You are busy. Preparing for something, waiting for something, getting somewhere.
I place the most selfless thing that I have made for myself scribbled on the back of a workshopped poem. It is a love letter addressed to myself, signed from myself. It is unsealed and vulnerable. It is hastily written in pen from a conference where I had to pretend to be someone. It is the rawest thing that I had ever known.
For the first time in a long while, I ate well. There is a Starbucks in the corner that I visit in early mornings and late afternoons; yesterday, my emptiness echoed into a lecture hall, and then a library, and then the guards checking my bag as I stretched back to my dorm. My nightly fixation is how the drone of my stomach is equivalent to a bomb: that is, it is atomic and resonant and pierces everyone’s ears, that is, it is likely disregarded and forgotten by everyone else in history but the people it has directly inflicted, that is, I exaggerate and wince at the thought of me clutching a stomach fueled for days on cereal every other day and a bag of kale chips that one time.
Last night was different, though. I waste twenty more dollars. I wash all my bowls and utensils for no reason and unseal the others while discarding the sushi containers. I clean my room and study for a test I am unsure I will take. When I put things inside of myself to make sure that the body is still there, I am sure that one day I will feel it when it is freed.
There is a dream where I lay in bed and I watch her knees on the ground with the growing lacerations and scraping at the neck.
I first began thinking about studying abroad in my junior year of high school. In America, particularly. It felt like the safest option in terms of diversity and accessibility, and was entranced by the prestigious Ivy League dream (I knew about Harvard and Yale before most local universities, Western media influence and all). One day, I brought it up to my mother and was pleasantly surprised with encouragement. If we can afford it, go for it.
In 2017, Town & Country Philippines released an article called “The Best and the Brightest: Brilliant Minds From the Class of 2017“. Questionable title, they’re definitely not “the best and brightest” but the point on their international education stands. The universities mentioned in the list are all selective–they’re not those kinds of schools that accept anyone that can pay the full fee and boost their international student count, a metric often used in top college rankings. If you do a quick Google search for a school, you see their acceptance rates–or you know, you know that Harvard is Harvard because it’s hard to get into. The thing about international admissions is that it’s even harder to get into than what is publicly listed. MIT’s 7.9% acceptance rate is actually somewhere like 3-4% for international students. It was an interesting article to see (even knowing some people there!) and of those I were familiar with, I knew it was well-deserved. It was inspiring to see students that shared interests and activities that I had who were able to get into incredible dream schools.
It became a mental note: I’d be on that list next year, my story listed somewhere.
After an insane application process that took hundreds of hours, emails scraped together for fee waivers, discovering my own self again and again, panic attacks and breakdowns and scraped bank statements and riveting moments of doubt and oh my god I really haven’t done enough to get anywhere what am I doing what am I doing I’m wasting my time, spending hours churning out everything I believe in and love into words, getting rejected, getting rejected again, oh wait an acceptance–oh god this school is incredible and I can’t imagine–I somehow made it into incredible schools. This fall, I’ll be heading to Yale.
This year’s article had a lot of familiar names. There aren’t much platforms that celebrate student achievements, and there aren’t much resources or stories about Filipinos from here who got to pursue education abroad; it’s a well-intentioned step.
This tweet gained a lot of attention after its posting. Bottom line: it’s true. Obviously, the life we live through revolves and is continuously impacted by privilege: the resources we have, our priorities, and at times–the entire course of the life we live is constrained and dictated by circumstances decided by birth. Speaking for myself, I’m going to be studying at a fucking Ivy. It’s the pinnacle of elitism. The network, the status boost, the instant nod and opportunities given just because of one line of my educational background. The opportunities offered to me because of my presence at this school are going to be unattainable by the vast majority of the world, and every single aspect that enabled me to know what an Ivy League school even is, apply, all the resources, credentials, stories, and all that I have are attributed to the financial and social status I was credited with by luck of draw when I was born. My ability to study, craze through the process and go through self-induced panic is all credited to the fact that I have 1.) the time to do so, 2.) the knowledge to do so, and 3.) the place in life to do so.
The only vindication that people should have ever taken from the list would be to acknowledge that privilege plays a heavy role in the extreme difficulty it takes to get to those kinds of schools in the first place, and to resolve to work towards a world where more kids could dare to even dream towards that place.
After seeing this tweet, I was invited by one of the writers of the article to be part of the Leaders of Tomorrow list. Sure, why not. I sent in the only decent-framed photo I had of myself and was an insert.
I’ve been bothered by the dialogue surrounding the tweet for a few days after seeing responses and conversations about it but couldn’t exactly put into words my frustration with it until now; enough to warrant a post about it. The frustration pervades through both sides.
Above all, this dream is not the extreme elite’s alone.
Let’s talk about the picturesque image of a student who gets to study abroad, or, what I thought at first: obviously smart enough to get by, has enough to pay the ludicrous ~70,000 dollar annual tuition, opportunities, network, media publicity, and curriculum vitae spoonfed by their parents. Pushed into activities good on paper initially, maybe. You know how they joke about the rich international student heading to morning class decked out in designer gear where their parents back home are oil tycoons or vapid politicians. Indebted to follow what might be their parent’s footsteps, knowing the process and setting sights for it since middle school.
College admissions for schools in the United States are a lot more holistic than local school applications. They consider everything from your financial status, your personal background and any extenuating circumstances, standardized testing, your performance in high school, involvement in school, competitions, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, geographic location, race, everything. In contrast, you take a test specifically designed by each university here (at least for the major ones), submit a transcript of your performance in high school, then everything gets determined by that: two numbers. Everyone on that same playing field, dictated by their intellectual capacity and how well their education institutions or review centers or private tutors had prepared them in the last decade.
The thing is, not everyone on the Town & Country article fits that elitist “pinnacle of success” vision. Writing off, in particular, the college admissions process in the United States as a dream for only the most elite minority of people is extremely misleading, especially to the audience of high schoolers who could have instead been inspired and see that it’s more than just a pipe dream. What people need to know is that the holistic admissions process that everyone on the list went through is a lot more accessible than the exclusively bourgeoisie tycoon-rhyming last name dream that it appears to be.
