On the night of the 17th, my friend and I ate our last meal at our favorite place in Katipunan, Roku sushi. We also walked around to reminisce the memories we had at the school. We didn’t get to make much of the night since we both had finals the next morning and ended up staying up pretty late to compensate.
On the 18th, I took my last final at 8am, which although my professor told us would take 2 hours, we all finished in less than an hour. Afterwards, I started packing my things because I’d be moving out of the dorm. I ended up accumulating a lot of stuff during my stay here, either from gifts from friends, my own shopping, or random school things.
My (very long) Review on Ateneo + Studying at Ateneo
While I was looking packing and looking through my things, I realized that I am going to miss this place. Although it was definitely not an easy stay, I definitely learned a lot of things about myself and I’m glad I had the opportunity to study here. Ateneo is for sure not a school for the weak of heart. It takes a lot of mental toughness to be able to survive at this school. Unlike most of the other exchange students, I chose to take a full course load here of 6 classes (which included a 3 hour lab class) instead of everyone else who took 2-4 max (and only had to go to class MWF or TTh). Even though I do wonder what it would be like if I didn’t take as many classes as I did as I would’ve been able to enjoy the Philippines as much as they did and they were able to travel to twice as many places with their more free time. However, I also felt like I was here to study at Ateneo was an adventure in of itself so it kind of compensated. Whenever someone here asked me how I liked Ateneo, I immediately say that it’s not an easy school. The amount of mental breakdowns the classes have caused me was more than I had ever had in a lifetime. No amount of stress that I felt at home compared to what I felt here. According to what students here have told me, they all have either an average of at least about 3 mental breakdowns a week, survive on less than 4 hours of sleep, on medication, and all visit their therapists weekly. I do admit that Ateneans really do love to procrastinate, it’s also not the fault of the students for this cause of anxiety. From my experience in these classes, a lot of it also falls on the teachers. A lot of them assign a crazy amount of assignments to the point that it seems like they forget that students take at least 6 other classes too. I’ve also had teachers that assign homework last minute and I don’t mean like by the end of the class period. I mean that teachers will post on our class facebook page and tell us that we need to do readings for tomorrow morning’s class at 11:30pm. In one of my classes, my professor was adamant about having 3 tests for the class but didn’t compensate the class time well enough. As a result, she made the test a take home final but gave us the instructions for the exam orally, also assign more homework on top of it and turn it in on the day of finals, which the topics on the final aren’t related to the assignments. It isn’t the student’s fault that the professor doesn’t plan the time our wisely enough that we have to do more work on top of it. Also, because my professor gave out instructions orally, we don’t have a copy of her requirements but what we’ve written down. Then, the professor would get upset when it doesn’t meet everything but we have no proof that she didn’t tell it to us – even though she clearly didn’t. Another professor of mine told us a week before the final that those who got A’s in the class would be exempted from the final and then two days before the final, took back his statement. So, those who thought they were exempted had to pretty much cram what they could’ve been doing in a week. Now, I don’t want this to seem like all the professors are like this as I had three professors who were pretty much the greatest professors I had ever taken, which is why I was disappointed that some of the other teachers don’t meet their standard. I just want to point out that the majority of the professors, according to not only Ateneans, but also exchange students, are not the best they could be.
For me, the stress was not only from schoolwork, or the professors, but also the school itself. It really bothered me that the level of organization at the school was really subpar. For instance, I had been asking about when to pay the tuition for weeks and the exchange student coordinator assured me that he would let me know. He let me know I the day before it was due. He texted me to meet him at his office and told me I had to pay asap and I had until the next day and it had to be all in cash. Now, it was really frustrating and stressful for not only me but also my relatives as I thought I could pay with a credit card and had to ask them to exchange my cash so I could pay. Once I have my cash, I go to the cashier and she tells me I could’ve paid with a credit card. I was upset because I bothered my family just to get the cash and the student coordinator should be the one to know how to pay tuition. There were further instances at the OIR (office of internal relations) that they didn’t know the answers to things they should know or don’t follow through with our requests until the very. last. minute. They didn’t have our school ID’s ready a week after school had already started, none of the students were registered for their classes when they told us we all were (I had to introduce myself in all of my classes as all my professors thought I was in the wrong class or something), and keeping urging that any forms we had to fill out were needed asap. I also experienced this with the office for dormitory where they didn’t contact me about needing to pay until two days before it was due. I had already been staying there for 3 months and no one approached me about how to pay or the rules or the works about the dorms. All the exchange students basically had to fend for themselves. Now I don’t mind that there wasn’t a dorm orientation or something but I would’ve appreciated someone letting me know where the bathroom was or where the cafeterias were in the dorms or how the laundry system works. Also, no one told me how to obtain internet or that I had to pay for my electricity (there was a fine per electronic device, charger, etc). I just wish I had known so I could’ve been more prepared. My experience then hasn’t improved until now. While most of the ladies at the front desk are very nice to me, they either don’t really know much about what goes on in the dorms or their dorm rules aren’t very consistent. They would give us a paper that said move out day was the 21st and when we asked the front desk, they would be firm about the date but then a few days later, they’d give us another paper saying that move out is the 23rd but still tell us in person that it’s the 21st. Another inconsistency is that the dorm cafeterias would say that they’re open on certain hours depending on the day but sometimes, if you go there during the hours they claim it is open, it’s closed without any notice. So then you’d have to get creative on where to get food because delivery here still takes a long time due to traffic.
