Nicole Yu studiert an der Universität Bonn Public Policy and Governance. Die Philippinerin hat in ihrer Heimat bereits Betriebswirtschaftslehre studiert und während dieser Zeit ihre Leidenschaft für Kommunikation und Entwicklungspolitik entdeckt. Nach ihrem Abschluss krempelt sie ihr Leben komplett um.
Sie verlässt den sicheren Pfad der Wirtschaftswelt, auf dem sie bereits Fuß gefasst hat und macht sich auf den Weg nach Deutschland. Sie berichtet von den Erfahrungen, die sie auf ihrer Reise gesammelt hat und den Vorteilen, die ein radikaler Lebenswandel haben kann.
The decision to pursue grad school wasn’t made overnight. It was a choice four years in the making—four years of patience, confusion, understanding, and discovery.
You see, the Philippines is a country brimming with tradition. Roles are often set and paths are laid out for the taking. Success can be easily determined through a definitive checklist; each with a set of linear steps or checkpoints to achieve in order to be deemed successful. Study a major, graduate, get a job in your chosen industry, climb the ranks, buy a house, and retire comfortably. Pretty simple and quite straightforward. Any attempts to go against the grain are deemed reckless or foolish. Why risk failure when it’s best to always be on the safe side of things?
Growing up I had no clue what I wanted to do. All I knew was this set of instructions that I needed to follow. I wasn’t particularly passionate about anything either. I wasn’t involved in any sport. I didn’t do ballet classes nor did I learn how to play an instrument like most kids my age at the time. I had no specific inclination but what I did have was a great curiosity for things and an openness for learning.
I come from a relatively simple background: my dad is a seafarer, my mother is a housewife. I am the youngest of two kids—the only girl or “unica hija”, as we Filipinos would call it. A normal middle-class family in a 15 by 4 meter 2‑storey apartment complex in the heart of bustling Metro Manila. Every day started greeting us by the usual sounds: roosters crowing at the crack of dawn, coconut and “taho” (soybean curd with syrup and tapioca typically eaten for breakfast), vendors calling out for customers on the streets, and the loud honking of cars speeding through alleys in hopes of avoiding the dreaded Manila traffic. Life was mundane, but life was also hard. Smoke and dust filled the polluted air, debilitating infrastructures are spread across the city, child beggars constantly race towards the closest passerby to ask for leftover food or spare change, wages are unjust, and people basically live from paycheck to paycheck.
So naturally, I took the age — old adage to heart — that education is the key to a bright future. School had to be treated seriously and no subject was ever taken for granted. I felt I had to do my part in ticking off the boxes of my obligatory checklist: attend classes, be on time, pass exams, always do homework. This, to me, was the only way to thrive. I thought that as long as I kept this up, there was little room for disappointment. Nothing could go wrong: all I needed to do was to stay on track.
The years that followed began rewarding me for all the hard work and effort I had exerted. I was given opportunities to study in private institutions through grants, I was accoladed for a job well done and eventually were offered to study in the country’s most notable universities. This series of events has only strengthened my will that going with the crowd is the way to be, that conformity is king and it was not until university that my perspective began to change.
Upon entering school, I chose business as a major. Some say it’s the most practical option, while others would argue it’s a major one takes when they’re not sure of what they want to do in the future. At that time, it made sense to me, because it was one of the programs where financial aid was available. However, in retrospect, the latter appeared to be true. The time I had in university was a journey itself. I would describe it as a time of learning, unlearning, and relearning.
As lectures began and I started studying about balance sheets and financial jargon, I found it harder and harder to stay focused and interested. It was difficult for me to develop an appreciation for something I had no real connection with. Instead, I saw myself looking at extra-curricular activities that were more attuned to my preferences and growing passions. This was when I decided to swim against the current—the first of many side steps.
