There were many things that Lia Soliongco liked about her stint as an exchange student at the University of Trento in Trento, Italy. But one of her absolute favorites was her time spent in the dormitory kitchen. She said that beyond serving as a common area for cooking and dining, the kitchen became a bustling arena for cultural exchange.
“My floormates and I were so close and we had our own international dinners where you would cook food from your own place—and if you can’t cook, you could just bring something,” says the Voice major from the UP Diliman College of Music. “The guy I was in the same program with, he was also Filipino, and we would always share our food. Because my floormates were also curious—what is Filipino food?”
Lia’s opportunity to experience another country’s culture and teaching system is one not many get to have, even in UP. The UP Office of International Linkages (UP OIL), however, under Director Gil S. Jacinto, has been offering a program since 2014 to help UP students earn that same opportunity with potentially full financial support. The program is called the University of the Philippines Mobility for Vigor and Excellence (MOVE UP), and it’s open to all UP undergraduates after their freshman year who have been accepted into the student exchange program of a foreign partner university.
MOVE UP, Jacinto says, provides support for undergraduate students seriously looking to spend a semester abroad in one of UP’s global partner institutions. “If a student has excellent grades and applies in their second or third year for a posting abroad, the University can help that student cover the cost of travel, and even travel insurance. Students don’t have to pay tuition fees because we have reciprocal partnership agreements with these universities.”
For parents, saving up to help cover the remaining expenses of their children’s semesters abroad has never been easier, Jacinto adds, due to the free tuition law. Under RA 10931, the household of a child that used to be classified under Bracket A of what used to be the Socialized Tuition System (STS) can now save roughly P35,000 per semester for this purpose. But the support that the University is willing to offer to less financially fortunate students goes farther still.
“The exchange program doesn’t discriminate,” Jacinto explained. “MOVE UP provides support depending on your capacity to pay. If you happen to be in what used to be STS brackets D and E, the University will pay for most of your needs for your stint abroad.” This means that MOVE UP scholars can potentially receive subsidies not only for insurance and airfare, but also for their accommodations and living expenses, as well.
The road less traveled
One of the bonuses Jacinto and his office want for every MOVE UP scholar is for their courses to be credited (or to be complementary) to a student’s current academic track, with the approval of his or her program adviser. This sense of complementarity, at least in essence, was one of the main reasons Lia decided to spend her semester in Trento, which offered the budding classical singer a chance to broaden her linguistic and cultural horizons.
For others, however, like Michelle Danne Desuyo, a BS Agricultural Chemistry student from UP Los Baños, academic life abroad was far less straightforward, but equally rewarding. Michelle, who was an exchange student at the University of Oviedo in Spain last year, found herself in the Faculty of Economics and Business. There, she took courses she hadn’t previously considered taking—Accounting, Human Resource Management, and the Economy of the European Union, among others.
“Every day I would allot the most time to my Economics course,” Michelle said. “Because the European Union has so many countries! And you need to know the histories of all those countries. I really needed to do things like study tutorials on YouTube on European history.” Luckily, she said her teachers were more than supportive. “I talked to my professor and told him that my major was not Economics. And he helped me and gave me the resources that I needed to read.
While the vastly different nature of her courses in Spain meant that none of them would be officially credited back home, Michelle said she would never exchange her experience for anything. “That’s where I got a sense of self-discovery, where I said, I can actually do this! And I got so many intangible benefits like friendships and memories. I wouldn’t have gotten these experiences if I just stayed in UPLB. Because of UP, I was given an opportunity to accomplish things I never thought I would accomplish.”
Ambassadors to the world
For Jacinto and his staff at the UP OIL, MOVE UP offers an opportunity for more students to experience a similar kind of growth—“intellectual, emotional and academic.” Not only does a semester abroad increase the marketability of students when they graduate, but it also helps them to become, in their own way, ambassadors of both UP and the nation to the world.
Lia’s time in Italy, although not without its challenges, gave her a vision of both the life she wanted for herself and a future that she wanted to give to her countrymen.
“There’s learning and growth because of the experience of living abroad, staying abroad. Making your own decisions. Experiencing other cultures while also sharing your own culture. It’s something you might not really learn if you just stay here in UP,” she says.
“I had it in my mind that this is the life I want to live. Trento was so beautiful. You walk around and there’s no pollution. Water was free everywhere. There were parks where you could just sit and relax; and learn from watching people. You get the taste of the First World life.”
“But you know,” she adds, “I missed the Philippines. And the more I was there, the more I wished that we could have this back here. Not the culture, but the ease of life. Maybe one day I could live there, but I think my knowledge and experience would go to waste if I didn’t come back and contribute. What I can do when I graduate in the future is give back more to the country. We need it, and as a UP student, I think we owe it to our people.”
For more information on the guidelines and deadlines of MOVE UP, visit http://oil.up.edu.ph/?p=546. For a list of UP’s partner universities around the world, visit http://portal.oil.up.edu.ph/public/.