A New Perspective on the Asian Region
“I am blessed to be part of a truly inclusive and empowering university,” Mark Raygan Garcia, director of the Office of Information and Publications at Silliman University, said in a recent interview. Silliman University is the academic home for more than 9,000 students, yet Mr. Garcia believes it also is a nurturing environment where “people are excited about their role in the university.” He sees the role of the Office of Information and Publications as one of reinforcing trust in the university, and he and his colleagues employ the university’s publications, website, and social media platforms as tools that can inspire a larger community to develop a lasting relationship with Silliman.
The Philippines has embarked on a major transition in education, and that is creating an opportunity for academic professionals like Mr. Garcia to take a fresh look at their roles in higher education. A new K-12 law has added two years to senior high school. That leaves universities in a waiting period to receive incoming classes of freshmen and reduces their immediate need for a fully staffed faculty. The country’s Commission on Higher Education (CHED) sees these gap years as a period that faculty could use for professional development, and the United Board’s Faculty Scholarship Program offers CHED one channel to direct its support. CHED and the United Board currently are co-funding three Filipinos as they pursue graduate degrees in Hong Kong.
At the Education University of Hong Kong, Mr. Garcia is enrolled in the Master of Public Policy and Governance, with Social Policy Specialization program. “The Philippines has many comparable universities for graduate studies,” he said, “but the difference in studying public policy and governance in Hong Kong is the perspective, focus, and contextualization of discussions.” His studies and interaction with other students are giving him new insights, particularly about Silliman’s strategic position in multicultural Asia. “Hong Kong tends to highlight the Greater China region and Asia in issue analyses,” he said. “I want to better understand the regional context. That would allow me to teach, assist in the offering of more programs related to China studies, and be involved in more multidisciplinary research projects.”
Despite China’s size and strong presence in the region, Mr. Garcia finds that Filipinos’ familiarity with China can be relatively low. Day-to-day life in Hong Kong gives him a chance to get to know Chinese people, and cooking for his roommates and friends from other flats gives him a way to establish a family and home on campus. Media reports had given him the impression that the Chinese have an antagonistic attitude toward the Philippines, but he is finding common ground with the people he meets. “The view from the ground up is different,” he finds. “Chinese people are as family-oriented as Filipinos, and they have a sense of pride in their culture and in what their country has accomplished.”
The benefits of international experience are clear to him. “Studying in Hong Kong – or abroad, in general – where you adjust to a new environment outside your comfort zone, facilitates a different kind of maturity and builds a stronger sense of being a Filipino.” That means that, in addition to his master’s degree, he will return to the Philippines with a deeper appreciation for Silliman’s place in the Asian region and his own ideas on how to enrich the learning environment for its students.
The United Board expresses its appreciation to the Philippines Commission on Higher Education and to Florante and Nora Quiocho for their generous support.