I got involved in activities that were way beyond my degree program. I worked as a writer for national broadsheets, became a radio disc jockey at a local FM radio station, and doubled my time as a sports broadcaster on national television—all while studying full-time.
I was also an active member of the school community as a leader in the student government, and a committed volunteer in various socio-civic endeavors outside campus and the metropolis. People then started to question the decisions I had made. They were confused as to why an accounting student was so invested in communication and outreach instead of stocks and corporations, and the thing is—I was confused too. I didn’t know why I was motivated to do things like teaching, volunteering, writing, and speaking. What was clear to me was that I loved doing these and that there was a sense of fulfillment each time I was given the opportunity to do them. With these, I found purpose and reason: two things I had never encountered with anything I had ever done before.
Nevertheless, I managed to stick to my program and graduate despite wearing multiple hats. Then I was officially in what many dubbed as the real world, where the pressure to conform and to go along the straight line was even greater than that within the confines of university. Eventually decisions had to be made and I found myself standing at the crossroads, choosing between taking the path towards the illustrious corporate world or going for what came natural to me: the development sector.
Although the pull to serve the latter had been greater, I still gave the audit industry a try. It didn’t take long for me to realize it wasn’t a fit. And I began my search for what felt right. The next thing was being on a plane visiting different places, backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, and volunteering in remote areas in the Philippines and Vietnam. I worked as a facilitator and mentor for several youth programs, and attended various sessions on women empowerment, diplomacy, and civic engagement. And whilst in the grassroots, I felt I got the answer I was looking for. That answer eventually led me to apply for grad school to study public policy and governance. I recognize that if I wanted to work in humanitarian aid or development cooperation, I needed to go back to school to build my credibility as a professional in the sector.
Educational inequity has long been a major problem in several developing countries such as the Philippines. Although the Education sector there receives most of its funding from the government, there is still not enough to accommodate or resolve the underlying issues. There still is a huge lack in resources, facilities, space and qualified teaching personnel. Therefore studying abroad appeared to be a viable solution to gain knowledge and experience in the field. After extensively researching countries, institutions, and programs, I drew the conclusion that Germany, particularly the University of Bonn, was the place for me—given the country’s reputation for world-class education, and its expertise on the intricacies of democracy. Which leads me to today: Writing an article about my experience, while I am located in Munich, just a few days shy of the beginning of classes, overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. In the three weeks I have been here so far, I made a lot of new friends, visited the Hanns- Seidel- Foundation headquarters, learned how to properly eat a ‘Weisswurst’ (thanks to a random ‘Opa’ dressed in traditional garb at ‘Viktualienmarkt’), I developed an obsession for ‘Obatzda’, experienced more of Bavarian cuisine, explored castles, and even celebrated a Covid-time version of the ‘Oktoberfest’.
Being immensely grateful for all the support the foundation has given me, and for their firm belief in my ability to do great things for the world, I was also confronted with feelings of pressure and fear, as it has been exactly four years since I have set foot inside the four corners of a classroom. I am worrying about still being able to keep up with the load of coursework in the intensive master program, or if I will be able to successfully adapt and absorb information quickly in a study not closely related to my major study. But more than anything, I am excited to embark a new chapter in my life. And to finally pursue a goal I’ve tried so hard to reach for so long. I am looking forward to discover new places, meet new people and become acquainted to new ideas, while strengthening my values and principles.
I feel that the world has given a lot, much of it undeserved, as I believe, that there are people being smarter, more hardworking and more talented in different aspects. I am humbled by the opportunities I have had the pleasure to experience. And with this privilege, I carry the responsibility to do my part to pay back and make opportunities more available, to those who deserve and seek them. Going with the tide has its perks: it provides security, assurance, and practicality. But leaving the usual path and challenging the status quo is what gives yourself the chance to reach your highest potential. Being lost for years was anything but pleasant. Treading waters with no sense of direction can be frustrating and sometimes even painful. But the return always outweighs the cost, and it can start with just one side step.