to save extra money for shopping and travelling. He and other Thames students in England value their weekend trips to places like Stratford (Shakespeare’s birthplace), Bath and Stonehenge. From Portsmouth, they took affordable tours to Spain and France during trimester breaks.

Other Thames 2003 graduates in the UK are Eileen dela Cruz (BS Business Administration), John Joseph Perez and Shaina Regina Samia (both BA Marketing) and Em Tan (BS Business Studies), all from Hertfordshire University. Then there’s Gamaliel Gabriento (BS Business IT) from Plymouth University, and Deepti Selopal (BA Marketing) from Middlesex University.

From the 2004 class, Melvin Gaw and Darwin Wong, both from Oxford Brookes University, can hardly wait to finish their research work and test papers. Kristine Barangan, meanwhile, enjoys working at Starbucks in London, in between schoolwork at Middlesex University.

University of Portsmouth students Abigail Baltazar and Therese Leung like joining cruises to places like Ibiza during breaks to de-stress themselves from all the serious work in school. Alex Arellano, on the other hand, would rather work in the university in between breaks. "I enjoy working, and I like the taste of manual work," says the no-nonsense multilingual Alex who spent his high school years in Jakarta where his parents are based. After his graduation next year, Alex hopes he can make a difference in helping the Philippines move towards economic recovery.

As we said our goodbyes, I saw the students jumping off into the sunset in Portsmouth hand in hand, and the words of Singaporean guest speaker Natarajan Varaprasad during the graduation echoed in my mind:

"My advice to graduates? Make space for fun in your life. Retain integrity. Do what you believe in. Make space in your life for humanity. Remember your skills and enforce them absolutely. Resolutely."

To paraphrase Shakespeare and Harry Potter, what the Pinoy graduates in the UK must remember is this: All the world’s a classroom, and each one learns many lessons. Alohomora, open, and discover the magic out there.
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