By Mavis Sayman Korsman
As a student in the Philippines, I admit that it was always my dream to study at an American school. Actually, it is many students’ dream in my country.
By being accepted into NMU, I was living my dream, but my first day of school was nerve- racking. For one, I was worried about whether my professors and classmates would understand my accent. Well, I thought, I could always write down my words if they did not understand my speech. For the other, I was worried whether I would even finish the semester. But, as my grandma used to say, “Subukan mo walang mawawala sayo” (you lose nothing by trying).
As it turned out, in my first class I was the only foreigner; the other students were all native English speakers. Well, as they say in my culture, “May bukal sa tao yung likas na tapang” (there are some of us who are naturally brave).
As I waited for the professor to begin class, I noticed how different things were here compared to my old country. This classroom was furnished with a big projector screen hanging on the wall, a globe and a stereo speaker system. The students all arrived to class with laptop computers. The professor, also, had a laptop which she used to project the lessons.
In the Philippines, we do not even have pencil sharpeners in the classroom, let alone laptop computers. The colleges and universities cannot afford such extras, and the students, themselves, certainly cannot afford them either. They have to make do with what they have. I thought about how spoiled the college students are here in America.
I have heard that some American students refer to themselves as poor college students. For them, that means living on ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches for the semester. In my culture, poor refers to those who do not have anything to eat at all. In the Philippines, most students are lucky to get two meals a day. Many bright young people give up on college altogether, as they can hardly afford to eat, let alone pay tuition.
Students here in the United States have many ways to pay for college, through grants, loans and work study. In my country we do not get student loans, and only a select few get any kind of grant or scholarship. We do have work study, but we call it the Student Tuition Assistance Program (STAP).
STAP requires students to work or six days per week without pay. The only reimbursement consists of a small payment towards ones tuition. Working off campus is not a very good option either.
Even entry level jobs, such as at fast food restaurants, are difficult to get and require a college background. As it happens, the students who do find jobs make only about $3 per day.
Indeed, to get by day-to-day is difficult. I remember having to calculate my daily expenses constantly to make ends meet. I rented a tiny room in a boarding house, barely big enough to fit a bed.
There, I became close friends with the housekeeper named Lisa. One day Lisa confessed that she had a crush on a neighbor guy.
In Filipino culture, a girl will not verbally express her feelings to a guy. If she has to make the first move, she will write him a letter. And, to really impress him, she will write it in English. Lisa’s English was not so good, so she asked me if I could write the love letter in return for a free meal from the boarding house kitchen. She said that for every letter that I wrote, I would get a meal on the house. I could hardly believe my good fortune, and I told Lisa that she was “Hulog ka ng langit” (an angel sent from heaven).
Well, the free food lasted three months until the guy found out who the real letter writer was. Anyway, whether we are poor college students bartering letters for food or living on ramen noodles, we need to accept what we have, make do with what we have and live our dreams.