My entire college decision was based on which place would be the most affordable. Standardized testing fees and financial aid applications were scraped together using the money that would have been put into my high school tuition, off because I was on a full academic scholarship. I’m sure several people on the list–international school or not–and other unlisted Filipinos pursuing university abroad lived on that same factor, on application fee waivers to even get a shot alone. I didn’t get the chance to pour money out on Advanced Placement classes or get an International Baccalaureate diploma, or even know what in the world those things were until I was in the twelfth grade, and took that as an immediate sign that I had next to no chance, but still went for it anyway.
The holistic status of admissions weighs into everything. Why I actually want to pursue higher education 8,500 miles away from home, the opportunities I was given and the environment I was raised in (not a private international school, a school that had never sent anyone in all its years of operation to a place of its tier). I had the opportunity to explain my situation and apply to schools that gave need-based aid (basically: if you can get in, you can attend). On the alternative: the major universities in the local system do not offer any tangible weight or need for “diversity” in its class. It exclusively boils down to the quality of education you had, your adeptness with whatever niche topics they choose to include, the language you remain exceptionally fluent in, moreso how ridiculous the material and lack of transparency are on the tests. Quick but commonly agreed-upon judgement, but it’s essentially something that can be perfected with constant practice and knowledge of the material. Whereas, the process that I preferred leaves their standardized test (the ACT or the SAT) that is also heavily proven to be improved upon with practice and also has performance heavily correlated with household income as but one portion of your admission. You could argue that the local university system is in heavier favor of those with well-off educational backgrounds, and those with more resources and opportunity, in terms of pure admission factors.
What actually enables someone to have the resources to perform well in school, be it GPA as an indicator for work ethic requiring a student to consistently submit and do well on homework–an impossibility for most–or standardized testing as a metric of innate intelligence or ability to repeatedly study for a test? Privilege is rooted towards that, which is why it shouldn’t exist as the lone metric, and is decidedly advantageous for students of different backgrounds and not just the homogenous legacy-line applicant that would be thought to be commonplace.
Picture equal playing fields on a numerical factor for college admissions abroad. Using GPA, the video illustrates how things would work out. Most notably, the student with the 2.8 GPA is unfairly favored by the system due to donating huge amounts of money to the school–but you see that with all the other factors into play, there’s a lot more weight on who you are, your story, and the diversity you offer to class. Admission officers moreover, are trained to understand and favor high achievers from more disadvantaged backgrounds, especially when admitting internationals for geographic diversity. In America, race plays a huge factor as standardized testing scores display favor towards more generally well-off races. In this case, the application process does not simply disregard the inequality. Instead, it offers a lower “threshold” of expectation for applicants of that certain race. This is one out of many examples of admission officers understanding the barred equalities rooted in privilege and try to alleviate it. Of course, the process is flawed and affirmative action is widely debated, but it’s safe to say that there are much stronger and significant attempts to balance the playing field.
It’s a system like this that enables students like me and from other high schools with the right amount of resources to have a chance to even apply given the interest, perseverance, and the right amount of funds to go through the initial process. Ultimately, it’s still a draw of luck: is the school, knowing our financial status and our need for financial aid, willing to accept us over another lower-achieving but richer international? It’s a gain of 280,000 dollars for them over four years in contrast to maybe 12,000. Are we the right person applying to the right school with the right interests with the right background with the right circumstances with the right mood of the admission officer glancing over us and all our numbers and hopes and dreams and agh maybe you’ll just be placed into another pile because they’re really not feeling a trumpet-playing biology major today… You get the picture. The opportunity however, remains there.
There are international applicants alongside me who faced countless waitlists and rejections because of the amount of money we can offer. There are international applicants alongside me with just a laptop, waivers, and endless desperation with internet soul-searching and external scholarships in tow still struggling to pay for the flight going there, but do it anyway in pursuit of a better education. There are international applicants alongside me that forgone eating and time spent with their family to work, earn money on the side, and focus solely on the application process. There are international applicants alongside me that tore apart their families and applied backhanded in desperation, and made it work. There are international applicants that hold stories that you can’t imagine, There are international applicants that breezed through it with private tutors, essay coaches, opportunity coaches, parent networks and parties that landed them an easy spot.
It’s only through things like the holistic nature of the American application process that students like me could have tried despite not ticking all the marks of what a good applicant should be, or even personally meeting the bottom 25% of scores for what most of these schools had. It levels the playing field with students from 1,200,000 peso a year schools and disregards money (ability to attend) and numbers as the only indicators for acceptance, letting students from more unconventional backgrounds apply. I’ve had friends from underrepresented countries and really low-income backgrounds get full-rides, perhaps not to Ivy League schools but neither did they need perfect standardized tests and scores–simply because their story was worth believing in.
There are those stories too, of people who began from close to nothing or random no name schools and families that strived through the process: whether succeeding long enough academically to receive scholarships to private high schools that offered them more opportunities, or being a newsworthy riser that defied odds and made it to exclusive schools, then entering that elite. But: the potential lies to anyone with the right amount of resources at a barrier that isn’t really unprecedented to a still notable amount of Filipinos. We are a far cry from it being accessible to the vast majority of Filipinos, but to a good amount of high schoolers that would have otherwise never thought of the possibility, the opportunity is there.
It’s good to encourage people to pursue higher education abroad as well if they have the passion for it and believe it would ultimately be beneficial to the nationalism and acts they can do. It’s good to spread stories to the middle-class who hold a fair amount of resources and enough determination that this is more than just something for the extreme elite. The American system I and others on the list aimed for is more reliant on just the right amount of luck, personal conviction, and that threshold of ability to apply than it is pure cash, international schooling status, standardized testing prep, and IB diplomas. The dream I had, one that I thought was an impossibility, is a dream that many more deserve to share.
On invalidation (it’s not.)
From the very beginning, being able to consider studying abroad alone, getting affirmation from my mom, and having time and strength to pursue the process is a testament to privilege and the position I had in life that allowed me to get here.
