Five Study Abroad Programs in the Philippines

by Dawn Stanton, Jun 5, 2004 | Destinations: Philippines / Manila

It's a pity that the Philippines is so often overlooked as a potential study abroad location, say study abroad administrators and students who have studied there. The country, a group of islands located between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea, has a variety of historical and cultural links to the United States and Spain that make it unique in Southeast Asia - and an ideal place for nontraditional study abroad students.

Barbara Gaerlan, Assistant Director of the CSEAS Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA, has been traveling to and living in the Philippines since the 1960s, when her whole family moved there for her father's Peace Corps job. Like many who have gone to the Philippines for work or study, she says that in the beginning, "We had no idea where the Philippines was. That was where we started from. Zero knowledge."

Others echo Barbara's experience. "When I first started looking into the program [at Michigan State University], I knew very little about the Philippines. I didn't even know exactly where it was," says Amanda Poole, who studied there in 2000-01. Poole majored in environmental economics and policy.

Though many students start out with limited knowledge of the Philippines, a number of factors help them adapt to and succeed in life there. First, English is one of the two official languages of the country. In regular university programs, English is the language of instruction for many classes and textbooks, and most college-level Filipino students have a strong command of the language. This makes it possible for exchange students to enroll in university programs directly (as opposed to being taught in a separate program designed for foreigners). Gaerlan says it greatly benefits students to be in a classroom with their Filipino counterparts.

Second, culturally, the Philippines could be considered "intermediate," says one study abroad administrator, in the sense that it has long historical connections with the U.S. and so Filipinos are somewhat familiar with American culture. The population is 92 percent Christian, very close to the United States' rate (84 percent Christian).

Third, students with science majors, for which study abroad is often seen as unnecessary, may find the Philippines a worthwhile destination. Jim Schwartz, a student at Michigan State University, says, "I'm in plant genetics, [and] I wanted to go somewhere they were doing major genetic research. A professor told me I should at least look at the Philippines for the International Rice Research Institute. So I checked that out, and it seemed like an awesome organization."

There are some disadvantages that students should weigh when considering the Philippines as a study abroad destination. Homestays are not a common arrangement, so you'll have to take advantage of other experiences (like being in a classroom with Filipino classmates) for your cultural immersion. And even though the country has good prospects for science majors, some lab facilities lack the equipment and infrastructure found at U.S. and U.K. universities. Also, Richard Bernsten, faculty advisor for the Philippine Study Abroad Program at Michigan State University, warns students not to expect the same interactive teaching methods in the Philippines as the methods used in the U.S. He says, "Students are basically expected to do more on their own. We almost take the approach in the States that if students don't do well in a class, that it's partly the fault of the professor. Whereas in the Philippines, the burden is placed more on the student."

Finally, administrators cite safety concerns that students should weigh when considering the Philippines as a study abroad destination. Bernsten says, "Because most press statements come dateline Manila, people that don't know anything about the Philippines may think the problems are everywhere, whereas they're mostly down in Mindanao."

Mindanao, the southernmost island, experiences outbreaks of fighting between the government and Muslim rebels who want the island to be ruled as a separate, Islamic state. Administrators recommend avoiding travel to Mindanao; other safety precautions are simple common sense-based things. Stay away from large gatherings and protests. Be careful with the people you meet at bars and night clubs. As in any new and unfamiliar situation, pay attention to your surroundings.

"Filipinos are wonderful people," says Barbara Gaerlan. "If you get to know people as individuals, they're warm and friendly, generous and hospitable. My impression is the Philippines doesn't rate very high with tourists if they've just spent time in Manila, because they tend to go to night clubs or do things like that," which Gaerlan says doesn't provide ample opportunity to get to know locals on a one-on-one basis.

June 2004 Update: A U.S. Department of State "Public Announcement" issued on April 28, 2004 warns of "ongoing security concerns" particularly on Mindanao. Arrests of suspected members of terrorist organizations have appeared in the Philippines' recent news.


In addition to the five universities listed below, there are a number of others, particularly private Catholic universities. See universities.htm for a list.

1. University of the Philippines, Los Banos

Location: Los Banos
Contact Information:
Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, College 4031, Laguna, Philippines
Tel: +63-49-536-2553, Fax: +63-49-536-3673

2. University of Asia and the Pacific

Location: Pasig City
Contact Information:
Pearl Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Philippines
Tel: +63-2-636-7530
URL: See _student_admissions.html for information on foreign student admissions.

3. East Asia College of Information Technology

Location: Manila
Contact Information:
East Asia College of Information Technology, 2/F Technology Hall, FEU Campus, Nicanor Reyes Sr. Street, Sampaloc, Manila, NCR 1000 Philippines
Tel: +63-2-736-0015

4. University of the Philippines, Diliman

Location: Quezon City
Contact Information:
University of the Philippines Diliman, Diliman, Quezon City 1101, Philippines
Tel: +63-2-920-5301

5. Silliman University

Location: Dumaguette City
Contact Information:
University Registrar, Silliman University, Dumaguette City 6200, Philippines
Tel: +35-422-8880; Fax: +63-422-8880 OR 4776/4668

* * * * *