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Life Capsized

Going abroad would entail that your freshman year of college would undoubtedly be one of the most transformative years of your life. You will be forced to examine what you are, stripped away of the support systems of home. You will miss the comfort of home. You will see that it is a daunting world outside of your nest, and it will be scary before it gets comfortable. Adjusting takes longer than you think it would, and even realizing that will take a while.

I started off my journey abroad with a real frenzy – desperate for new sights and new people, amused by new environments and the smell of freedom in the air; no parents, no restrictions, everything shiny and new. I shifted priorities and reveled in the opportunity to spend as much time as I wanted with my friends. Admitting that I was confused about my major, I took a Philosophy course and took full advantage of the freedom I had.

But as the second semester started, the allure of freedom subsided, and the hard questions stared at me in the face. Why am I here, and what sort of impact do I want to make in the world? What am I truly passionate about? I used to think I knew the answers in high school, but I was wrong. Going away from everything you thought you knew is what truly forces you to discover your true motivations in life. Coming abroad has forced me to be honest with myself. Starting anew, away from the pressure – or comfort – of peers, teachers, and family who held certain ideals unique to the environment you grew up in is the true test. You’ll be surprised to discover what aspects of your personality or your passions can stand by themselves in a completely new environment. Change is hard, change is uncomfortable, but it’s also inevitable. Welcome it as a part of journeying into your self. You’re sure to come out of it more sure of yourself.

Sometimes I wonder why no one had warned me about how difficult and painful self-discovery would be - how alone, you must wallow in confusion before you can find the answers within yourself. Then I realize that this is something that has to be experienced; the words “self-discovery” and “finding yourself” don’t cut it, it’s only when you’re alone, far away from home, that you can see for yourself the rockiness of this journey. It will be hard and painful. There will be times where the confusion will devour you from within. However, the harder you struggle, the truer the answers that you’ll eventually attain – and you will see that nothing has ever been so self-reassuring.

Moonie Sohn graduated from International School Manila in 2013. She now attends New York University Abu Dhabi as a member of the class of 2017.

On Rejection and Moving Forward

Back in my obsessive CollegeConfidential days, I read an article stating that we need to treat admissions officers as guides rather than gatekeepers. Like most good thoughts, this one is more easily understood than vehemently believed, and only comes to life in hindsight.

My application process started off with flat-out rejection from Princeton University. After early decision results came out, I stopped wearing orange, developed a dislike for tigers, royalty, and New Jersey. I couldn’t help feeling that validation for everything I had accomplished in my short life was hinged upon an acceptance, or at least a deferral. I thought of myself as a complete disappointment to everyone who had invested time, effort, and faith in me. I kid you not when I say that Beck’s ‘Loser’ was on repeat on my iPod for a month: “Soy un perdedor/ I’m a loser baby/ So why don’t you kill me?/ (Double-barrel buckshot).”

In the midst of Beck’s kind words of encouragement, I soon started wondering exactly why I felt like such a “loser,” and tried to make sense of my rejection. I had rushed through my application, writing both my common app and supplement two weeks before the deadline. I had never pictured myself at Princeton, and it wasn’t my first choice of school because the culture and programs offered did not match up to what I intended to do for the next four years. I had applied for exactly the wrong reasons: vanity and security. With this in mind, I realized that with my lackluster application, I definitely did not deserve to get into one of the best schools in the world.



I can’t say I’m overjoyed that I was rejected from Princeton, but I have realized how necessary this rejection was. First of all, it fostered desperation, and I caught a glimpse of how hard I would have to work to get into a great school. More importantly, it threw all of my motives into perspective, and I was forced to consider why I was applying to certain schools, and how much I could grow at each one. Ultimately, being forced to think about all of this made my regular decision application much stronger, and my vision of and for myself much clearer. When the acceptances came in May, all of the thought and soul-searching I invested into my application allowed me to pick the school where I knew I would thrive.

Through rejection, I have come to see that in a way, a college is applying to you as much as you are applying to them. The admissions officers have read enough applications and created enough successful graduating classes to know who would fit into their school. This means that an application done right, one that portrays a true sense of yourself, requires both rejection and acceptance. This is not a pat on the back as much as it an encouragement to keep searching, yearning, and working for your nirvana.

Gabby Dee attends Brown University as a member of the class of 2016.

Why Attend a Design School?

photo from flickr, bluekdesign

Many misconceptions exist regarding design schools that often discourage applicants, especially in traditional countries such as the Philippines.  I’m writing this article with hopes of debunking some of these misconceptions, and mostly to inspire. Design schools can offer a vast amount of unique skill sets and at the same time provide a world-class education. I myself am a design student currently studying in Rhode Island School of Design and I can confidently say that I’m receiving a premium education, highly suited for the world we live in today.