There are students who don’t even get to attend class or receive any form of education. There are incredibly advanced students that have to drop out to work, or are displaced and lose the opportunity to learn. There are students with unrealized potential, far more capable and intelligent than I could ever be, betrayed by the society we live in and the inherent lack of justice and balance in life. (And god, do I hope to be part of lessening that one day.)
“There are” students is an understatement; the reality is that most Filipinos will never have the chance. I consider myself somewhat hardworking, and someone could do what I do and a thousand times more but still never be able to know what Yale is, and it’s a reality that I acknowledge while bearing incredible contempt for. The 12,000 dollars I quoted is considered low for internationals wanting to study abroad, but is an amount most families here would never even make in their lifetime.
The original tweet shouldn’t be seen as a direct attack, and it’d also be pretty funny for someone like me, who was elevated to this place by getting accepted into the school of my caliber, to be disdained at someone pointing out a very true barrier. Literally, the collective Ivy League meme group is called “Elitist Memes for Ivy League Teens”.
Words can’t express how grateful I am to have even been given a shot at getting rejection letters from schools, or to stumble out in confusion of taking my first American-sealed standardized test, or to convince my counselor (my school has a guidance counselor!) despite having to literally get on her computer and use it myself to explain the steps of a very foreign to both of us system. I cried every night (and randomly publicly loll) for nearly two months because of fear over the process and how I was wasting time and how I really wanted to eat more than one meal for two days because I felt like I was dying but I had to save and work on the things for my application and my parent’s money last year–and that’s something that very few people can cry about. Privilege existed when I even had the opportunity to gather funds for my application fees. Privilege existed when I even had the opportunity to collapse from exhaustion over anything school-related. Privilege existed with all the problems I had, be it the mental health issues that I went through, the stress over school, or anything.
It’s more of nitpicking on the irrational attacks, I guess. Aside from the tweets offhandedly telling everyone on the list to gouge their eyes out or the ones assuming that we’re all going to become investment bankers or actuarial scientists sending out LinkedIn requests all day that will abandon the country completely because studying abroad and the mere existence of the F-1 Visa is the greatest form of desertion, the criticism is more than fair.
We are incredibly privileged to different degrees, but all face realities that a huge portion of Filipinos will never have the chance to experience. Breaking the barrier, however, still remains a near-impossible occurrence, but there are internationals I know bearing that Visa and ticket out that deserve the applause. With that, it’s not completely just to equate the mere act of studying abroad as privilege in itself. It is privilege indeed because of the status, but beforehand, there are stories of people (that may not be as prominent as international school! tycoon!) that deserve the attribution of going against an incredible amount of obstacles. That exception, against all other students in the country, is miraculous, but it is present.
On invalidation, god, no. Getting into the school is validation in itself already from chance and being favored by whatever odds out there, especially as I was a student needing a near-full amount of financial aid–the same should be said of anyone else sharing a similar path.
Privilege is something that I can say explained everything that comprised me: my education, financial aid requirements, vocation, activities and interests, essays, dreams–but it’s not what all of those only are.To take it as an attack is selfishly defensive, especially as someone of that status. Privilege had everything to do with my ability to work hard, be smart, and pursue things that admissions officers ended up loving too, but it’s not all that I am and that’s the view that should be held. In the same sense, being of that capacity because of the privilege you have does not make someone that gets into those schools immediately. Perhaps most people may not understand the process, let alone the actual difficulty of it, but inherently the ability of only having surface-level issues such as this is privilege in itself and renders that worry as something that should be pretty… negligible in the grand scheme of things. Does it really matter now that we’re in the schools?It should challenge us to do better, to give back. To put pressure onto a system that shaped us that we have more capacity to change for the common man than what the common man holds.
Angles and celebration
I took the first Town & Country article as inspiring and pressuring at the same time. Overall, it was a pretty positive (yet quite strange and elitist) fuel for determination and work. I know no one who had ever gone to study abroad from the country, so the premise of a list oriented on that was new, exciting, and hope-inducing. At that time and until now, knowledge about international admissions is sorted in online cliques and circles, especially Filipino-centric ones. Firsthand advice is limited to knowing students from international schools, or knowing someone who knows someone; being someone from a pretty well-off private Catholic school in urban Metro Manila, odds aren’t great of this being accessible if even I and the people around me didn’t know it.
The annual article obviously continues to be a celebration and mother-bragging material for international students. It gets attention, and you can bet that they’ll continue doing it next year, moreso that more and more students are being exposed and learning about the possibility of studying abroad. It’s unfair to frame it and be disappointed at it in its entirety when it’s really something about… people headed internationally. That’s the point. It’s inherently constrained to those who managed to go abroad, and though it needs a lot more representation especially from students outside the NCR area, considering the privileged nature of having the educational and financial capacity to even attempt international education, the article stands as it is. Education and the barriers surrounding it, are another issue that can’t be blamed on an article framed for a very specific topic on a very random publication that isn’t even oriented for the mainstream.
As a change, it’s nice to see articles celebrating excellence and education (though in a very exclusive matter due to the nature of the piece) rather than listing off children of celebrities and musicians and actors that look good in their latest Instagram post that local publications are already drowning in. It could have existed in worse forms. Instead of framing disappointment at an article that wouldn’t actually do much than circle local Twitter, I’d love to see local publications filling in other markets playing copycat and finding students excelling in fields despite hardships and circumstances to spotlight. If the Town & Country article appealed to me, I can’t imagine how wholesome one that spoke of a story targeted towards the masses would be in inspiring other learners and students from all backgrounds to continue, strive, and share dreams.
We may not be able to expect the same publication launching more lists to cater to students, especially since it doesn’t fit their demographic. It’s also incredibly silly to expect it from them, or to think that a niche article on only students who study abroad is the sole dictator for success published by a luxury magazine. It’s more of an encouraging thing marketed to families with the capacity to raise children like that to be excellent like those who went for it in the contrary to all those who did not or wasted the potential they had with it.
It’s time to hope that the investment banking nightmare, post-graduation settlement in New York City and all doesn’t become a reality. Instead, hope that every student praised in these luxury lists soon come back to incite change with the added knowledge and formation from their time in some of the world’s best educational institutions.
