04 February 2017

Being "International" at DLSU


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So back at DLSU for the first semester of my sophomore year. As a direct consequence of my foolhardiness, I had become, in university slang, “international.” As an irregular student, I was taking freshman, sophomore and even junior subjects. Because I was not anymore part of a block section, I could choose the subjects I needed but at the time slots that I preferred. This was somehow very liberating.

It was initially awkward encountering the classmates I had in my freshman block section. But they were already juniors and had farmed out to their respective majors. Some of them told me that they hardly saw our former classmates since their schedules were vastly different.

One unexpected perk to being an international student was that I was able to make a friend here and a friend there in all the different subjects that I took. Surprisingly, the subjects that I really detested were those I had to retake with freshman block sections. My classmates in these sections were fresh from high school and, although they were really the same age that I was, acted somehow childish. We must have been exactly the same when we were in our own freshman block.

For the second straight time, I dropped out of Business Math. Try as I would, I could just not make myself like the subject. I would actually end up taking this same subject four times before I finally passed it. However, as I felt confident I would, I also got grades of 3.0 to 4.0 in the freshman subjects I had failed because I skipped too many classes. This meant that I no longer had to worry about my accumulation of failures.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to take ROTC in the first semester because I passed ROTC I during my freshman year. As the second semester approached, I knew that I had to make a decision. I had heard that even members of the university varsity “farm teams” – training teams, I believe, they are called in the present day – were pooled together into an athletes’ platoon and only needed to attend ROTC training once each month.

This was fine by me! I was required to enroll in ROTC II in the second semester, but didn’t’ bother to attend even one training day. I much preferred to go home to Lipa Friday afternoons rather than spend Saturday afternoons being shouted at for no useful reason. This early, I had already made my mind up that I would join the football varsity tryouts in the first semester of the following year. As I had already written, I had absolutely no pretensions about making it to the NCAA team at all. Whether I was good enough or not was really rather moot, since the only reason I would be joining the tryouts was to hopefully make it to the farm teams and, thus, become eligible for the ROTC athletes’ platoon.


One subject that I started to take in my sophomore year was Spanish, twelve units of which were still required in those days. Frankly, it was one of those subjects that didn’t seem to make sense and also seemed to be an utter waste of time and money. The Spanish colonial era was close to being a century gone and English had well and truly taken its place as a lingua franca. None of us could see any practical application to learning Spanish.

The language was by no means hard to learn. It has the same structure as English and Tagalog and many of its words are actually embedded into many Philippine languages. My teacher for three of my four Spanish subjects was also this kindly middle-aged mestiza named Miss Reyes who would always, if she chanced upon us along the corridors or passing time on any of the many benches around campus, greet me and the classmates I hung out with, “Como estas Seňoritos?”

To which we would always reply, “Muy bien seňorita, pero no tengo dinero!” And we would all burst out laughing.

Then there was Brother Antonio, an Ilonggo who had migrated to the United States decades before but was at the time assigned at a Christian Brothers school in Mexico. He was taking a sabbatical and became my professor for the last of my four Spanish subjects.

He was a very fascinating teacher. Only about forty per cent of the time was he actually teaching Spanish. The remaining sixty per cent was spent talking about life in the United States and Mexico. This was fine! His stories were actually more interesting that the Spanish itself. All we needed to do when we had had our fill of Spanish conjugation was to ask him about life in North America, and once we got him going, there was no stopping until the bell rang.

But there was this one time when we had an exam and for one reason or the other, most of us had not really studied for it. While I don’t condone cheating, this was one occasion when I allowed myself to be tempted; and particularly so because Brother Antonio didn’t seem to mind that we did. It was still customary then for many male students at the university to bring along attaché cases to class.

For this exam, we placed our attaché cases on our desks to conceal the notes we had surreptitiously brought along with us. All the while, Brother Antonio seemed like he didn’t care and kept looking up at the ceiling.

We all forgot about the exam until one time I and a couple of my classmates encountered him along one corridor of the La Salle Building. “Brother,” we happily called out to him. Instead of looking at us, he looked above us. When he did, he broke into a smile of recognition and explained that he had this problem with direct vision.

As soon as he was out of earshot, we all burst out laughing. It immediately dawned upon us that, during that exam that I was talking about earlier, he was actually looking at us rather than at the ceiling!

Because my gift has always been the languages, I used to be pretty good in my Spanish classes and regularly got grades of 3.5 or 4.0. If I had practice, I could really have become fluent in it. That was the problem. I moved in exclusively Tagalog- and English-speaking circles and had nobody to practice the Spanish on.

Over time, I would forget most of what I learned in my Spanish classes. Just recently, when I began researching the history of my home province of Batangas, I was often dismayed at my inability to make something of the Spanish-language historical documents that I often came across. Suddenly, the Spanish that I took up in college didn’t seem to have been an utter waste of time. How I now wish I had the opportunities I needed to have practiced the language enough to have eventually mastered it.

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