2 MEDCo staff granted long-term Aussie scholarships
Adelaide, South Australia (9 June) -- For five months now, Maria Evelia "Yang" Ausa has endured the extreme heat and cold in this capital, south of Australia. But the changing climate is a minor adjustment, as compared to managing well the time for her studies and the demands of a school, miles away from home.
"I haven't cried yet", she said with a laugh, referring to what students jokingly say with regard to the difficulty of studying abroad. "It's just a matter of prioritizing and setting targets," she said adding that discipline should be watchword.
This week though, she is excited because she will be joined here and in the same university, the University of Adelaide, by her colleague Jonathan Miral, who will be flying from Davao and will also be studying in Australia for a year.
Perhaps, Yang will share her words of encouragement to Jonathan who has the same questions as she did when she left Philippines early this January: "Can I easily cope up with their educational system and their lifestyle? Will I enjoy my stay there?" According to Yang, it's just a matter of adapting to the environment. And yes, not too much crying when hit by home-sickness.
Jon and Yang, both professional staff of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo), has been granted long-term training scholarships through the Philippine-Australia Human Resource Development Facility or PAHRDF, a program of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), which aims to assist partner national and local government agencies, academic institutions and private organizations to address key organizational needs through short-term and long-term human resource development programs.
The PAHRDF is five-year, Php 2.3 billion (A$60 million) initiative of the Australian Government through AusAID. The Philippines currently ranks fourth among the major recipients of Australia's scholarship program in the Asia-Pacific region.
Milalin Javellana, PAHRDF Facility Director said that improving capacities of the individual key people in the organization to perform their respective functions would contribute to the improvement of the organization's delivery of services, particularly for MEDCo in its efforts to pursue peace and development in Mindanao.
Jon is joined by 21 Filipino scholars - 15 of which are coming from Mindanao -who will be leaving this June to pursue post-graduate studies in various Australian colleges and universities, while Yang left together with an earlier batch of 42 scholars - 24 coming from Mindanao - who left early January this year. "I have mixed feelings, but I am excited," he said, looking forward to learn from the people and the culture and even exploring Adelaide, known for its opera house and kangaroos.
Though a great chance to travel and explore a foreign land, Jon is aware that his scholarship is more of an opportunity to experience competent education that will improve his skills in the field of trade facilitation and investment generation.
He will be taking up Masters in International Trade Relations, which he said would be very relevant in his present job as a Supervising Economic Development Specialist handling Brunei Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) affairs.
With the learning gained, Jon said he wants to highlight the vast investment potentials in Mindanao and Palawan, the Philippines' focus areas in BIMP-EAGA, to which MEDCo acts as the country's coordinating office.
He also said that he wants to learn the current trends in international trading, as well as global market potentials for Mindanao products and services.
In anticipation of the scholarship, Jon has carefully prepared himself mentally, primary of which is taking the IELTS exam, an English-proficiency test required by international schools for foreign students.
Aside from the IELTS, he is also required to prepare his Re-Entry Action Plan or REAP, a requirement for long-term scholars wherein they will be able to apply their learning to their individual organizations when they come back.
"I hope that I can apply my learning by way of linking at least 2 Mindanao stakeholders to these potential external markets taking advantage of our existing linkages in BIMP-EAGA," Jon said.
The academic preparation is not only needed for the acceptance to the scholarship but will prove to be indispensable as one starts to live life as a scholar.
According to Yang, classes are intensive, meaning most often a day is devoted to one subject only, starting 9am to 5pm, though classes are usually 3 hours long.
Moreover, she said that the classes are random and not fixed, and could be scheduled any day of the week. "My classes are scheduled randomly, like in a month I would go to the university for two straight days then my next class would be a few weeks after," she said.
She said she has to listen very well because of the difference in enunciation.
Good thing though, she said, that the lecturers are accommodating. "They respond to your e-mails or even simple requests for repetition if you find the lecturing too fast or unclear."
Yang also said that before the regular classes started, a five-week preparatory course was conducted participated in by 27 AUSAid scholars from different countries.
A pre-departure briefing was also conducted in the Philippines to prepare scholars for their programs and orient them with living and studying in Australia, as well as understanding the conditions and requirements of the scholarships.
With a community of scholars, companionship may not be hard to get by since the students also share each others experiences and school encounters and ask advices from the group on school-related matters.
"All of us got very close, together with our instructors. We even created a group in Facebook. It's serves as one of our support mechanisms here," Yang said.
"Most of us share the same feelings of missing home," she said, as the city is very quiet on weekends, unlike in Davao, when people usually troop the malls.
As for Jon, he said he would surely miss his family, friends and co-workers, and important family occasions but at the same time he is "looking forward to engaging with fellow scholars from other countries."
Javellana said that although Australian education is different from the Philippines, the scholars have performed well. "In fact, many of PAHRDF scholars have gained "high distinction" in their grades," she said.
"So far, our PAHRDF awardees in Australia are able to adjust fairly well in the culture and academic lifestyle. Filipinos are known to be flexible and adaptive," said Javellana.
Yang will be able to put these qualities to test as she is planning to work starting the semestral break, considering also that a great deal of time and effort in "assessments", or the course requirements equivalent to exams. "But I'm bracing my self for that," adding that she will not pass the chance of working while studying at the same time.
As a Senior Economic Development Specialist, Yang's job is to monitor the critical infrastructure programs in Mindanao. She looks forward to learning more from her subjects, which she said will be "very relevant in formulating the results-based monitoring & evaluation manual for the office (MEDCo) and critical in performing the role of oversight/overall implementing agency on major peace and development programs in Mindanao."
Javellana, invoking Spiderman's proverbial motto of power and responsibility, has this to say to both scholars: "you have been chosen to carry out a critical task. Go and make a difference."
"I wish Jon a happy trip and a meaningful stay in Australia. Just like Yang, we from MEDCo are very proud of them because they will be contributing something enormously significant not only to MEDCo's work but to Mindanao in general," said MEDCo Chair Usec. Virgilio Leyretana.
"Herculean," Yang said, but both she and Jon are looking forward to brighter prospects. For now, Jon will probably spend hefty time thinking about his dogs Banker and Lyka, while Yang continues to pursue the possibility of eating law-uy, a popular Filipino soup-dish of mixed vegetables, in a country far from home. (MEDCo) [top]