For our generation, the importance of design cannot be clearer. Some say we are at the cusp of the golden age of design. If you look at the largest companies, such as Apple, Path, Pinterest, Square, and Airbnb, design is at the core of their business. Yet, why are there so few Filipino students applying to design schools? 

A misconception regarding design schools is that it is equal to a trade or fine art school. I do not want to discourage application to the latter but there is a significant difference between them. Design schools apply the principles of fine arts to the requirements of trade and manufacture. You learn the base principles of fine arts and learn how to apply them to the working world. It is true that you gain a clear expertise in specific fields but the education you receive from design schools go far beyond pure practical training. You also gain a well-rounded education that is flexible and comprehensive. 

Is there money and jobs after design school? As hard as it is to believe, this question exists. Being a Chinese-Filipino, it was a tough decision for me to apply to a design school because I was made to believe there would be no job opportunities after. This has some merit if you compare job opportunities after a diploma from ivy leagues. However, research has shown us that designers have a much higher job satisfaction than most. There is nothing better than enjoying your job, which inherently leads to success. 

Design school personally taught me a vast amount of skills that I was able to transfer to the work force, the most important of which was being able to properly create a style and a brand. I also learned how to problem solve and think conceptually, which enables me to create systems and ideas. From those invaluable lessons, I was able to open a successful restaurant, a business, a gallery, and my photographs have received international accolades. Like all those large companies I mentioned earlier, I believe that design is the core. Design and business are not two separate things but are directly correlated. 

Liberal art schools may also teach you how to be problem solvers and conceptual thinkers but design schools use that as a base and go further. Design schools teach you how to make and create, which is timelessly and universally important.  They teach you how to produce products instead of just gathering resources and distributing them accordingly. Being able to physically create things is one of the most important skills I have taken from design school. 

Another misconception about design is that everything can be self-taught. I can attest to this because my skills in photography and graphic design were gained through the internet, youtube and books. We cannot underestimate self-education but just how far can this type of education take you? I was never able to learn the basic principles of design. It is not something you can read or watch, it needs to be experienced. 

To add to the quality of the education you are receiving, design schools immerse you with students who have the same passion as you do. The discussions you participate while in college are irreplaceable. You learn from your peers as much as you learn from your teachers.

I can easily go on and on but I think I was able to get my message across. If you have the talent or you believe in design then don’t be afraid to apply to design schools. Take the leap of faith. Design schools are unique, that offer an education and skill sets that are unattainable in others.  

Nicholai Go graduated from International School Manila in 2011. He now attends Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) as a member of the class of 2015.

THE WISDOM OF ALONE TOGETHER: On the Fear of Being "Alone" Abroad and the Perks of Residential College Life

We hear horror stories of students going off to college and just losing themselves; stories of students who regret not going to a college where most their friends would be; stories of students who consider college abroad a chore, not an opportunity.  We hear horror stories of how difficult it is to be alone in a different country miles away from home.

The truth is, we never will be. 

When I left Hong Kong, I compared it to a horrible break-up. I had fallen in love with the city, the culture, the people. I was finally feeling like I was beginning to belong when I was offered a scholarship, and my parents and I decided it was best if I moved to Yale-NUS College. I left, still in love with the fast-paced lifestyle, the clacking heels of women walking through the MTR stations, the gorgeous waters that surrounded the university I was in.

It didn’t help that before I moved to Singapore, people would look at me with pity and tell me about how small a place this country is. I began to worry. Would Singapore be the best place for me? Or would I be a fish out of the water, in a strange place with seemingly nothing ever to do? This is why last Sunday, when I landed in the Changi International Airport, I was ready to expect little. I was ready to just make the most out of what I had, figure out how the MRT and other similar systems work, focus on getting the best out of college. I was ready to face Singapore alone.

Until I discovered I didn’t have to.

I didn’t even have to ask. I had newly-found Singaporean friends who willingly brought me around. I had friends who offered to go out of their way and help me settle down. I had a friend who even took me restaurant hopping, driving me around the city, welcoming me to Singapore with a fun night-out.Here I was a foreigner, and I already felt like Singapore could be home. This realization has inspired the foci of this post: the fear of being “alone” and the perks of living in a residential college. We hear horror stories of students going off to college and just losing themselves; stories of students who regret not going to a college where most their friends would be; stories of students who consider college abroad a chore, not an opportunity. We hear horror stories of how difficult it is to be alone in a different country miles away from home.