The article celebrates a very small angle that I’m grateful to be part of and was lucky to have seen the year prior; though I know that what the list presents is a very poor indicator of true excellence in the perspective of the country at large. It’s a small step that needs a lot of work, but know that the true narrative for the hardworking, leader of tomorrow exists in places outside of this and may we be pursuant to creating those. Moreover, one day, a world where it wouldn’t be a place in just a luxury magazine or something “exclusive” for the majority of Filipino students going for international education dreams. For now, the series is nice to have as an inspiration, especially with more diversification and depth on the background each student had.
Sharing the American Dream
Getting into Yale was hard. I’ve made a bunch of whiny posts and unwanted rants to friends about it through the process. Yes, I went through a self-imposed, surface level personal hell with the work I had done, but never faced the objective, harsher reality that most people my age in this country face. Getting into Yale is even more hard–impossible–without the privilege and position I had in life, but most people don’t even know what Yale is. Getting into Yale isn’t impossible for people with the similar resources to me (near full-need international, got through with a ton of waivers, from a non-global foreign-confused school), and shouldn’t be thought of as such. As much as holistic admissions tries to level the playing field for the middle-class international student, there are countless students that still would never have the opportunity to even step out and try. Getting into Yale shouldn’t be possible solely for students on academic scholarships, or with all the extra hours to seek resources, but should be something that should one day, be an education that Filipinos should have the capacity to attain and know of.
As someone on the list and in the state I am in now, I sincerely hope we can create more dialogues that are inclusive of what most Filipinos face, especially to the masses that need it most. Getting into Yale in itself is a surreal, hazy dream that should stir me awake to combat the inequality in the world I come from, especially in a country rife of it with huge socioeconomic gaps. There’s no dismissal, there’s no attack, there is solely a waking reality that should be acknowledged by the presence of my name on the list, having benefited from an unjust system that I then should spend my advanced position towards dismantling. In the meantime, these steps and stories should be advanced and shared with everyone bearing capacity to work towards shifting a system that robs so many of the nation’s true leaders of tomorrow of these opportunities. The only pedestal I am placed on as a “leader” or “young achiever” is one that necessitates and obliges me to make change and time to give back after the gift of a higher education that most can only dream of.
Beyond that, I swear that with all that I was given in life, I’ll raise hell at college and make the most out of where I’m going, do some self-indulgent learning on the way, come and do more than just give back, and reinvent a world I swore to.* With what I was given in life, it’s what I’m meant to die trying to do.
To high school students interested in pursuing undergraduate studies in the United States or if you have any questions in general, please feel free to talk to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I went to a high school that had no experience with international admissions, studied with pen-and-paper and online resources (sort of, didn’t have time to study but I have resources!) for standardized tests, got payment waivers for most things, and didn’t start writing anything til a month before the deadline. Basically, I didn’t know what I was doing. The process is convoluted and I’d love to clear it up and introduce you to resources/help if you need. If you are interested, don’t be discouraged.
*My answers on the article were cut, so I’d like to share what I actually said especially on the questions about what I’d like to do when I return + why I’d like to study computer science!
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
in false things and delusions; the tap
water running to drown out the sound
of the shivers at seven. In the quiet
moments and the bare body on the
camera or the lost prophet in the home
and altar. Reciting His name again and
again will absolve this household of
sin, we believed.
I believe in emptiness, in ajar mouth
and rewired brains. Tap dancing on
the throe of loneliness and kicking bags
over fences; the presence of smokescreen
or radiation in June evenings–the same
infallible empty. Like buckled belts
and car crash memoir, weighing life
for small games and chances and the
redundancy of trying.
I believe in belief, in healing towards
the dead. The picket fence and the
turn towards atheism, boys equating
running and late nights to freedom for
the drone of the system to repeat itself
again. Where momentarily my verse
becomes a soldier, the escape or done
vow to something again–the summer
solstice and the painted moon towards
revival of mankind and him alone.
I believe in myself, in my body cleansed
with the stomach pumped and the ebbing
of a thousand ancestors before me as
my mouth seeps in the alcohol with the
bowels emptied in a continuous war waged
with the self. Remember killing the crevice
so as not to harm the others, pre-desecrating
my funeral for twig, bark, and journals–
decapitating man with the sleight of hand.
I believe in the hold of wrist, the flicker of
light for prejudice to uphold warmth beyond
the bruises. Repentance amidst the four
time bathroom mirror, the seat the only
altar I bow towards at eighteen. In accordance
with middle school, the repetition of my
life and the blood coursing through your
eyes the lock and sole measure of all
my mortality left. I hear the whisper of a
voice and realize it was never mine.
I believe in your sound, in renewal and
rejuvenation. In cleansing and false Bible
stories and reinvention of all prophets
and ring bearers–in apocalyptic nows
and self-fulfilling suicides. In the tomorrow
or midnight sun, in the remnants of
what is good and what is left in a world
doomed before we had even been born
in it–in time we never asked for. In search
of the gaps, where I mind memory and
equivocate belief with a prayer.
The truth hurts worse than anything I could bring myself to do.
Oh, dream schools.
I made this weird promise to myself. I held this weird sort of belief.
If you take enough time to think when your minds are in that chaotic dearth, you see the sky clear again. You see the world rise once more. You see beauty against pain, reason to triumph over conflict, the light cascading and piercing through—symbolic of hope: in good mornings, fully-rested naps in the middle of the night, good food and the extra pound or two post-buffet, your heart tumbling, twirling, and fighting after the climax of a movie you’ve seen over and over, teenage freedom and believing that you are in love.
What I mean to say is, there are many feelings that we believe are pristine and pure. Convincing ourselves these are unique sensations, looking forward to moments of happiness and sense in an otherwise bland and decrepit world. These are innocent reasons for our being, which I firmly believe are the ones that drive our soul. When I speak, these are the gaps in conversation that can only be filled by what you think of me: what does this girl want to do? Who could she become? What do we want to help her become?
There are those days where I believed in hope. Logging into the MIT portal before I could receive my decision, just hoping for that sliver of faith in its transformation to a student portal—before slipping back to reality. An entire world lies, waiting, severance before I know it. The word on my self-worth before it can all come crashing down on a single webpage: blinking, waiting, crashing down in front of me–four, no, seventeen years of work.