I think exchange students would enjoy their stay more if Ateneo’s regulations reflected more leniently on exchange students because Ateneo has a strict code of only 9 cuts for MWF classes and 6 cuts for TTh. While that’s reasonable for Ateneo students, exchange students don’t have any time to explore the Philippines especially if the workload is heavy enough to make it feel like you took an extra two classes. My fellow exchange students who did get to travel around more either just didn’t care if they cut class and didn’t care about school in general (to the point that they’d miss more than 9 or 6 and be forced to withdraw). In the States, only a few professors care about how many cuts you take in a class but the majority don’t care for the responsibility to learn is on you. Another thing is that Ateneo is pretty much a stricter version of high school, where most of the professors are always down your throat about your work or they always have the need to assert authority over their students to the point that it’s abusive. One of my professors made us study 6 chapters of a textbook equating to about 200 full pages in a week for a the possibility of a pop-exam and ended up telling us that we don’t need to learn it but just wanted to see if we had the work ethic.
It was also a little disappointing to hear that a of the exchange students felt isolated during their stay at Ateneo. I did experience it during the first few weeks of school and in some classes, the first few months because the students here are too shy – yes, shier than I am which I didn’t think was possible- to approach new students. It wasn’t until I attended school events or approached them myself did I make friends in my classes. A lot of it actually was the fact that they don’t want to speak English, which confused me since they speak English in their classes. Once I told them that I understood Tagalog, then they were more open to being friends with me. Also, if it wasn’t for ASEC (the Ateneo Student Exchange Committee) I wouldn’t have been able to feel as comfortable as I did during my stay here as a lot of the local friends I made here were also through ASEC. However, when I spoke to the Director of the exchange programs, he told me that exchange students have complained to him before about this problem, which is can be disheartening for foreigners when all they here about is “filipino hospitality” but don’t find it when they get there and don’t have as enjoyable of an experience. The director also explained that since Ateneo is one of the top schools, most of the students are pretty well-off and are “snobbish” when it comes to making new friends. It was really those who were scholars at the school that were friendlier towards others.
Even though I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to study in the Philippines, I must honestly say that transitioning from a pretty good school in the states to Ateneo was a really difficult one. I sincerely made an effort to think optimistically and review the school fairly by not comparing it to the States and through that there were a lot of positives about my studies in Ateneo. However reflecting on my entire study abroad experience, I was happiest when I wasn’t at school. I thought it was my privileges getting in the way of my enjoyment of the school but from talking to other exchange students, their thoughts can be best supported with a quote from one of my exchange student friends: “I loved the Philippines, just not studying at Ateneo.” While I didn’t expect my study here to be flawless, I still wish that Ateneo could have met some more of the basic expectations of mine.
If I were to rate it:
access to resources (library, bookstore): ✮✮✮✮☆
variety of class options to take: ✮✮☆☆☆
easiness of classes: ✮☆☆☆☆
social experience: ✮✮☆☆☆
overall experience: ✮✮✮☆☆
Even though Ateneo wasn’t for me, the memories and experiences that I had there has changed me as a person to be emotionally stronger and more patient, especially. Not only that, I also am physically stronger as I was able to survive in 100 degree weather without an air-conditioned bedroom, classroom, or in general for the most part, as the only air-conditioned places at Ateneo were the library (but only in certain rooms), the lab buildings, and 3 classroom buildings (there are like 3 fans, but trust me, that’s not enough for a classroom). Nonetheless, I still had a lot of fun in the Philippines overall and have really enjoyed my stay. 🙂