Back to School – Philippines Retirement, Part IIIYou might be asking – why talk about school under the topic of retiring in the Philippines? Well, many veterans come here with the intent of using their VA education benefits. I’ve been doing it since June of 2003; I started just weeks after my permanent resident visa came through. Anyhow, here are some thoughts, observations and some personal experiences on the subject.
For this new semester, I waited until the first week of school before even attempting to sign up. Reason being, what a goat rope the sign-up process is! The college I go to, Systems Plus Computer Foundation, or SPCF, runs you all over the place, from window 5 to the department office, to the library, back to window 5, or is it 2? And on and on…
To make things worse, all students are required at the beginning of this school year to have old ID badges replaced with a higher tech version, one imprinted with a scanner readable code. The “line” in front of THAT office was like an African watering hole in the midst of two-year drought, and I didn’t feel like trying to fight my way through the “herd” to get to the “muddy water!” Now, I don’t mind standing in line, but Filipinos DON’T tend to form lines. What they do instead is to mass, push, and reach over and past each other to the front. As an American, I have a hard time dealing with that, so I don’t.
With the kind of disorganization, deficiency of structure, and the seeming lack of line etiquette I describe above, you would think people here would get cross and angry at each other, but no, that’s just how things are done. They expect it, and they are used to it. The only ones who get irked and frustrated are the old American retirees, like me.
Here’s what I do now to help me through this bothersome, but unavoidable, “first week” of college chaos. I employ what I call my “assistant;” in this case, his name is Noli. He’s 19 years old, and the nicest kid you’d ever want to meet. Both of us are Education majors and we’ve been fast buds for over a year. I ask him to help me through the morass of sign-in, and he does so by taking me from window, to department office, to library, to what ever comes next. When my back starts to ache and my feet start to throb, he even waits in “line” for me; or as I hinted above, he pushes my paperwork to the front while I relax on a nearby bench contentedly mopping my sweaty forehead and sipping an ice tea.
Now, why would a 19-year old fellow do this for a guy 30 years his senior? I can’t imagine a kid doing something like that back in the States. But we’re not back in the States, thank God! Noli is a really nice youngster and a good buddy. I help him with some of his assignments, and if he needs a pen or a tablet, or even a textbook (they cost at most $4!), then I help him out. When we are on campus and waiting for a class to start, we sit together in a strategic spot and assess and discuss the qualities of the hundreds of beautiful young co-eds walking about. (Keep in mind, it’s all innocent enough – he’s STILL a virgin! Impossible you say? Well NOT in the Philippines!)
Noli is also interested in working on his “American” English. Particularly, and especially while I am around, he’s always telling his classmates who come up and greet him in a local dialect to, “Hey, speak English!” Through me, he’s mastering all the usual American colloquial phrases like, “What’s up?” or “I’m good,” or “I’m hanging in there,” and “I’m just go’n with the flow!” You know, ridiculous American expressions you don’t just pick up in an English class, unless of course there’s someone “ridiculous” like me in it.
Seriously though, I like to think that Noli looks at me as a mentor. I hate using that term since I grew to despise it in the Air Force. It was “over-used” to the point that I refused to acknowledge it, and insisted on using replacement words, like counselor or guide. Just the same, my young college friend respects the fact that I have life experiences that he can only dream of, and will probably never get to undergo himself. I hope someday he gets his teaching degree and gets his chance to be a teacher in the USA, or some other first world nation.
Aside from being an excellent cultural experience, going to school here is good for a vet’s bank account, especially if the Veterans Administration is paying the costs under Chapter 30. It’s no secret that we are paid much more here than what it costs to matriculate. In the USA it is barely enough, and actually, in most schools back there it doesn’t come close to covering expenses. So, if you want to learn nursing, programming, teaching, business, or the Dewy Decimal System, and you want to make a profit doing it, then come on over and go to school with me.
Before you pack your bags and scientific calculator however, remember that the Philippines will not allow you to sign up for classes unless you have either a Student Visa or a Permanent Resident Visa. I’ve heard that the Student Visa can be difficult and time-consuming to secure. I can’t speak expertly on that, as I didn’t go that route since I am married to a Filipina, but I hear it can be a big headache. I suggest you contact a Philippine Consulate and find out what they require to get one. Or you can email me and I’ll forward your questions to Ernesto, the man in charge of The SPCF Foreign Students Office. He’s a smart guy and works student visas on a continuous basis.
If you are married to a Filipina, even if she already has U.S. citizenship, then you can become a permanent resident. But beware! Permanent residency simplifies SOME things, but complicates others. What I hate about it is I am forced to pay $50 per person for a reentry stamp EVERY time I leave the country. With four souls in the family that means I am rooked out of $200 per trip, not to mention the annual fee I have to pay to keep all four visas valid.
Thing is, if you don’t have a 13A or 13G visa for permanent residency, I’m told that as a tourist you must get your passport stamped every 60 days or so (maybe even less!), and then before the 1-year anniversary of your initial tourist stamp you MUST completely leave the country and return, so that you can continue to live here as a tourist for another year. What a pain. You’d think the Philippines would make it easier for foreigners to live here, since this place can really use the cash we spend and all the local people that it supports.
A final school story: Last Friday I could not find a single class on my schedule. As always, my department didn’t know who was teaching what, or where. My man, Noli, came through for me again. In my personal quest to locate teachers and classrooms, my disabled knees and pain-wracked back simply could not negotiate another step up-and-down the school’s many stairways, some of which go up four floors. Noticing my physical discomfort, Noli told me to wait in the cafeteria while he found exactly the location of all my classes. With people like Noli living here, how could I not love living here myself? Living in the Philippines: Priceless!