It’s more than a job. I had to go in sideways. I just didn’t fit.
But truth is: I don’t think I’ll ever find my fit. These days, I don’t know where my mind runs. I am in the limbo of wanting to feel everything and wanting to be nothing all the same.
But the truth is: MIT will never know me. They will never ever see the way I could have fit in and contributed, numbers and figures diluting that a bit more–the new face 8,000 miles away in crowds of other mixed people as well. They will never know the sacrifices I made, the consistent three-hour drive to school and another two going back home, the way I woke up at 3AM and lived on twenty-minute naps for dozens and dozens of days. They will never understand the amount of grit and commitment it take. They don’t know the exhilarating anger and confusion I have when listening to the stories of my people, trudging against mud and fire and assault all my life to proclaim the words for people I wish to save that will never know who I am. They don’t know the way my tongue twists in blithe–English to Filipino, flickering for comfort in the eyes of people and then regressing once more like the linguistics of conquered lands could ever be our own–lest they ever be for us. They don’t know the way I drown myself in so many commitments so I stop thinking about my inadequacy in every single thing. They don’t know that beyond “technology nonprofit with over 250 members” it means one single girl doing nearly everything, eating at school for only what? four days out of the entire school year because my money has to go to my organization, my money has to go to my basic necessities, and they don’t know the way my stomach turns and crumbles and the way I’ve sacrificed everything I’ve known for the sake of everything I love and the pain and heartbreak in my eyes when the people around me brush off everything I do, saying “that it’s nothing”–or the emptiness in my body because everything has been drained and I am tired of the world and living the moment the words “we regret to inform you” flash on the screen. No one will ever know that side of me, no one will ever be willing to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars to ship someone so utterly mediocre nearly ten thousand miles across the globe: but my biggest fear is that even if you knew every crevice of my story, the heart-tugging moments and all the pains and endeavors that can’t be expressed in words–I still wouldn’t be enough.
And it’s not okay. None of that was ever okay.
And even with a yes, it would still be something I will never forget. Fuck high school, and fuck being on the brink of wealth and inundated needs that since age ten I had not been eating regularly.
And this is the first time I ever say that. This is the first time I ever acknowledge that something was terribly wrong. And you will never know that. And you will never know every other sacrifice I had to make in the course of high school brushed off as I sit down in the side of the hallway the entire breaktime, wondering where I am meant to be.
I become an empty house. Begging for someone to walk in. A number. Give me purpose again.
Don’t pretend you ever forgot about me.
This is why I write. This is why I calculate. This is why I try to transform the walls of my room into numbers and concrete, waiting and praying for them to make sense. This is why I stare at the world, stray away from tests I spend seconds for studying for and had longed for something bigger. This is why I swore to myself that no other person should ever face this, or worse, like a game against education and basic rights is something we have to pick and fight against every single day.
What I am trying to say is, I don’t know if I will ever find more days. I don’t know if I will ever find more reasons. My mind is a deserted hearth, longing for logic and semblances of rationality. There is such thing as waiting too long. There is such thing as this is too much, and I am sorry. The world is so big and momentous and we can only be so much—until not enough becomes the word we use to quantity one another. Not enough becomes quota becomes privilege over right and somewhere along the way, education is a game of numbers and paper and humanity scooted over financial aid documents, deciding if this child’s dreams and aspirations are worth anything at all.
Now press repeat.
One of the brightest memories of my childhood was receiving a gift from my paternal grandfather: a book of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales. The edges of the book were covered in gold; it was huge and beautiful and I traced my hands over the embossed letters on the front page so many times over and over. I read of snow queens and death, the little mermaid turning into foam and other stories that were grim and dark and the foreword in front that warned of the content of these–but they were made for children, anyway.
I remember the story about the Little Match Girl, trembling in the hailstorm and the vivid imagery of the scent of roast against frail bodies and fragile heads: dancing from the pages the sound of hope and faith amidst misery and pain. I remember my mind entranced around a Caucasian girl, the only story that I had ever connected to. Her lifeless body, bundle of matchsticks, stiff and abandoned and the pre-mortem beauty that she had seen amidst all the tribulations that life had thrown at her. I remember myself going to sleep hungry more often than not, counting coins and bills to be able to afford notebooks and pens.
And as a child, that led me to think that this was okay. That falling asleep on empty stomachs (or sleeping in general to get rid of the pangs of hunger) was okay. To do more “productive” things than eat, and that is okay.
And it’s not. And they won’t ever know. And they might picture themselves as Gerda and Kai, discovering the conflict between good and bad and the strife within both–falling out and in love again and discovering a happy ending in the fiercest of snow, but I am the lifeless, red-hushed stiff at the edge of the road. And I never even had the opportunity to understand right from wrong. And this is all that is wrong with the world.
Here, I am learning how to wake up in the dead of the night to avoid all human contact. I’m dreading the moment everyone asks me if I got into something, telling me to smile at my waitlists when all it means is I wasn’t enough; or thinking again, about how everyone around me knows that I can’t get into anything. How fucking depressing is it that even everyone around me, every single person who has known me and seen me struggle and fall through all of this–believes that I will never make it: the lack of belief in me, the sealing vow that I am nothing. Here, I think about every single thing that had went wrong in the seventeen years and nine months of my life–my existence falling on fatality, numbing me to the core and making me recognize that perhaps someone this shallow and shattered should not have even been given the chance to breathe life in a world that could have loved someone so much more.
In another world, the stars are aligned just right. I am enough for at least one dream of mine to be fulfilled: a dream simply rooted in education, opportunity, love for impact and of the world. Everything remains the same; I am in, I am enough. Here, the stars shine just a little brighter.
My idea of self-worth has often been defined by superficial things. For the most part, life has been a journey of understanding who I want to be and what I want to be a part of–grasping onto things that make me feel bigger and significant. Everything we live through is fragile and empty and I am daring to do something that would make me feel alive.
This is a confession to you. This is part of the footnote, or perhaps the conclusion. This is something intended to be bittersweet, or something like that. This is something you would never read.
