Sunday, June 18, 2006

Back to School – Philippines Retirement, Part III

You 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!


Anonymous said...

I also hated those long lines while signing up for classes. You've got a good deal with your very nice friend Noli. I don't think I'll have the energy to go back to school.

PhilippinesPhil said...

The beautiful thing about school, at least for me, is I choose exactly how much to put into each class. I COULD spend hours, BUT I usually do just enough to get a grade. Sounds kind of like how bureaucrats in government agencies do things, doesn't it?

Ed said...

In college here in the US, I had to sign up for classes using a phone system that was forever cutting me off and telling me the classes I wanted were full. I learned that a paper bag full of warm chocolate chip cookies delivered to the registrar's office with a "Can you help me," gave me the best schedule every time and without doing an ounce of extra work. Them cookies were my Noli!

PhilippinesPhil said...

I use that method for EVERY class! We're not supposed to do it, but I'm the MOST popular guy in all my classes, only because I'm always asking the teachers if I can spring for a little merienda... I've never had a teacher say no yet. I'm too lazy to actually bring anything to class though, except for maybe a drink for the instructor. Usually, I give ten bucks to one of the girls and off they run to the cafeteria for some fun things to eat... Want to make these people happy? Buy 'em some snacks and drinks.

Amadeo said...


Following the dictum that education is a lifelong effort, you deserve a lot of commendations.

I, too, went back for more education some years back, and found that unlike the times of my careless youth, I learned a lot more the second time around. Especially if the subject(s) has one's eager interest. Mine was for IT networking.

Just a caution and reminder, I find that my short-term memory is not as good as it was, thus remembering a lot of details can be a daunting task.

PhilippinesPhil said...

My memory has been a problem for years. I compensate by trying to take notes. That can be a problem because my wrists and fingers are arthritic and hurt. Even typing this hurts, a lot. I have to take lots of breaks. Basically, the old machine is falling apart.

The commendation for going to school is undeserving buddy. I enjoy it, but I doubt if I'll ever get a chance to see it through.

j said...

It's a relief finding an American blogger who stays in the Phils and loves it while most Filipinos would give out an arm and a leg to be able to work in America.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hi Jairam...Like most ex-patriots, I have a love/hate relationship with the country which in I reside. If you read my posts, you will see that I whine and moan about a lot of things over here, but I also talk about stuff I like... and there is plenty to like here, especially if you are a pensioner, like me.

I completely understand why many Filipinos would do practically anything to's a question of financial opportunity. There is very little of it in the Philippines, especially for the average Filipino. I wish it were otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil, I'm a military pensioner like you and I just came back from the Philippines to bury my dad. After 17 years I finally came to visit my native land and really amazed how the landscape had changed with so many houses in lands that were empty before. It was amazing to meet nephews and nieces who were not around when I joined the navy and finding out that they have kids already made me realized how old I am now.

I did some shopping and dining while there and prices are really cheap compared to the states. I guess I can say that because I have dollars to spend. With my navy pension I can live very comfortably there unlike here where I'm still doing a 9 to 5 job which really sucks. I wish I could fully retire now and stay in Zambales. But who knows in 5 years maybe I could.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hi Mel, sorry to hear about your dad. There DOES seem to be a building boom in this country. Most of it appears to be stemming from money being sent back into it from overseas workers or by returnees like yourself (perhaps someday?)

Yes indeed, time marches on. I avoid the mirror like the plague these days. I hate what I see there. My aging face never fails to remind me of my mortality.

The dollar goes a lot further here than it does back in the USA, esp where you live in CA. I don't work anymore, but its important to have something to do...that's why I have this hobby and volunteer as a Veterans Service Officer.

When you come back here, try to find a cause that you can support, and through your efforts with it, will help the people in the community you live. We're all in this together, right?