Life is an ocean, so goes the cliché.
Indeed it is. You’ll never know when the next big wave will come.
When the sea looks azure, it must be deep; and when you do not see any dot of island, you’re not in a bay. If you’re a man who seeks adventure, you will certainly set sail and see for yourself what lies ahead, will go out of your comfort zone, and discover the world. That’s what I did. Little did I know that the next few months would be a crazily unforgettable journey, and as they say, a once in a lifetime experience.I just graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman, earning a Master’s degree in International Studies, when other tides of cool blessings touched the shore of my 2012. The waves seemed so inviting, that I decided to put an end to my days basking in the euphoria of graduation; I got into the boat, and sailed my way to the vast sea – a new chapter was lying ahead.
Queuing for a ‘boat ride’
On a sunny May morning, I went to the National Youth Commission office in Quezon City, an hour and a half trip from where we live, in the hills north of Manila. I would be applying for the Ship for South East Asian Youth Program, an annual cultural and diplomatic program that aims to promote friendship and understanding among young leaders from Japan and ASEAN member-states. With the perks that go with it – visiting six countries, discovering other Asian cultures, meeting and making friends with fellow youth leaders, and exploring those places that you used to just see in pictures and movies – who wouldn’t want to join?
Applicants should come at 7am to be interviewed on a first come, first served basis. I came past 8am, entered the hall past 15 minutes, and proceeded to the back of the hall filled with quite a good number of applicants. They seem to be queuing for a chance to get into the boat – that is the SSEAYP program. They were attentively listening to a speaker who was giving a briefer of SSEAYP application process. All the applicants were told to remain in the hall until the applicant’s name is called, and mine was called at around 5pm.
In between 8-5pm, I met a few guys and girls with whom I shared stories, experiences, and learned of tips on how to answer the panel of interviewers. Some of them applied to the program a few times but didn’t get in, yet did not give up and tried again. Others knew of the program from their friends or classmates. We come from diverse disciplines although majority in the batch of applicants were students, mostly from UP.
Of course, that early, there were already small factions. One big group was mainly composed of UP Diliman students, and as expected, there would be one or two guys who would seem domineering, wanting to gain attention with their loud voices. I chose to just keep quiet, initially limiting myself with a small group of young men and a few ladies who occasionally chatted with us. They advised me that during the interview, the panel would request the applicant to share any talent. It didn’t bother me, to be honest, at all. I love singing, and I enjoy doing it in front of people. What bothered me were the random bits of tips on what the panel would ask, how you would answer, and some other questions which you must answer with great confidence.
At around 5pm, there were only three or five of us in the hall; until my name was called. Finally, I could proceed to the interview room next to the hall. Clad in smart casual wear – blue long-sleeve shirt, dark jeans, and smart-casual stand-tall shoes, I entered into a small room. It is always important for me to greet and smile as a sign of courtesy and polite gesture, and do my best to look and feel confident whenever I undergo an interview. After an NYC official asked me to just leave my backpack on a table, I sat on a lone chair and tried to look smart in front of the five-member panel of interviewers, sufficiently prepared for a ten-to-fifteen-minute session of question-and-answer plus talent presentation. The panel was composed of a young male representative from the Department of Education, a middle-aged lady who represented the Department of Social Welfare and Development, a SSEAYP alumnus, a strict-looking diplomat from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and a female National Youth Commission Officer.
The first question came from Ms. Nonette of NYC, “How can your knowledge of International Studies (Master’s) contribute to youth employment?” The courses and topics that we study in International Studies were usually concentrated on global issues and Philippine foreign relations, but zooming in on the youth sector and its employment status in the country was a bit new to me. However, I now really feel grateful that the Lord has brought me to youth involvement for a few years, and lead me to focus on migration and labor issues insofar as Filipinos across the globe are concerned. I explained that the youth is a very vital component of the economy that their dynamism should be utilized for further economic advancement. I explained a little further before the next interviewer Mr. Flores of DFA asked me a few – no, many – quite interesting questions about my background, career, and my extent of understanding about youth issues and participation in social activities. He said my ‘CV’s impressive,’ and that mine ‘was the most impressive of all the applicants records’ to which the other members of the panel agreed. I replied with a meek smile and expressed a simple ‘thank you po.’ Questions kept coming – on which area in International Studies do I concentrate, why do I find labor migration interesting (it is because my father and brother are overseas Filipino workers), how does overseas employment affect Filipino families (I based my answer on our family’s own experience); and many other things that were related to migration and socio-economic development. I also emphasized – as I answered questions on the youth’s role in socio-economic development – that primary to youth development is empowerment which means that opportunities should be provided to enhance the talents and skills of these future labor-force of the country.
The first portion of the interview was quite serious – so different compared with the latter part, talent performance. They said that should I pass and eventually participate in the SSEAYP, I must also be willing to represent the country by sharing Filipino culture – and the question followed – “How can you best share our rich culture through performance?” That was already a signal for me to showcase my talent. I confidently replied, “Filipinos usually convey their sentiments through music, hence I will sing to promote our diverse and rich culture. I prepared two songs,” (actually, one song was enough, but I opted to sing two to impress). They applauded after my short performance, and just joked around during the last part of the session.
The SSEAYP alumnus implied he had some connection with me because we came from the same institution, the Ateneo de Manila University – I taught at the high school department for three years, and he studied there when he was young. The other members of the panel also cheered me up when they mentioned that I should have applied as a facilitator rather than a participating youth because they found my credentials really impressive, and more importantly, that I am more than fit as facilitator given the qualifications. I felt humbled, but also explained that “I feel I’m not ready for the facilitator position, and I wish to experience first how to be a participating youth.” I believed I had to learn more yet. The panel also encouraged me to apply for the Foreign Service Officer position and eventually become a member of the diplomatic corps. Accordingly, ‘by the looks of it, he will be a future diplomat.’ I felt so light after a grueling interview session on relatively ‘heavier’ issues. Just before I was allowed to leave, Ms. Nonette asked me if I know how to swim to which I replied, “Yes, ma’am.” I guess it was already a sign that I was short-listed, and a might move to the next level.
After enduring many hours for a short interview, it was finally over, and it was worth it. I left the NYC office with a relieved heart. I took a bus ride going home and excitingly shared with my equally excited parents about my experience.