The truth is, we never will be. I have tried studying briefly in New Haven and Boston, a few months in Hong Kong, and am about to take on Singapore. In all these countries, I found someone to bring me around and introduce me to everything local. The memories I remember the most? Dinner trips with my local roommate. Fireworks with my closest international friends. Nights out, coffee breaks, movie nights with anyone who’s left in the dorm. I’ve only been a few days in Singapore, and I have been sleeping in the early hours of the morning. The simple hanging out in common lounge with friends from all over the world whom I would never have met is enough to let me know I’ll be okay. Dinners with professors make learning seem like a fun meal time conversation. (What I love about Yale-NUS in particular is that the professors are trying to find their way around Singapore too!) Living with deans and rectors has also left us with little kids running all around the place, embracing the students into this extended family. When your stomach hurts and tears start to fall from the laughter; when you’re up late watching your fellow students sing their hearts out in an open mic; when you’re walking under the rain, crossing the road with zooming cars, enjoying every bit of the strange land you’re in; when you’re enjoying a good lunch meal with professors and friends; when you’re arm in arm with people who are as alone, but who make it all feel just right—you realize going abroad to study is not as lonely a task after all.

Because you find you’re all alone together and it is the experience of such that you’ll actually remember most in the end. In the process, you discover more of who you are, free from the shackling definitions of who you should be provided by those who have known you for the past eighteen to twenty years. In the process, you discover more of who you are, together with a bunch of others who are trying to find their way as well. This is what it means to be alone together, to lose yourself and find yourself again, and to be in the company of strangers and still feel like you belong.

Joan Danielle Ongchoco graduated from Immaculate Conception Academy in 2012. She now attends Yale-National University of Singapore (Yale-NUS) as a member of the class of 2017.

Overshooting: don't do it!

Applying to colleges was one of the most thrilling and exciting periods of my high school career. It was also one of the most stressful: I had to research dozens of schools and determine which ones I would most like to attend for the next four years. This research period was essential, especially if I wanted to be efficient about where I was going to apply and hopefully get in. The harsh reality about applying to colleges, especially ones abroad, is that most students cannot simply pick and choose which school they wish to attend. A lot of the more reputable institutions tend to be very selective – if not extremely selective – about their admissions. “Ivy League” schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are known for their single-digit admissions rates. Even small liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams are comparably selective due to their small class sizes. Unless you have a 4.0 GPA, a stellar extracurricular record, and top standardized test scores such that you actually could pick and choose among Ivy Leagues, I would like to remind incoming applicants to avoid “overshooting” for schools.

The concept of “overshooting” isn’t complicated. As students, we are individually aware of our own grades and test scores; thanks to the Internet and numerous print resources, we can also easily look up the academic averages for students who are admitted to various colleges and universities, especially those in the United States. Overshooting happens when an individual applies to schools that have test score averages that are beyond their own. In addition, it can also happen when someone applies to more colleges than they are capable of, thus risking mediocre supplementary application materials that can harm one’s chances of admission. I was lucky to be admitted to my top school of choice, Hamilton College, but this was also an institution that fit my individual academic achievements. I am, by no means, discouraging anyone from applying to his or her dream school; there’s no harm in applying to a “reach.” However, applying to colleges is, realistically speaking, a tedious and costly process. 

As such, here are some of my personal tips to avoid “overshooting” and approaching the college application process efficiently:

  • Expand your college search. The U.S. has thousands of colleges and universities that are not limited to Ivy League and U.C. schools. Britain has more than Cambridge and Oxford. Read up on as many different schools as you can. Your priorities for a “dream school” just might change in the process.
  • Choose your colleges based on how well they fit YOU, not just based on their name. Trust me on this one. I’d never heard of Hamilton College before I started looking up colleges, but I’m really glad that I chose this school because it was the perfect fit for my personality and academic needs. Higher education is going to take up four years of your life, give or take, and you’ll want to spend them somewhere that you will love.
  • Don’t apply to more than ten schools. This is the part where researching schools is important. There are thousands of possible schools to apply to, and their websites just make each institution seem like the perfect place. Look beyond their websites and read college reviews and forum posts to find which schools are a perfect fit, and then keep trimming your list until you get to ten schools or less.
  • “Reaches,” “Targets,” and “Safeties." You can divide your list of ten schools into "reach,” “target,” and “safety” schools. Reach schools are the most selective schools with admissions rates that fall under 20 percent. You should apply to at least one of these, but no more than three. Target schools should realistically take up most of your list. These are schools wherein you academically fit in terms of your GPA and standardized test scores. I would also recommend having one to three safety schools wherein you feel like you would be a “shoo-in” for admission. If you’re applying for financial aid as an international student, you can obviously play around with these proportions as you see fit.
  • Read the supplements. On a more practical note, check out the supplemental requirements of each college on your list when the Common Application comes online. Be realistic about the amount of time that your college applications will take up and make sure that you have enough time to finish each application to the best of your ability. With this in mind, applying to four schools that have three supplemental essays each might not be the best idea.

The whole college application process is just that: a process, the aim of which is to gain admission to an institution where you will learn and thrive for the next few years of your life. If you need help choosing colleges, narrowing down your list, or getting a reality check, shoot me an email. I won’t bite. 

Good luck!

Kaye Kagaoan graduated from International School Manila in 2011. She now attends Hamilton College in Clinton, NY as a Creative Writing concentrator and member of the class of 2015.