1. Tell us about your career – what are you doing now, what is it like and what do you enjoy the most about it?
I’ve always been teaching undergraduate and/or doing development work. I love being able to discuss theories with my students on the one hand, and make use of it on the ground with community leaders on the other. It is like having best of both worlds and being holistic about the learning and the practice. Sometimes, I let them meet each other for a gender equality event or I bring my students to communities to discuss gender mainstreaming. Currently, I am doing gender and development (GAD) freelance consulting. I also have a four-year international gender research project with an non-government organisation.
Academe is my comfort and glam zone, where I love dressing up. In class, I am more or less the authority where I lead the discourse. When I move to development work, I dress in jeans and shirt. – I expect my clothes to be dirty, especially in far-flung areas. I have to make use of whatever is available in the area and I am very careful not to offend the locals by looking for something that is not available, like a toilet. In the grassroots, I am not the authority. My expertise is good but I always have to remind myself that it is the locals who know the problem in their community and they also have the answer. I am only there to support or to make mechanisms work. I do not go to the community and say, 'This is what we are going to do'. That is not proper. I have to ask first, 'What do you need? And what do you hope to accomplish?' The community needs to own whatever project is given so that it will be sustainable.
2. Among all the other European countries participating in the Erasmus Mundus programme, why did you choose the UK as one of your study destinations?
I have always wanted to study in the UK as far as I can remember. I have been fascinated by the rich culture and history: Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, the Druids, King Arthur, Stonehenge, etc. are all part of my reading life. So whenever I am asked why I chose the UK the aforementioned will be my first reason. The second reason is the high quality of education and English as the medium of instruction. I also like the quality of life and the openness to other cultures.
3. What programme did you take and what drew you to this programme?
I took GEMMA or Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies. At the time, I did not know about Erasmus Mundus. It just so happened that a friend of mine forwarded the call for application and it came at the right time because I had been working as volunteer for gender mainstreaming in San Pablo and teaching Gender and Literature at De La Salle University in Manila. I felt that GEMMA was calling me. The programme was perfect. I wanted to deepen my knowledge in the theories, as well as women’s movements all over the world. I liked the fact that it was a full scholarship, it had mobility and very international, with classmates coming from all over the world! What else could one ask for in a programme? Everything was there.
4. You studied in Universidad de Granada in Spain and the University of Hull in the UK. How was your experience studying and living in both countries? How different—or similar—were they?
University of Hull and Universidad de Granada are very different. At the University of Hull, it is very organised from day 1 of orientation, getting IDs to classes, assessment of exams to getting the diploma. It is so easy to communicate because if you ask someone about something they can tell you what you have to know or refer you to the right department and people. Hull campus is quite small and so moving from one building to another is not a problem. Classes are twice a week and there is a lot of readings. When I was there, I would be staying in the library or the graduate school building until five in the morning to study for my exams or write my papers. My classes were varied: some classes we were only six, others 15, and there was one with 100 students taking the same class with different professors every week.
I have always wanted to study in the UK. I remember my dad would always buy me National Geographic Magazines whenever he came home from his work abroad.
I cooked a lot in Hull. I always invited my classmates as well as the friends of my housemates. Practically every other Friday, I would cook for friends. I did groceries every two days and went to the wet market, too. This was the first time I felt truly independent. I could experiment with food and I even managed to 'convert' my Indian housemates to eating brioche, croissant and panettone. At first, they were reluctant to eat non-Indian bread. One time, I bought several types of bread and made them try. From then on they started eating other types of bread. They did not realised how good those breads were until I let them try. We even had cross buns during Easter. On my end, I experienced Diwali for the first time because of my housemates.
I had a very active life in Hull physically because of the sports complex on campus and socially because I always threw house parties. I enjoyed cooking and hosting friends. I never felt alone in Hull.
When I arrived in Granada, I was alone and did not know what to do. I was late for the free Spanish language course on campus because the Embassy of Spain was on autumn holidays and my visa was sent a month later. I was panicking because I thought I missed a lot already. It turned out that my classes (except the Spanish language) would start by November. My first class was on research, in pure Spanish, and for six hours a day every day for one whole week. My next classes would be in January. Imagine, I had one whole month free! I never got my ID because the International Office lost my papers twice.
I met a Filipino-British undergraduate student in Granada. I had been introduced to him through email by a common friend in London. Rafa originally came from the Philippines but moved to the UK with his mum and studied Spanish and Language Literature in London, with one-year mobility in Granada. We were of the same age but since he did not finish his undergraduate in the Philippines, he had to take it in the UK. If not for him, I think I would have suffered loneliness. I had classmates in Granada who were with me in Hull: Spanish and Mexican. All of my classmates spoke fluent Spanish and I was the only one who could speak basic. I think that part of why I felt alone was because of the language: my lack of fluency. Most of the time they would discuss in Spanish in and outside the classroom and I would be left out of the conversation. I made more friends with Rafa’s friends and also the locals who are restaurant owners. In Hull, I would cook; in Granada I would often eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, most of the time alone or with Rafa and his friends. Being solitary in Granada made me feel how far I was from my family back in the Philippines. I did not feel it in Hull. For one, Granada was similar to my country but very different too. Sometimes, I would be lost in the system: how people work. Then I had to remind myself of the Granada 'mantra' I learned: No te preocupes. No pasa nada. Nothing is happening. Don’t worry. When I understood what this mantra meant, I became calmer and more accepting to the 'surprises' that came my way.
Both Hull and Granada are charming in their own way. I love them just the same. They were a perfect combination: the former being organised and smooth all the way; the latter being wild and carefree.