Master Student. This was how a random Taiwanese guy addressed me one day. I would say he was about thirty years old; probably taking his graduate studies in National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU) in Taiwan. At first, I was clueless about who he was. I even thought he was just playing a prank on me. But at that moment, he looked at me, bowed slightly with a smile in his face and said “Yes, yes. You - Master Student.” Then I suddenly remembered, just a few days back, my Swedish teacher recognized me in class for topping his long test for the second time. I then realized that the guy in front of me was not so random after all. He was one of my classmates in Managerial Economics, an MBA course. So I smiled at him and said thank you. After shaking my hand and congratulating me again, he bid me farewell and we went our separate ways.
For me, those five minutes, which I proudly narrated above, tie my Junior Term Abroad or JTA experience altogether. I say this not so much because I am proud to be called a Master Student. Rather, I say this because it made me realize something very important and truly life-changing. It made me see that we Ateneans have the potential to become world-class and to be recognized for excellence. All we have to do is to dream big and believe in ourselves.
I myself was not always a dreamer. I remember when I first heard about the School of Management's JTA Program. I am not from a rich family and I thought that JTA was something too expensive to even consider. But if there is something I learned in Ateneo, it would be that I should always dream big. Years of hard work paid off when I received a $2,000 scholarship grant to fund my JTA experience. After accomplishing some requirements, I was all set to fly and all set to live out my dreams.
At first, JTA can be somewhat daunting. I arrived in Taiwan ill-equipped with the necessary ability to survive - speaking in Mandarin. Nobody understood me and I was so stressed that at the onset, I wanted to go home. However, through NSYSU's free language course, I was able to learn the most basic but useful Mandarin phrases. I learned to introduce myself and to bargain in stores, both of which I was able to apply as I travelled in Taiwan.
Another unforgettable experience was eating. I learned to use chopsticks as I tried different dishes that were in many ways unique to Taiwan. From milk teas to red-bean pizzas to triple-cheeseburgers, Taiwan had it all.
Within the campus, I experienced being in a truly multi-cultural university. Our school teemed with foreign students and I was lucky enough to have them as my friends and classmates. They helped me turn the JTA experience from five-months-in-Taiwan to five-months-all-around-the-world.
On the academic side, I learned a lot in NSYSU especially regarding the global viewpoint. Our course in Chinese Economic and Trade System showed me how unique China and Taiwan are. Our course in Business Management provided me with different perspectives from different professionals all over the globe. Our course in Selected Topics in Politics and Economics helped me think critically, remove personal prejudice and adopt multiple viewpoints on various issues.
NSYSU is truly a multi-cultural university. Hence, I was also able to get a glimpse of the education other universities offered. I had classmates from France, England, Czech Republic, Romania, United States, Canada, Mongolia, China, Thailand and other countries. If I were to compare the Ateneo education to that of the foreign universities my classmates came from, I would proudly say that the Ateneo can compete side by side with the best of them. Admittedly, some foreign schools may have better facilities, may make use of better technology; or have more foreign opportunities. However, they lack the kind of discipline and formation that all Ateneans are privileged with.
I mentioned earlier how Ateneo taught me to dream big. I find this more important than the Calculus lessons I had in my first year. I find this more useful than the optimization methods I learned in Operations Research.I find this more essential to my success than the investment guidelines I learned in Finance. To dream big is just one chapter of Ateneo's huge book on 'how to live your life.' It is this holistic education that helps Ateneans stand out. It is this holistic education that helped me top my exams in Taiwan. It is this holistic education that defines Ateneo as an institution that breeds Master Students. Because of this, I will always be grateful and proud to be a part of the Ateneo de Manila University - the Master School.