Building the next generation of balikBayanis
Michi Ferreol (The Philippine Star) - August 3, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - “I’m afraid to leave home,” Patrick said softly into the phone, his voice betraying his worry. I listened as he dictated to me the laundry list of reasons he felt he should stay in Manila – not seeing his family for months at a time, living alone, not being able to fit in. The list was horribly long.

I clutched the phone even more tightly against my ear and tried to mentally teleport myself two years back, to the very weeks before I myself was scheduled to leave the Philippines to attend college abroad. Like Patrick, I remembered feeling permanently queasy, like the world was on a giant boat and I was the only one seasick. I delayed my packing, became clingy with my siblings and only ate Filipino food. I was tempted, despite the opportunities I knew were waiting for me overseas, to stay. Manila was just more familiar, more comfortable and more risk-free. But despite this period of doubt, I told Patrick that I would have never forgiven myself if I didn’t go.

Patrick was one of four high school seniors that I mentored in the inaugural year of CAMP Philippines (College Admissions Mentors for Peers in the Philippines), a student-run organization that I co-founded with two of my high school best friends, Kimi Rodriguez and Kaye Kagaoan. Having all been Filipino scholars at the International School Manila, Kimi, Kaye and I noticed immediately in our first year as college students how few Filipinos there were at our respective schools. If there were any at all, they had most likely attended an international school back home, implying that our country’s brightest minds were concentrated in those places. It turns out, the resources and knowledge that we had been exposed to at ISM simply did not exist for local school students who wanted to apply to colleges abroad. CAMP – which we otherwise called our “baby passion project” – intended to bridge that gap by allowing Filipinos already studying abroad to mentor student hopefuls from local Filipino schools who wanted to do the same.

Our first few months as an organization were met with incredible interest and support from the very students we wanted to reach. In the months of June and July, our motley crew of five visited schools all over Manila to hold “college talks” and spread the word about the opportunities that lay beyond Philippine shores. After one of our first visits to ICA, we stopped by a nearby Starbucks to grab drinks and were surprised when an ICAn came up to us and shyly thanked us for our talk. She then handed us a short letter on a yellow sticky note before scurrying quickly away. We didn’t even manage to get the student’s name, but I won’t ever forget what her note said: “I really admire how you didn’t tell us to get high grades and be butt-kissers but you told us to be passionate and that’s what struck me the most. Thank you for saying that because it got me believing that I can get to the big schools if I’m determined and passionate enough.” Clutching our Frappuccinos, we looked at each other – a little dewy-eyed – and understood that we had to continue what we had started.

 

Just two months past our second year anniversary, I can safely say that CAMP has experienced its fair share of bumps and bruises. With a brilliant but geographically scattered executive team (all of whom are full-time college students, by the way), keeping our momentum going throughout the year is tough. Google video chats and Facebook group messages became our best friends. It was also not easy to convince schools to work with us once they found out CAMP was run purely by students. The worst were those who challenged our mantra: why convince students to go abroad, when they are badly needed here in the Philippines?

This question is answered not simply by the wonderful experiences our CAMP mentees have had throughout their first year in college or by how much they have grown, but by the simple act of leaving the Philippines. By living alone and fending for themselves, our mentees were forced to mature, become independent and better understand where their strengths and vulnerabilities lay. But most importantly, it seems that it was only after leaving the Philippines that they realized even more their love for the country and their desire to make it better. This is true of several influential Filipinos we know today – during their undergraduate years, Sen. Sonny Angara studied at the London School of Economics, Teach for the Philippines chief strategic resources officer Patricia Feria studied at the University of Pennsylvania, and IdeaSpace founder Earl Valencia studied at Boston University. Armed with these experiences, they are now making waves in the Philippines and doing their share to make the country better.

CAMP itself is an example of how time abroad could help a student realize a Filipino need. I was only a freshman at Harvard when the idea for CAMP first came to me over a meal with two friends from Brazil and Sri Lanka – a conversation I would have never had if I had not chosen to attend college abroad. Since then, three years jam-packed with classes I never thought I would take, places I never thought I would see and people I never thought I would meet has made me into someone I’m proud to say is a more innovative, more open-minded and more socially conscious person. I am also more certain than ever that the Philippines is my home and that it is where I want to be for the long-term.

This, I believe, is why CAMP exists: to build the next generation of BalikBayanis – young people who make it their lifelong promise to bring their international lessons, contacts and experiences back to the Philippines and help it surge forward in a global context. It exists to unite both local and international school students into a growing network of young Filipinos eager to give back. But most importantly, it exists so that students like Patrick can face their fears of leaving home and grow, learn and shine in ways they never thought they could.

For anyone who wants to join us in breaking boundaries, visit www.campphilippines.org and find out how to get involved. CAMP also offers a summer internship program for high school students and a yearly study abroad conference which is coming up this Aug. 9.

ABROAD BOSTON UNIVERSITY BRAZIL AND SRI LANKA CAMP COLLEGE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS MENTORS EARL VALENCIA PHILIPPINES SCHOOL STUDENTS
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