I am confident that humanity’s goal is to love and create.
When I was a child, all that I could think of was to write. It was disastrous crayon-on-walls and pen-on-arm, but it was something that I was proud of. Happiness was the tangible stain of ink and the feeling of color flourishing through everything–as if wax would compensate for emptiness and loneliness. It was through the sun with shades on the corner and a rainbow pouring out into a home of bad anatomy that I found gratification: hands holding hands to compensate for the foreign encounters that would feel like nothing, over and over again.
Then, I got older and it became something of an obsession. Code would become a poetic fixation: there was this one summer where every single day, I would wake up, write, nap a bit, and write more. I flooded a Blogspot with over 100 entries, all about different things–diverse topics and drawings and artistry that you would believe that it was written for someone. Half of those posts live with about 30 views, and I am confident that if I hadn’t written that much I might have killed myself instead. Writing is an outlet to which my madness roams free. It is where I judge the grammar and metaphors within someone’s suicide note when all they want to do is scream about death or scavenge for something deep and believable within text messages.
I never had to make anything with you.
It was as if living was substantial. My existence (something that I never asked for, that any of us ever had to ask for) was justified and valid without having to constantly create and turn myself into decay. Late nights spent talking and staring at ceilings instead of constantly turning to blue laptop screens and falling victim to overworking, stress, and third-quarter life crises at the age of seventeen. I told you too that I would kill myself before I turned eighteen. Some days I am so confident of the fact that I’ll prove you right. You told me I wouldn’t do it. If we could talk now, I still think I would.
I am confident that humanity’s goal is to love and create and I am capable of neither of those things. Not in reception, not in understanding–not in the fact that those 100 blog posts are measured for deletion and have grown dead to link rot. Not at all when I have died constantly and felt like nothing, most of those days. There is no beauty in someone who has been rejected all of her life and falls far too fatal.
What I’m saying is: the way you had broken me and made me judge my own body until I had condemned myself into this morbid, perpetual state of trying to figure myself out and nights awake with the cusp of metal–or begging you to turn off a fucking game and breathe for a second the way I let you crumble and fall into my own knees while picking all your pieces up in the morning sun or watch you apologize for falling asleep and tell you over and over that it’s okay and that we are alive and that there is so much to look out for and you are entirely mine and now there’s nothingness and not even hellos and life is so fucking painful not being enough for a single person and not being enough for a single word and not being enough with the sum of my dreams and vocations and ideals and somehow, somewhere, I thought that this could have been some signal or anchor to live. But I have never really lived at all.
And when you give someone your entire life at the frail, impressionable age of seventeen and watch them hit eighteen alone and barely awake and aimlessly well with the same monotonous drone of clicks and bangs while you lie at the same windowsill they had abandoned you and made you whole at, you wonder if you will ever be enough for anything. In terms of academics. In terms of belief. In terms of trying to figure out if human connection is worth the chance of severance or if the threat of severance makes anything more than casual encounters meaningful. Like I can try to navigate touch after touch and empty laughter and joke after another and be some mysterious being that brings herself in and out and then goes home in the dead of the night to send out more 2:00AM emails; disappearing as soon as I came, like touch after touch after touch there would have been something but as I said, I never wanted better I just wanted this kind of pained conflict. I wanted that goodbye at the airport and that part where you woke up early for me exactly thrice in three years and I wanted that pained conversation where you could look someone this colossal in the eye and say that you never wanted this anymore and we both know that wouldn’t happen because you could never fall out with some god.
Humanity is fragile. Humanity doesn’t know what it wants. Humanity is a college degree and alcohol and knowledge picked up from song lyrics and satirical television shows by depressed, narcissistic, and underpaid writers to teach the next generation how to laugh at their own sadness and pick themselves apart before anyone else can.
How unfair is it that you still ring in my head when I listen to certain songs. How commonplace is it that we entrust other people with parts of ourselves–the songs we enjoy, lyrics that we sing and turn into small hymns as exchanges and serenades. We put so much value into arbitrary labels and milestones. First love, first fuck, first fuckup, first regret. There’s not much that I can say, really. I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t relive it. I would try to stay where I am now, no lapse of time phasing me, still reaching out. But you would never reach back. It was never that way, anyway.
It was toxicity since the very beginning. I waited a month back then and four months on five, I am almost confident that I would wait until the end of things. I would wait for your name to show up as a guest and a frequent mention on the eulogy, but you wouldn’t even attend the funeral, I bet. I imagine your eyes as soulless as the day you told me you felt nothing and mine when I was worried and speechless, swearing to make you feel until everything wound back in reverse and life had became puppetry and manipulation and interdependence. I imagine you in your room tasting the black char of a body gone to ash, and for the first time feeling everything. The package comes in a few days later and you either burn it or keep it safe. Nobody is sane.
There was a conversation we had about how fatalistic this all seemed. You told me that was the perfect word to describe me, too. I told you that loving the greatest sinners was the most beautiful virtue that one could possess: that true man does not give up on anyone, not even the worst of them. That this meant that I could sell my soul into forgiving you if you were at the ends of the world. It meant that the idea of you was so volatile, that the tunnel vision-drawl at your face and everything else would mean everything to me.
When writing, I gave you everything I could in words. There are parts of me that can never really be expressed in that way; not in the sum of my poetry or online rants, not in the drabbles or the margins of my physics notes nor in the eighteen iterations of suicide notes that exist somewhere in the middle of my iPhone notes and the Word documents on the desktop of my personal computer.
