I met Jessica in an (non-government org) NGO gathering to recognize and give tribute to Oscar "Ka Oca" Francisco, one of the biggies in the NGO movement in the Philippines especially in the field of community organizing (CO) that combines, teachings of Saul Alinsky (Rules for the Radical), Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) and Gustavo Gutierrez (Liberation Theology). Jessica gave a testimonial to her previous boss and mentioned that she's going to Korea. It was after my Korean internship in 2006. Little did I know that we will be meeting again in 2007 here in Korea. I had a chance to stay for an overnight at her place one time and bought her a pot of flowering plant for her bday gift.
Well, time fast tracked into nano-seconds speed and the one year scholarship period was finished so quickly. Since 518 (The May 18 Memorial Foundation) sponsored several scholars, Chris and I were the foundation's representative to congratulate them in their graduation. A post about the graduation is posted in another blog. I promised Jess that I will feature her on this blog as a tribute to a new found friend and comrade. Please read her reflection and poem.
After a year of many sleepless nights or sometimes a maximum of 4-5 hours sleep a day to cope up with my readings, numerous term papers, reports and assignments, and practically a month to write my thesis, I have survived the Master of Arts in Inter-Asia NGO Studies Programme at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul Korea.
This program is intensive but it gave me the much needed new environment after the 24- long years of working for various NGOs in the Philippines. This program is co-hosted by ARENA and supported by May 18 Foundation and Beautiful Foundation, to name a few of the generous donors who believed that activists and NGO workers deserved to earn an MA degree while revisiting their experiences and comparing it to the new challenges of the times in the field of non profit work.
Being in the first batch of this program is not an easy one; challenges are unpredictable but nothing that cannot be handled accordingly. But there are a number of things that I would like to highlight that provided me the tenacity that one needed in studying in a foreign university.
First is building the coping mechanism when I get homesick. I would call home always to talk to my family if they are doing fine but I must manage to keep my voice from cracking. Many times I would walk home from university to my apartment (just 5-7 minutes away) crying, but once I stepped into my apartment, my eyes had to be dry and greet my housemates. The first three months (Spring quarter) was the most difficult one and my only company to entertain myself is music. Adjustment to weather and the people I interact with had led me to reflect more about my life and what would be in store for me in the future. But since there was so much to read and write, it somehow helped me to take away my sadness and concentrate on my studies. I have written poems too when I got stuck from studying.
The second thing that has tested my resilience is living in one apartment with four other women with different cultures and studying with 11 other students from ten countries. I remember setting our house rules from the start and buying common things for the apartment including pots for cooking our food, but soon enough, I have realized that we all cooked rice differently, so common cooking did not work. Adjustment to food smell and taste when we share our food is also another challenging part. It’s a good thing that I have no problem with eating Asian food and like experimenting to eat food that are new to my taste buds! In the end, my classmate friend, Pinpaka, from Thailand and I share our food most of the time. And I must admit that she likes cooking and I like eating so there was not much of a fuss on that arrangement.
Living in one house has many advantages and disadvantages, but let me share with you more on the advantages. For one, after six months, we were able to understand the meaning of sharing and friendship on a more personal level even though we came from different cultures. We all learned how to give in to some of the things that we thought is important and non-negotiable like privacy and space. We learned to be open with our personal life and relationships and learned when our support is needed and when it is best to just all keep quiet and say nothing at all. Living together is learning new and many things outside of our classrooms. That is an added value to understanding Asian people and culture.
My third point is on understanding Korea, its people, society and its dynamism. But the most important thing to share is their fervor and spirit for fighting for democracy of their country. Reading text books and listening to our professors’ lectures is one thing and it is another thing to talk, engage and participate in their activism. There is no substitute to personally interacting with the society and to learn more about things that you can see, feel and experience than classroom based learning. I can’t help but compare the similarities and the uniqueness of Korea and the Philippines. But one thing I am sure of is that we have the same fervor and spirit to determine the path to real democracy despite all the sacrifices that peoples in both countries have offered in the past, and what can they still offer for the future.
On the whole, my experience in Korea as a student, as an activist and as an ordinary observer was a rewarding one. The unfortunate part is that I did not learn to speak their language. I know that I have also missed a lot because I do not speak their language and my interaction would have been more significant but one cannot have everything. There are some trade offs and my hectic schedule in the university as a fulltime student did not give me that chance to learn ‘Han-gul’, nonetheless, my learning is immense, both academically and personally.
Maybe next week, we would also prepare to have a simple celebration not only for finishing my MA, but as well as a celebration because my eldest son, Red, is going to graduate in Nursing School on April 16, my daughter, Karina Kayumanggi, has finished junior high school with second honors. My second son, Blue, who is the musician in the family, will also know the result of his equivalency test for high school next week, and my youngest son, Kiko, would be in junior high next year. After a lot of sacrifices in the last couple of years, all is well in my family. I am sure that my husband, Bong, is a proud father and husband too.
I like share this significant moment of my life with you since the joy that I feel is only real when it is shared with others. Enjoy also one of the poems I’ve written during the summer quarter.
My study table
Staring blankly at my study table
Blinking dot lights from the router
Hypnotizing me like no end
But this table has a story to tell
My lap top does not tire
It’s waiting all the time
Commanding me to write
The stories of the time
Brown acorns that fell on the earth
White stain on their spikes
It’s a sap on their spiral
That adds beauty and life
Waxed petals of roses
And different stones scattered
With a little sea shell curled up
A diamond ring is on the side
A pink monkey hanging on the lamp
Green apple colored Ipod
Seems out of touch
To the silence of the night
Chocolate sticks with walnut
Boiled water on the red glass
To drown me in with my hunger
And my mind that could not rest
In between Esse lights cigarette
My weary eyes kept wandering
Looking for something
To keep me going
That alarm clock on the book shelf
Keeps reminding me of the time
It keeps ticking and inviting
To take it one at a time
Work is never done
It keeps coming and breaks you down
Is there anybody out there?
To take it for the meantime
Alas, am tired and ready to lie down
On my pink bed with pillows around
A white net hanged and neatly tucked
To keep mosquitoes away and save my blood