Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Impressions of the study semester in Manila at Ateneo de Manila University, EMMA project 2016-2017, Crina Maria Doltu

My name is Crina Maria Doltu, I am a student of the Faculty of Economics in Sibiu. To my great honour, I was chosen as one of the students to represent my country Romania in Manila, Philippines, during a study semester abroad at Ateneo de Manila University. Thank you to EMMA for this opportunity. I am graduating from my current degree, marketing, in summer 2017, and I wanted to participate in an Erasmus student exchange before that. I really love travelling and I already have a degree in Theatre, film and media science, after graduating from the University of Vienna, Austria. So obviously I wanted to try another type of study experience as well, especially in Asia, where I always wanted to travel to. I can happily say I learned quite a bit thanks to my stay in Manila. I saw that people can be more open, always smiling and friendly, no matter how poor they sometimes are. They do not envy others, who might be better off than themselves. They are grateful for what they have, thanking God everyday for His blessings. They sing and dance in the streets and in shops, they cherish every moment spent with their loved ones, without hiding behind masks, as I am so well used to from the European culture. In the Philippines I could be myself every moment of the day, learning and experiencing new things and enjoying the true goodness of people. My Filipino friends welcomed me into their houses again and again, treating me like a family member. I am so grateful for that... words cannot even express the deep feelings I have for them. They have given me so much, I will probably never be able to repay them! Thus the Philippines have become somewhat of a second home for me. 
The study aspect was equally enriching, and I am glad my teachers at Ateneo came from the business world and could teach us about real business environment, challenges and expectations. The teaching style at Ateneo is somewhat different, but not entirely. There are more differences between the Austrian system, for example, and the one in the Philippines. In Austria we would only have one project or one exam for each subject. Students there also can pick the classes they want to attend (electives) and when during their study time they do that. As it's all less strict, many students choose to work next to studying, this sometimes delaying their graduation date. Everyone can graduate whenever they want, sometimes people study for 10 years or more. In Romania it's a bit different. We have fix classes for each specialization. For example, I have 100 fellow students in my marketing class. We always have the same people in all classes and will all take the same courses and graduate at the same time. I am glad at Ateneo I had teachers with business background who can really present the business world as it is and bring in their own experiences and expertize. And in spite of the great load of assignments, project work, homework, tests, revisions and in class activities, I was able to learn a lot. The applied aspect is a true gift, as we are used more to theory in Romania. So I really enjoyed the field work, the visit to companies, filming commercials and creating advertising posters for known brands, all in a day's work for an advertising or marketing course at Ateneo. 
Let's now talk about adjustments. There was a lot of paperwork to do after applying for the exchange program in the first place. Then another batch of documents, fees and running around after arriving in Manila. But all the effort was worth it and probably it is similar in most countries, when going on a study semester abroad. The weather was sometimes hard to deal with. I have trouble with the heat even at home, but in Manila it was even more of a challenge. Imagine 35-40 degrees every day, with a humidity level of 80-90%.. Literally sweating rivers even when not doing anything at all. Still, one needs and can get used to prety much everything, so obviously I had to accept the situation and work with what I had. After all, I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this exchange. And it was an interesting challenge indeed for my health. The traffic and masses of people also took some getting used to, but it wasn't that hard, as I was familiar with capitals and large populations after my studies in Vienna. Besides, I am a very patient person and actually enjoyed the rush hour LRT or MRT (public transportation) stress, it's a true study into the human psychology which I enjoy practicing as a hobby. Sometimes people would talk to us in the train or jeepney, which I found great. No ignorance or hiding behind a newspaper like in Europe. For those who might not be familiar with jeepneys, they are remains from the US culture several decades ago. The Filipinos redesigned the former army cars, creating unique designs for each and every one of them (and there are thousands only in Manila!), by airbrushing or painting them in the most creative ways. Jeepneys, as well as tricycles are designed differently in each part of the country. Size and design vary, making it also quite interesting to see as many of them as possible. For the photographer in me, it was also a wonderful challenge to capture moments, lifestyles, people and landscapes with my camera. I am quite satisfied with the results, but would definitely love to visit again also for photographic purposes and capturing more unique sights and emotions. 
Other interesting elements for me as a foreigner were: the high number of guards everywhere (we don't have almost any at all in Romania), the large number of sales personnel in malls (but I appreciate the idea of giving jobs to the people, which must be behind this), people walking on the streets, as the sidewalks are full of cars (not a very safe thing..), the Ateneo cats (a great and original idea, I am a cat lover), the rainy season (but lucky for us it wasn't really that bad), bugs/ants/other crawling insects etc being accepted as members of the family in province households, eating food with one's hands (I actually enjoyed this experience, Cebuano lechon, yum!), riding in tricycles or jeepneys (loving both!), the local fruits and vegetables (delicious!), the high price of imported vegetables and fruits, also cheese, etc, the huge amounts of canned food and snacks in supermarkets (a pity, the food could be more healthy..), the air conditioners running on 18-19 degrees when outside it's 35-40 degrees (I received explanations for the phenomenon but still doubt its practicality... Such differences in temperature can only be unhealthy..), people walking in flip flops even in heavy rain (interesting, but I get the idea of not wanting to ruin one's proper shoes), no drinkable tap water, Ateneo students having drivers, the huge gap between hyper modern malls and the slums, the pollution on the main streets, sari sari stores (what a practical thing! Your not so typical neighbourhood family owned shop), the T-shirt culture (everyone seems to love them), the slow and moody internet, making it almost impossible to work on school assignments at times, and obviously the list can go on..
What I missed most during my stay in Manila were my family and friends. Also the food (my area is a huge cheese and milk producer, so imagine having to go without these delicacies..). I couldn't really afford cheese, fruits or vegetables in Manila (except some local ones), so at times it was hard. 
On the whole I really loved the Philippines and tried to enjoy every free moment with my newfound friends, travelling or experiencing the local cuisine. It is very important for me to get to know other cultures and mentalities when travelling, and my stay in the Philippines is a perfect example for it. Mission accomplished, so to speak. I could only stay in Manila for one semester, given the fact that I am graduating in summer and need to work on my thesis. But I would totally love to go back one day for a vacation and meet all the friends I made here again! Thank you all for everything you have done for me! I will never forget your kindness!