Philippines Science High school, affectionately termed “Pisay”, was the place where we forged genuine camaraderie with our local friends over a period of ten days. On the 26th of November, it was indeed a reluctant farewell. Photographs and goodbyes could not sufficiently represent the feelings of attachment that we had to the land and the people.
On the first day of our exchange programme, the five of us, Sally, Sophie, Shyh Horng, Dennis and I, led by our teacher chaperone Ms Soh Yen Ping, landed at the Manila Airport in the afternoon. We were greeted by M’am Abella, who brought us to Pisay to meet our host families. For the entire duration of our programme, we stayed with our host families and attended classes with our hosts. Feeling both nervous and excited, the five of us went our separate ways to the homes of our hosts.
Wednesday, 17th November, was our first day at Pisay. In the morning, we were warmly welcomed by the students during their morning flag raising ceremony. For the rest of the week, we attended classes with our hosts for the first half of the day and toured Manila in the afternoon.
Contrary to what we expected, attending lessons with the students in Pisay was not dull at all. The students of Pisay treated us with genuine warmth and hospitality. They took the initiative to approach us to get to know us better, immediately making us feel at home. The teachers in Pisay could also engage the students very well during lessons. The curriculum is largely similar to that of Singapore’s. Even though the students in Pisay are younger than us, the oldest being the equivalent of Secondary 4 in Singapore, the content of their curriculum is comparable to ours in Junior College. These students are undoubtedly some of the brightest in Manila and we were impressed by their eagerness to learn, especially in the areas of Math and Science.
In the afternoon, we toured around Manila. Some of the places we visited include the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) and the University of Philippines (UP). We also visited places of religious worship such as the Manila Cathedral, where we were really impressed by the intricate architecture of the Roman Catholic Church.
One trip that really touched us was a visit to Tahanang Walang Hagdalan, also known as the “House Without Stairs”. Tahanang Walang Hagdalan is home to hundreds who are wheelchair bound. At that organization, these people earn a living by manufacturing wheelchairs and getting involved in handicrafts. The organization was also kind enough to provide residence to those who work there, knowing that it is inconvenient for them to travel on their own. It was really heartening to know that there are people who care about the less fortunate and because of them, the handicapped are able to lead more normal lives.
There were also fun excursion trips during the exchange programme. During the weekend, we visited Subic, a natural beach in Philippines. Students from the Pisay Student Alliance (Student Council) accompanied us on this trip. Even though the ride to Subic was 3 hours long, it did not dampen our spirits as we spent the journey interacting with the SA. At the beach, we played volleyball, had sand wars and simply played around in the waters. We are reallt hankful to the SA for being so friend. We just had so many topics to talk about. This experience was one of the highlights of the trip, and will be one that we will carry close to heart for years to come.
Another interesting aspect of the exchange programme was the homestay. During the duration of the exchange programme, we stayed with our host families. It definitely took some time for us to get use to the home setting in Philippines. For example, we had to wear our footwear even around the house. Thankfully, our host families were gracious with us and treated us like a part of their family.
Shyh Horng, who travelled on the trip with us, stayed with Milan during the trip. Milan is a Year 3 student and has 2 other siblings, Marti and Alla, both of whom are studying in Pisay. In fact, Marti is a Year 2 student (who is coincidentally in the same class as my host) and her sister Alla is a Year 4 student (whose classmate is Dennis’ host). After one or two days, Shyh Horng integrated completely into the family- dining with them together at the dinner table, using the computers together in the study room with the rest of the family. It was really heart-warming to see how close we grew with our host families during the course of the stay.
One thing we would never forget about our friends at Pisay is their hospitality and warmth towards us. Right from the frist day to the last, the students of Pisay have welcomed us and made us feel at home. Even on the very first day, random students, neither from the SA nor our hosts, invited us to play volleyball and basketball with them, invited us to their Stargazing parties and dared us to eat Balut (duck egg with a half matured duck inside).
While in class, some of our classmates would also initiate conversations relating to life in Singapore. In fact, some of them have been to Singapore before. We really enjoyed the times when we would share about the education system here in Singapore, about the campus of Hwa Chong and about how the boys here have compulsory National Service.
Personally, I was attached to a Year 2 class. The oldest student in this class was only 16, the average age being 15. However, they were not afraid to talk to me and even planned a class outing with me to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Arranging for a movie might be fuss-free in Singapore, but is a relatively complicated affair in the Philippines. Most of the students in Pisay are fetched to and from school because of the high crime rate in some parts of Manila. As such, in order to bring me along to the mall to catch a movie, they had to apply for leave from the school, co-ordinate drivers to drive the entire class to a nearby mall under the supervision of their form teacher Mdm Xavier. The lengths they went to make exchange students feel welcome really touched us and made us reflect on how we treat the exchange students who visit Hwa Chong.
All in all, this was really an unforgettable trip that holds many precious memories – the new culture that we were exposed to, the place we visited and most importantly, the friends that we made. This trip really served as an eye opener for us as we learnt about Philippines and her people, how warm the people in Philippines truly are. We will never forget the people we met here and we look forward to returning to Philippines once more to meet them again.
Post Contributed by Wong Yang Cheng (10s76)