They say that we are worth more than this: we are our passions and our favorite songs, the places we are going and the people we have loved (how telling would that part be if they truly knew our story?), the loneliness in the middle of the night and the gaping prayers or the feeling of dread when we think something is going to kill us in the morning dawn. This is what hurts, though: I have given you every second, something that you yourself hate, and do not regret it at all. The sum of that was something that you easily discarded, replaced with flash fiction and numbers. In quantitative terms, you think of me less and less and I of you much more exponentially–growing, fading, cascading, an irrational pathway with no clear paradigm or roadmap. And god, is it beautiful to love someone until you yourself break. It is beautiful to lie in the corner of my room against your guitar and the things I truly love–to lie in blissful unawareness of being unable to play and only receiving the first message from you in three weeks because you wanted it back one night and then suddenly you don’t care just like how you never cared about anything in your family or in the future or about anyone that could even remotely love you but without the grace of alcohol and the low tolerance of a newborn’s skin. Your laughter is intoxicating but it is the epitome of a boy who thinks he has lived because he spent time reflecting alone in his room, hating the world, and reading half a Haruki Murakami book. You do not know shit. I want to tell you that. I want to tell you that this could have been so much more. That you are no longer the reason for my words but the reason for all of my regrets and sorrows. That anchorage to you would have been setting my life in that futile fatalism that you told me I embodied–because you are everything that I fear about myself personified and magnified to such extremes; you’re like thunderous death and the rasp of fire and the kick of insanity on the verge of living and of loving.
One day, you will meet someone who will make you feel like you know the world at the back of your hand. Everyone around you is beneath you–lower. This is the drabble and dust of cigarette smoke and intoxication on alleyways and streets where privileged boys with sad songs and empty memories learn how to break bottles before they do the world. You will sit on the edge of buildings and make memories that are better because they are not remembered.
You met someone who could have sworn on loneliness and changing the world. You met someone who is everything because they know how much they do not know and seek a world where life is determined by pauses and tendrils of holding on; where human connection is not raptured by another but instead a wonderful, interconnected chain of shared knowledge and learning and empathy but you are one with the flow of feigned maturity and goodbyes attuned with the rhythm of distance when in the end we’re all going to be in the same fucking death voice–my humanity is not a measure of how often we will see each other and collapse and kiss and which girl is the most interesting three shots in and can regurgitate the most lines out of a dead writer anyway.
I never wanted to live in a bubble, and when you said that I realized how far out this would have gone. How I would have been dragged into a life of complacency.
As futile as the world seems, it is worth fighting for. You are worth fighting for. You are worth living to see thrive and succeed and laugh and come back to nothing and the garage door beneath the July rain in every synonym for sorry, and then you will not remember the game you had abandoned me for in those nights where I watched what would have been the pinnacle of knowing one another in a road of so much more.
She is delightful in rose-colored glasses; she is voracious and edgy and everything that seems desirable because she whispers all the right words and all the right thoughts and it makes sense and nobody knows anything, nobody knows anything and I don’t know how long it will take for that to get in your head and I loved someone who would never walk into hell but would stick himself in purgatory and I think I am not getting in anywhere and we’re turning eighteen with no idea of what life is and no idea of what it means to live.
You will meet someone who makes you know the world like the back of your hand. She does not know anything. You do not know anything.
The world has fallen.
Here, you wake up with the only people that can breathe in.
// 2:39AM – March 3rd, i couldn’t if i tried; i gave you everything but i am used to being brushed aside bypeople who have glimpses of my entire humanity anyway
I gave in and dropped one, so my Common Application list only reads (19) instead of that sweet, maximum (20). How did this happen? I told myself after clutching January 1 supplements that I am never, ever going to do that again. I’m going to finish my January 15 ones right away.
Did that happen?
Of course not.
It’s a new year and I cannot remember the last time I’ve arbitrarily assigned something to be a form of renewal. Not new numbers, not clockwork, not time or dates or anything that can be quantified, really. My rebirth is in something far less tangible: in moments of realization while staring at the bedroom ceiling, in showers or the procrastination before one, in long drives home when I can’t fall asleep and instead feel the leather of the car seat tugging and marking my skin when normally it should be numb and I should sleep and drift off and feel nothing until that certain pattern of turns that I just memorize and wake up to right before we head home.
I wonder if I’ll remember those patterns a few months from now. The bump of the car ride, walking through the gate, or the nod of the sky down towards my daily grind; I wonder if any of this matters. If I should be taking int
The hardest part about this process, as I’ve told many others, is the uncertainty of it all. It’s either me depositing my enrollment at a local university (of which the only two that I’ve applied to, I got into, first choice and all). My first decision from my international applications comes this February 2, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I have no idea what it could mean, or what to expect; I just know that soon, I’ll be facing a string of rejections–something that is honestly unfamiliar to me, something that I have to learn inevitably.
Before the Ateneo decisions came out, I was afraid. I totally messed up the math portions of the test. I literally forgot how to do basic problems involving averages because my mind was so convoluted and out of it; it came from panic and fear and realization that I hadn’t studied or prepared at all–the most preparation coming from me is taking pictures of someone’s reviewer a week beforehand and not really doing anything with those questions until the night before and panicking a bit because what am I doing am I ready oh god. The last thing I remember from that night was relearning the trigonometric values for common angles, then everything a blur. Dizzy from the test. First post-standardized testing coma. I was convinced that, if anything, I’d just get into my third choice–the only non-honors course from my selection, which was Creative Writing. I would be fine with that.
When they announced that results were coming out in a few hours, I started panicking. No way I got into Computer Science with my mind at that state.
I watched a livestream, the blur passing by an abundance of As from Abad, Acuna and beyond. Then, I saw a glimpse of a name a bit too long. I paused and rewinded a bit, waited for the 180p to manifest itself into at least a barely visible 360p, then I saw my name.
I apologized to the people I confessed my fear to earlier, and then I felt nothing. Like another check on the college spreadsheet, except it isn’t even going on it. It’s just a fact. I waited again for DLSU, my name passing and flashing in with a “Congratulations,” and all I could think was that it was just a fact.
It’s literally impossible.
I apply, and pour my soul out into things that will never matter. Stupid things that humans do, right? Acting beyond rationality and logic, 0.0000001%, nothing redeeming, nothing that could potentially…
Yet, I know. So I tell myself to not open it. Because I know what’s behind that decision portal already, and I know no packages are going to make their way here. I know my entire human being is a waste; that even if I were born another way or took some other path–it’s the fact that this one didn’t quite make the cut for basic human decency. I hate myself more than anyone else could, really.
