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»Visible but yet invisible« — Filipin@ Academics in Diapora

A personal reflection of the 35th Ecumenical Philippine Conference in Bonn.

The group of Filipin@ academics, researchers, scientists and students in diaspora and specifically in Europe is growing fast. We can see this trend flourishing for instance, in the increasing number of invitations to social events organized by Filipin@ scholars in different countries across Europe. At the 35th Ecumenical Philippine Conference (ÖPK), I got the opportunity to lead a workshop on »Filipin@ Academics and Students in Diaspora«. My general impression was that it was a pleasure doing research on this topic because I also learned a lot. Thus, this is article intends to be a personal reflection that shows on the one hand the results of the workshop—from the beginning of the preparation until the end of the discussion—but on the other hand also provide tools for solutions.

A hardly scientific preparation

The theme of this year’s Ecumenical Philippine Conference was »The Filipin@ Diaspora in Germany—Facets of Anchoring in Two Worlds«. It was exciting to work on the topic because, if you know my biography, I had so far relatively little knowledge about German-Filipin@s in general and German-Filipin@ academics in particular. Born, raised and living in Vienna, Austria, I have gathered most of my previous insights of German culture purely from the media.

When I started preparing for the workshop, I asked myself what would interest the people and what would interest me the most. So I came up with the idea of asking myself how actually the perception of fellow Filipin@ scholars is about the visibility of Filipin@ academics, researchers, scientists and students across Europe? The trigger point for this question was based on my personal observations and experience that—after so many years as »ordinary« student, junior researcher and representative for my fellow PhD students in my faculty at University of Vienna—I have rarely encountered any Filipin@. I always wondered why that is? Since the workshop was not intended to be overly scientific, my methods how to reach out for opinions and views were far beyond from being systematic: Instead, I rather explored the field and posted a short notice in Filipin@ Facebook groups about me doing a workshop at a conference and if someone would like to share her or his opinion. Surprisingly, and fortunately, my »tactics« worked out.

How visible are Filipin@ academics and students?

Various Filipin@ scholars replied to my message, coming from nine different European countries: Austria, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Poland and United Kingdom.

One common theme mentioned by almost all participants was that Filipin@ academics and students wished that institutions such as the embassy would help to connect the group of Filipin@ academics, researchers, scientists and students in diaspora with those in their host country. A lot of Filipin@s feel lost and wished to receive some institutional support as they perceive themselves as »survivors« in a foreign country. Like, a student from Austria, who mentioned that there were various obstacles you were confronted with and and that needed to be tackled all alone:

»The major ›obstacle‹ for Filipinos studying in TU [Wien] especially those who came straight from the Philippines and is not [being] familiar with the language; is the lack of courses that is taught in English […] Even those courses with labels »if required in English« more often than not is, also taught in German instead of English and would require a colleague or the teacher to specially translate some stuff to you. Finally, the system of the curriculum in the Philippines is very different from what is being practiced here. It would be very great if a Filipino student organization would be made to explain these things and help in the transition especially for the new comers so it would at least be quiet easier to adjust to the change in the environment. Some level of support would really really mean the world. Maybe having an organization probably organized by the Filipino community or the embassy to gather students and introduce them to those who just arrived from the Philippines. In my case, if not for the linkages of my University in Cebu to the Filipino community here in Vienna, then it would have been a very challenging first few months after I arrived in Vienna. I could just imagine what students who do not know anybody here feel when they arrive.«

Another person made similar observations and had the same struggles, but in Belgium.

»In terms of creating networks, the Belgian Embassy in Manila attempts to do that every year with the Ambassador’s Luncheon for Departing Scholars. Every year, about 40–60 scholars from the Philippines meet at his residence. This is not including scholars who [are] under general EU programs like Erasmus. However, there is no mailing list or network either from the Belgian Embassy in Manila or the Philippine Embassy in Brussels. So yes, your observation on lack of Embassy support or management used to be true here (though they are now sponsoring our event).«

The insights of these two scholars are remarkable since the group of Filipin@ scholars in Europe is growing vividly. Although in diaspora, they wish to get in touch with fellow Filipin@ scholars. One solution helping them connect with other Filipin@ is to provide a social platform. Good examples are the annual seminars organized by the Philippinenbüro in Cologne, Germany, the scientific conference EuroSEAS that is hosted every two years or the Philippine Studies Series lead by Rosa Castillo at the Humboldt University of Berlin. One student from Germany mentioned that, indeed, Filipin@ scholars are getting more visible, but at the same time they are still invisible.

