“AN ALL-AROUND SCHOLAR”
First UPAA-MB Inc. bursary recipient Coleen Valdez talks about immigration, education, and self-discovery
THREE YEARS AGO, Coleen Valdez packed her bags and left for Canada together with her family. At that time, she was a bright-eyed freshman at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Fast-forward to today, and Coleen is on her third year of studies at University of Manitoba, raking up awards and scholarships for her impressive academic work.
Eldest in a family of four, Coleen has been surrounded by family members who truly inspire her. “My grandfather was a lawyer working for the Department of Education, and my father is an engineer who, ironically, is passionate and extremely good in writing.” No wonder she became zealous about writing and initially pursued a degree in Journalism. “However, I gradually came to realize that writing is my passion—it’s not an academic pursuit for me.” Due to this, Coleen decided to enroll in the Department of Economics at the U of M which is “a program that I will enjoy and use all my skills, apart from it being very challenging and interesting”, and quoting John Maynard Keynes, “be an all-around scholar”.
Arriving in Canada prior to the implementation of K-12 program in the Philippines, Coleen had to attend high school again to complete the rest of the credits required to enter university. She attended Sisler High School and her desire to learn never faltered. She received the Margaret and Abe Barg scholarship upon graduating. At that time, she was also in pursuit of other bursaries and scholarships, which led her to become UPAA-MB Inc.’s first bursary recipient. She also received the Outstanding Filipino Students award by the Knights of Rizal Winnipeg chapter for being one of the Filipino/Filipino-Canadian Grade 12 students who graduated with the highest GPAs in the city.
After her first year in university (U of M calls their general first year university program as University 1 – AS), Coleen has received four scholarships and one bursary including the University Merit Award, which is an award for academic excellence. She also received the Faculty of Arts Special Award, whose recipients were hand-selected by the Dean of the faculty. Moreover, she is a part of the University 1 Honor Roll in her first year and continued to be in the Dean’s Honour List on her second year.
She mentions that the scholarships and bursaries she has received have helped her in many ways, but sees it to have helped her parents more than herself. Coleen is proud to say that the financial awards she received allowed her parents not to spend anything on her studies. She said she still has a student loan; however, majority of her tuition fee amount have been financed by her scholarship and bursary money.
Much to her chagrin, Coleen didn’t have much volunteer experience. What little experience she has is with university events such as the Political Studies Student Conference and the annual University Orientation. Schedule conflicts are often the cause – not lack of interest in community work. “I tend to focus on one task at a time,” she says, as she takes a full course load every term and spends the summer working to finance her education. She finds that it is not easy to juggle the academic and extra-curricular tasks based on her experience when she was a student in the Philippines. “I do not recommend students to follow this path; however, I would advise to commit to as many tasks as their schedule and sanity could handle and make sure they can balance all their responsibilities.”
Coleen plans to volunteer in conjunction with her work once she has finished a portion of her 11-year career plan. “My plans are in the following order: I plan to finish my degree, find work, be involved in the community, and then finish my degree in Law. Afterwards, I plan to continue volunteering in the subsequent years.” She also wishes to be part of an organization like UPAA-MB, Inc. that helps out Filipinos in Canada. Coleen thinks that despite the significant number of Filipinos in Canada, there are still a number of them who still lack moral and financial support in order for them to be successful in the community that they are now a part of. Knowing that there are organizations out there that are able to assist their kababayan is “empowering and motivating.” She also wants be a part of an organization that assists women who are in disadvantageous situations.
With her schedule and priorities obviously keeping her busy, how does Coleen handle everything? Coleen said she does pretty well in school and received compliments from her professors; yet, she admits that “she is no Einstein.” She attributes her impressive grades from her curiosity. “I am one of those annoying students who have questions and ask for clarifications all the time.”
Coleen thinks that asking questions is really important. “There is always 70% chance that half of the class—if not the entire class—has the same question as you have.” She also mentions studying in advance and visiting the professors during office hours as keys to her study habits. “I try to study and do my school works in advance so that I have time to see the professor if there’s anything I don’t get.”
Asked about tips for incoming post-secondary students, Coleen states that students should admit that they don’t know anything. “It is also important that they commit to as many tasks as they can handle,” but adding that knowing their capabilities is still key in order to complete one assignment without neglecting the other. She also suggests using vacant periods wisely by studying to lessen the work load at home and sitting in front of the class in order to keep up in the lessons. Consulting with university-based support groups is something that students should take advantage of. Coleen cites PEERS at U of M provides confidential support for students who have problems that distract them from performing well at school.
When it comes to the topic of student finances, she says that scholarships and bursaries are out there, and should they plan to apply, they should be themselves and be confident. “If you think you deserve it, show them why. It is not just the battle of the brainiest; it’s all about who wants to achieve something and who has the passion to do it.”
Coleen also has advice for Filipino students who have immigrated to Canada and find themselves being required to study again. “Initially you may feel bad, especially if you have to go back to high school in order to meet some Canadian university requirements,” she says. “But that’s totally fine! Make the most of that experience as it’s a great way to meet new people, try new things and most of all, discover yourself.” She provides an example that she didn’t know she does well in Math until she attended Sisler and her teacher and peers noticed that she has the flair for numbers. “The point is,” she says as a closing remark, “going to a different country is an opportunity to discover other things you can do or improve those fields you are already good at. Here in Canada, the only thing that can stop you from dreaming is your own demise. It may be morbid, but it’s true. If there’s a lack of resources to attend school, the government is always willing to help financially to supplement your own initiative to take up a part-time job.”