LIKE Philippine television today, UST has been a second home to a variety of foreign faces.

Thanks to the influx of foreign students from all over the globe who study in the University.

From Americans to Zambians, UST welcomes the entry of foreign students throughout the years with open arms.

The chosen one

Although there are other top colleges and universities all over the country, foreign students still enroll in UST.

But why UST?

“A major reason is the University’s quality education, there are those who are non-Catholics yet they enroll in UST,” said Evelyn Songco, head of the Office for Students Affairs (OSA).

UST’s centers of excellence attract students from other countries to pack their bags and study here.

“UST is also known worldwide for its medical school, there are many Filipino-Americans (Fil-Ams) who enroll here to study Medicine,” Songco told the Varsitarian. “It does not come as a surprise that they enroll in the University.”

The professors are also contributing factors.

“I’ve heard back in our country that there are many good teachers in UST, that’s why I opted to study here,’ Song Ji Yeon said, an incoming freshman from the Conservatory of Music.

The Philippines’ geographical setting, culture and proficiency in the English language are facets which affect the number of foreign students enrolled in UST.

“Foreign students, enroll here (in the Philippines) because it’s the nearest place to learn English. The Koreans particularly, choose UST because of its Christian community and its English-based teaching,” said Roberto Evangelista, former head of the Foreign Students office.

”They (Koreans) believe that you have an upperhand if you know how to speak and understand English,” he added.

Weakness in numbers

In 1997, UST recorded more than 500 enrolled foreign students, with Koreans and Indonesians making up the bulk.

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In the second semester of last year’s school year 2004-2005, the number of foreign students totaled 273, a far cry from the 1997 record. Same during 2002 and 2003 wherein there were only 246 and 218 enrolled foreign students, respectively.

According to Evangelista, who now heads the Human Resource Department, the numbers have dwindled because of the Asian financial crisis.

“When Asia experienced a financial crisis, most foreign students cannot afford to study abroad anymore, and up to now, it is still the ‘trend’,” Evangelista told the Varsitarian.

In 2004, Chinese had the most number of foreign students with 86, followed by the Americans with 67 and Koreans with 49.

The UST Graduate School has the largest population of foreign students with 41, followed by the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery with 39. Not too to far are the College of Commerce with 33, and the Faculty of Pharmacy and College of Education both with 25.

But Songco said compared with other universities, the population is not that low.

Evangelista added that with terrorist attacks coming from all corners of the archipelago, no one can really blame why most parents do not want to send their children to study here anymore.

The sweltering heat is another factor why there are lesser foreign students in UST since the new millennium arrived.

“Students nowadays choose to study in the South and in Baguio, because they are used to a cool environment, they cannot cope up with the heat here (in Manila).” Evangelista said.

Coping with the environment

Living in another country is never an easy task. One has to cope with a new environment, immerse oneself to a different culture and learn new things.

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International students in UST are no exceptions.

But both Songco and Evangelista see no problems.

“Except for the language, they do not have a hard time coping with the new environment; it’s just a matter of getting used to,” Songco remarked. “Foreign students don’t have any problems in terms of cultural adjustment or in terms of religious differences. UST is open enough to be able to accommodate students coming from all religions and cultures.”

Evangelista said it is only at the onset that foreign students experience some difficulty.

Once they reach second year or third year, they can get by easily like Tamer Ibrahim, an Ethiopian who graduated from the College of Pharmacy in 1998.

“He practically knew nothing during his freshman year, but eventually, he learned how to speak good Tagalog, made lots of friends and even became a soccer player for UST,” Evangelista said.

“He made himself open to the culture, unlike others who come here just to study and to be able to leave their country and travel,” Evangelista shared.

No smooth sailing

Homesickness and different climate are only few things they have to deal with. Lack of communication skills is also a big problem because it prevents them from interacting easily.

As for teachers, they need endless patience and an unbiased outlook.

“Sad to say, teachers have some biases towards them (foreign students). Our teachers don’t seem to have the patience to further explain matters foreign students find difficult to understand,” Evangelista said.

Students from Asian countries who have yet to develop their English language tend to ask questions frequently.

“The more the students ask, the more the teachers get ticked off. Ang mga local students napagbibigyan ng mga teachers, kapag foreign students, nakukulitan,” he said.

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“But one cannot fully blame the foreign students, because some of them are taught to be assertive, he added, which is sometimes misinterpreted by the teachers as being obnoxious and aggressive.”

Evangelista pointed out that there are times when foreign students do not know when to draw the line. Foreign students who come from well-off countries have this feeling of superiority over Filipinos.

“If they (teachers) just open their hearts and minds to these students, they would understand them better,” he said.

“Foreign students are just like any other student; we try to accommodate them as much as we can, we offer special classes for subjects being taught in Filipino like Rizal and PGC (Philippine Government and Constitution).”

Perks and merits

Though foreign students experience some problems, they also gain advantages for being a student in the University.

“When you are a student in another country, you are enriched by the culture of that country, and I like to believe that the foreign students in UST are enriched by the University’s culture as well as the Filipino culture,” Songco said.

UST having its own atmosphere, contributes a lot to the development of the foreign students.

“Their get-togethers with other students promote cultural dialogue among them, and they get an understanding of the people in the world,” she added.

The constant entry of international students in the University is a welcome addition to its ever-growing community.

UST should try to attract more foreign students since they serve as the University’s “walking advertisements” when they come back to their respective countries.

It promotes UST as a school that opens its doors to all kinds of people.

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