»Für mich ist die Sichtbarkeit philipinischer Akademiker*innen in Deutschland ein Auf und Ab. Sehr sichtbar sind für mich die phil. AkademikerInnen während Konferenzen wie der EuroSEAS oder dem Jahresseminar vom Philippinenbüro, etc. Das hat sich aber auch in Berlin erst mit den Jahren m.E. entwickelt. Dass ich von einer Kleinstadt nach Berlin gezogen bin, angefangen habe zu studieren, dann Rosa kennengelernt, sie wiss. Mitarbeiterin an meinem Institut wurde, das Netzwerk dahingehend erweitert hat und ich wiederum ihre Studentin, hat sicherlich viel miteinander zu tun. In der Umgebung meiner Kleinstadt waren phil. AkademikerInnen entweder unsichtbar, eher aber lediglich nicht vorhanden. Dort sind eher philippinische Arbeiter*innen vertreten.«

We can find the same pattern in Denmark, where the number is much small but steadily growing.

»I am trying to organize academics here in Denmark. We are a small group, but we are a solid group. In the same organization, we are connecting with Filipino students here in Denmark. May ilang mga studyante direktang natanggap mula sa Pilipinas. Lumalaki naman ang bilang ng mga au pair at mga migrante na nakapangasawa ng Danish na nag desisyon na mag aral. Dahil sa lengwahe, ang mga kadalasang napupuntahan nilang mga kurso ay sa engineering at sa business. Bihira ang napupunta sa humanidades. Ang napansin ko ay wala ng Erasmus Mundus scholars, unlike mga 8-10 years ago. I don’t know kung tinanggal na slots for Filipinos. Dito sa DK, usually around 5 lang ang kakilala naming hired from Pinas na nag aaral dito. Ang dumarami ngayon ay yung mga nakapangasawa ng Danish na nag choose mag higher Ed[ucation].«

In English:

»I am trying to organize academics here in Denmark. We are a small group, but we are a solid group. In the same organization, we are connecting with Filipino students here in Denmark. There were some students who were directly recruited from the Philippines. There is a growing number of au-pairs and migrants getting married to a Danish and have decided to study again. Because of the language, most of them prefer courses in engineering and business. Rarely do they go to humanities. What I noticed was that there are no Erasmus Mundus scholars anymore, unlike 8–10 years ago. I don’t know if the slots for Filipin@s have been removed. Here in DK, we only know about 5 people who hired directly from Pinas who study here. We have an increasing number who are now married to a Danish guy who chooses to do an Higher Eucation program. «

Compared with Germany or Denmark, Filipin@ scholars seem either hardly existing in Czech Republic, Hungary, Norway and Poland or students are not integrated in any Filipin@ scientific community in their host country since there is no network.

»Oh. Well from what I know, I’m the only Filipino student here in my university. I have not seen any Filipinos here as well. I also remember that when I applied for the long-term visa for CZ, the vice consul asked me to meet her after the interview. She was specifically interested on how I got into the program because apparently not many Filipinos go for studies here in the Czech Republic.«

»Here in Hungary. Many [Filipino] scholars are from health sciences, agriculture, anthropology, internal relations, engineering and etc. Sa elte, bme, UD, University of Pecs po mga kasama kong scholars. May group chat po kami kase scholarship giving body lng kami. Siguro 20 kami from old and new this Sept.«

»Wala pako actually nakita na Filipino sa workshop. You were the first one. Wala akong nameet na other PhD Filipino students sa Norway. When I did my masters ako lang din pinoy. Same sa PhD. Kahit sa workshops wala ako nameet na pinoy.«

»I do not know of any existing network of Filipino scientists. I have in the course of my career have met some, but not in my field of study. I am generally based in the academia in Poland but my current work has taken me to London and from what I know the only person who is doing great work in promoting Filipino culture, which seems to draw many Filipinos abroad is Dr. Cristina Juan of the School of Oriental and African Studies.«

Besides other initiatives, the Philippine studies, especially at the SOAS University in London, United Kingdom are doing great work in promoting Filipin@ scholars and the Philippine Studies in Europe.

