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Study Abroad - From WASEDA to the world -

From WASEDA to Philippines

Ms. Mariko Kato
4th year student at the School of International Liberal Studies

"Why go there of all places?" I don't know how many times I was asked that before I left. Yet I can now confidently say that it was an excellent choice.

My chosen destination for overseas study was the University of the Philippines. Although called the "Filipino Tokyo University", it has no new facilities and its buildings are aging. People from all levels of society study there because it is a state-run university. However the fact that these people would be the country's future leaders had a sobering effect on me.

The happy children of Kasiglahan (with scholarship student interns of the NGO)

About one hour from the school, are the "Payatas" and "Kasiglahan" communities. There is a huge rubbish dump nearby on which many people depend upon for their livelihoods. The NGO I interned at was providing assistance to these communities so I travelled there almost everyday. Filipino people are extremely hospitable, but at first I was closely observed and put to the test. "Whatever happens, you're going home in a year right?" "What does a young girl from Japan know?" This was what people thought of me it seemed, and it was hard to deal with. However, I knew I would get nothing done if I didn't overcome this problem, so I just went there and listened to the people.

Gradually I began to glimpse the reality behind the smiling faces of people who were always cheerful. A young mother had four children who were all suffering from malnutrition. An older woman, eight of whose 13 children had died of illness. A sixth grade student who worked after school for 20 pesos (about 40 Japanese yen) because her single mother had lost her job.

The flipside to being able to fully share in their lives was the conflict that arose within me. I was working with people that lived on just a few tens of pesos a day, but with my fellow international students I would drink coffee at Starbucks that cost several hundred. It was a year full of worry, deep consideration and much discussion.

As for my living conditions, sudden cessations of electricity, water and internet were everyday occurrences. An endearing quality of my professor was his habitual lateness, and if there was heavy rain he would not come at all. I had many problems such as mice in my room, robbers and lice in my hair. To be honest, while I was in The Philippines, it was difficult for me to feel fond of it.

The houses and junk shops (place for cashing rubbish) around the rubbish dump. People make a living by collecting reusable items and exchanging them for money (in Payatas).

However, I can now say that I love the Philippines; the slow pace of life, the delightful people who so easily break into song and dance, the hardy yet gentle children, the sound of the Filipino language with its "po" suffix. And I grew fond of the person I was at that time, working frantically in an unglamorous environment.

Studying abroad isn't just about mastering English. I hope you will take on the challenge to study overseas with your own specific mission. When you look at yourself in a year's time, you are sure to find a person that has grown significantly.

(Offered by WASEDA WEEKLY)