AS AN accomplished teacher, Emely Dicolen-Abagat is expected to know a lot of things—even, and perhaps most specially, the abstract concepts of love and dedication.

But Abagat, who was dean of both the Graduate School and the Department of Arts and Sciences of Colegio de San Juan de Letran in the early 2000s, chose to leave her posts behind and embark on a new mission—to spread the Catholic faith in South Korea. And thus began her most valuable lessons.

The Development Education alumna went to this “adventure” as a lay missionary, working as a volunteer for the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center for Filipino Migrants in Seoul in 2005. She conducted several spiritual retreats and recollections, while offering her services as a paid tutor in English to Korean children.

She then headed the education committee of Hyehwadong Filipino Catholic Community, where she became actively involved in training and seminars for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Connecting with ‘kababayan’

Her role as a volunteer missionary is a heavy undertaking. It means being available to whoever needs her 24/7.

“Sometimes, someone I don’t know would call me in the middle of the night, crying and worried about some family issue,” she told the Varsitarian in an e-mail.

Abagat has heard them all, sob stories of migrant Filipino workers battling sadness created by distance from loved ones. Not to mention abusive employers and the overall struggle in a foreign land.

This is where she finds her role most relevant—to be present when her compatriots need her the most.

“It is very fulfilling to be able to listen to those OFWs who share their sentiments with me,” said Abagat, who recounted her experiences with workers abroad in her 2009 book, And God Smiled Back. “People don’t always need advice. Sometimes, they just need someone to talk to.”

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Abagat’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. She received the first Gawad Giovanni Jaron, or the Most Outstanding Filipino Individual in Korea Award, in 2008. She was also one of the 24 recipients of the Presidential Award for the Outstanding Organizations and Individuals Overseas. 

“I was happy in a sense that people recognize our efforts in building a community,” she said. “I guess there will be more challenges ahead, and this will help us do more to be deserving of this award.”

Teacher Emely

Despite her new mission, Abagat still hasn’t forgotten about her first love—teaching—and remains active in the academe.

After her stint as a paid tutor, she became a professor under the Teacher Education Program of the Catholic University of Korea in 2009, where she became the first and only Filipina in the Faculty. At present, she teaches Business Ethics and English for International Studies.

Abagat’s profession has provided her with a wider perspective in life, especially with her newest venture to a foreign land.

“I practice my profession in a very unstructured way [where the lessons I teach in class] are rather content-oriented,” she shared. “Teaching the basics of the real world is indeed challenging.”

A “success story” of hers as a teacher in South Korea involves a seven-year-old Korean boy who was very stubborn in class. She introduced him to what she called “everyday therapy of sweet remarks,” telling the boy that “Mom and teacher love you.” The boy was a tough nut to crack at first, but eventually became “playful and happy,” she recalled.

Abagat said that it showed her one of the most important lessons of life in a foreign land—that “if you show love, language and culture are not barriers.”

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“I guess every teacher wants to see their students be successful,” she said. “That’s probably the greatest joy of a teacher like me.”

Despite the many challenges posed by her duties, Abagat says that she does not intend to stop helping and sharing love, especially now that she knows about the heartbreaks of our fellowmen who are far away from home.

“I plan to become a teacher and a missionary all my life,” she said. 


  1. Thank you for featuring me in The Varsitarian! I am always proud of Dominican education. I’m proud to be a Thomasian. Thanks Meg!


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