»We are becoming more visible—especially in London and Germany. The Euroseas Event for example had 60 scholars either from the Phils or studying it . E.g. our annual conference on Mindanao this year drew so many abstracts from the previous years that we had to hold parallel sessions. The UK is different—we have Filipino societies in Soas UCL and oxford to name a few. We have constant events for films and masterclasses and talks. The academic positions are less that is true—because usually area studies specific to Philippines is hard to come by – but usually integrated in South East Asian studies.«

The main lesson I learnt from the group discussions in the workshop was that institutions and/or organizations need to provide tools for incoming Filipin@ students concerning how to build a network with fellow Filipin@ scholars.

Being an academic, a researcher, a scientist or a student in a foreign country can sometimes feel lonely; that was what most Filipin@s told me. On that account, many are looking for clubs, associations or activities where they can hang out or be together with fellow Filipin@s. And actually, there are a lot. A whole bunch of groups are listed on Facebook like the Association of Filipin@ Students in France, in Turkey or in Ireland. Moreover, there are some very active associations such as the Philippines Luxembourg Society (PLS) or Sentro ng Kultura at Wika ng Austria at Pilipinas/Zentrum für österreichische und philippinische Kultur und Sprache (Sentro) in Austria.

As part of Sentro, I would like to share and promote some of the projects we are currently working on: Our mission is to help to promote Filipin@ culture with events and activities as well as to provide tools for integration. Hence, we organize the »Philippine Talks« (Philippinen-Vorträge) on a regular basis together with other departments of the University of Vienna. We already had the opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Geography and Regional Research as well as with the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology. The »Philippine Talks« is an afternoon event that not only offers knowledge transfer, but most importantly has been intended to serve as a venue for critical thinking and discussion. One of the most memorable events, we experienced this year, was in May when the editors of the Handbuch Philippinen, Rainer Werning and Jörg Schwieger, presented their updated compendium. The event was co-hosted by the Philippinenbüro and the initial idea was to provide an open forum for everyone who wanted to discuss about the current political situation in the Philippines. Each and every one was welcome, whether from the Duterte Die-hard Supporters (DDS) or left-wing political activists, critics, opponents and refugees. Another mammoth project Sentro is currently working on is an anthology about and by the second and third generation of Filipin@s in diaspora in Germany and Austria. With this spadework, for the first time a generation of diaspora Filipin@s will get a voice to reflect about their experiences living in two worlds.

Yet, there are more events organized by Filipin@ scholars across Europe, such as the workshop on »The Philippines as a Transnational Hub—Exchanges between the Philippines and the EU« that was held at the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium organized by Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot, Catherine Lourdes Dy, Angelie Marilla, Aaron Ponce and Clod Yambao among others last week. Further, there are upcoming events by the Philippine Studies at SOAS led by Dr. Cristina Martinez-Juan or the Philippine Studies in Berlin led by Dr. Rosa Cordillera A. Castillo too.

We can do better!

In a nutshell, let’s stay tuned. Philippine studies and Filipin@ academics, researchers, scientists and students are everywhere and make their own stand and earn their name in academia as well as in their host country. Getting back to the topic of the conference as well as to the overarching theme which was solidarity, I believe that networking helps everyone—the people, academics, researchers, scientists and students in the Philippines and the millions of Filipin@s living in diaspora abroad. Working together with institutions, networking and organizing events such as the »Philippine Talks« are the best supporting tools: on the one hand, they provide help to the people in diaspora in terms of their identity negotiation and identity work. On the other hand, it brings different parties together that would never have met due to their contrasting attitudes to life. Networking helps to build solidarity and integration. Thus, personal and social networks help to understand society, societal and political developments. As stated by the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills »You can never really understand an individual unless you also understand the society, historical time period in which they live, personal troubles, and social issues.«