Whenever I think about college acceptances, I fantasize about making everybody around me proud. I think about their cheers when saying, “See? I always told you,” or “of all people, it would be you.” I think about how they would congratulate me in the hallways and recite the names of the colleges I get in during graduation, I think about receiving some sort of recognition for my pursuits in science and technology–sometimes, I dream about the silver MIT tube, the celebratory dance and how I would be the first after someone so godlike last year. That I won’t have to worry about being “average” because I made it into my dream school, one of the only places on the list that I breathe in and long to do countless things towards and how I am going to make up for anyone’s doubts–I will live in those hallways and produce research and laugh and smile because I am driven by creation and engineering and numbers and the world and I know they are too.
Then, reality comes again, and I think about myself on the fourteenth of March (or, a day later for me), in the morning and opening my first rejection and telling my parents only weeks later and apologizing for the money spent and how the interview could have went better and maybe, maybe if I tested better and was a bit more genuine and just understood how statistics and the odds were always against me, were always a bitter war that waged on and on that I could never just step in and save myself from because how I take tests in sittings I cannot begin to understand dictate my future and the boundaries that hold and maybe in my whole life I’ve never really deserved places like this and then:
I have to forget the image of my mom, screenshotting and finally speaking up against all the repeats. Alternatively, the weight placed on my grandmother, the smile in knowing that I was the first in my family to have gone on to a school of this caliber, let alone abroad. I have to forget the picturesque bow upon graduation, them trailing off the list of the 24 schools I’ve applied to with more than half of them as acceptances (hopefully), I have to forget the me that just talks about college applications and the fear of the future because I have no idea what living in the moment means or counts for.
My mind erases the image of me struggling, probably placed in the most basic of introductory math classes to a single step up in science, but shining in every other aspect. I imagine myself, unafraid, unapologetic and laughing in the streets of New England: embracing the cold, away from the mini tundra I create and conquer in my own room for it opens up a whole new world of bliss and understanding–interning at KhanAcademy, doing actual legitimate research for the first time, speaking in a room where everyone else is just as fearful but infinitely bright. I forget about the what-if connections and stare at the 0.05% acceptance rate, how I am not special, how my personality isn’t a precarious ray of light that would stun the admissions committee when I still often remain the ghost of the room when my anxieties bring me down and escort me to a self-made coffin. I think about how they’ll look over the numbers and the words, sigh and vote off an easy rejection: how my numbers alone cannot satisfy, and suffice to say–I am just not enough.
I think about how I would write 50,000 words for MIT. Maybe even more. But then, I’d do that for everyone.
What have I done, really?
I’m going somewhere I deserve, I think.
Even if I dread the place, that means it’s up to me to suffer and make the most out of it or just live through it in the pain and die or something. If I love the place, then”fit” is a word that means something and is of semblance. I think about how I’m desperate to find myself at a place that would also love me the way I love it, so I’m living on the brink of everything and on the notion that it would make sense, I hope. It would be what I deserve, whatever it is.
At times, I wonder what I’ve accomplished in seventeen years of living. After realizing how my answers shit from self-anger, brink of relapse “nothings” to god-complex variants of “everything,” the answer is truly subjective. What matters though, is everything laid out objectively, what they can draw out from the hours per week and the weeks per year and how I cannot possibly contain every night I’ve cried working on something believing that I could do this until I drop dead, or the days where I revel in how far we’ve gone.
Nothing, I’ve done nothing in the sense that everyone around me does make me feel like it’s nothing. Nothing in the sense that it feels like I’m getting to every deadend; that perhaps if this is what I want to do as well, that my life’s journey is going to take me to this hell. I feel remorse and anger whenever I hear people speaking about their story and journey–thinking “holy shit I do what they do in months in mere days” and how my drive will never really set me apart if I don’t make the connections and whatnot to push things forward.
But, I don’t enjoy talking or pushing myself up for awards. I enjoy making, writing, discovering. I am perfectly content with being undiscovered myself for as long as I can endlessly fashion things and pour my soul into it allthat I do. Every single second not spent doing something I label productive, I call wasted–I feel endlessly lost to a system that drives me for all the reasons, and I call myself nothing and become nothing indeed.
What have I accomplished? Nothing, really. Nothing at all.
Everyone else is so fucking fantastic, but there’s a point where this no longer drives me to do better and, with zero affirmation, makes me wonder why I am here at all, in this place. Why I walk through these halls and see how depressing it is that our lessons are behind and that potential and future is dead and lost in redirections and waitlists and should I not be more than this, part of some bigger picture?
He is so fucking condescending, but it’s for the best–reaffirming all my fears. I will never be happy with who I am, and I will never go anywhere.
I honestly don’t think my “fit” is here. There’s something and a longing for more, there’s this dreaded unfamiliarity and the way institutions here look at their students–different and snide and condescending in contrast to the value and worth I feel, even for a moment, in places beyond. I think about how I feel absolutely nothing: pity, remorse, a wish that perhaps, someone else more deserving and more fitting would take this slot–determined only by useless numbers and a transcript and a score from a poorly-made test.
Then, I think about self-worth and belief and that maybe I am also what I want: I am the passion I have and the person I portrayed in my writing, I am the ambition in cluttered additional informations and the fear in the common application essay. I am the drive in endless hours and the soft voice with nervous laughter trembling in the interviewer’s notes, the standout standin in the recommendations. I am vulnerability in the short answers and strange, awkward quips in lapses of verse: the rushed submissions and the fourth read that still doesn’t make sense.
Perhaps, I deserve to feel something. Perhaps it is universal that we do not always get what we deserve; in its most theistic sense, this is all a chaotic dance. No fate, no bigger things. All that is left is to pull it out, a lock or clasp that puts us out of our misery.
Over the weekend, after sulking into an existential abyss of holiday depression (my regularly scheduled Christmas one that just kind of happens because of traumatic incidents that happened in my adolescent, formative years) I got an idea for a game.
Greetings. It is 11PM on a Sunday night and I am dying. Normally this doesn’t happen until about 4AM, which is why it’s quite strange. Here are my top emo songs of the year, not necessarily from the year, but of the year. Get ready to go down and get wild. Your local emo (TRUE EMO NOT FAKE EMO LIKE MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE AND AMERICAN FOOTBALL REAL EMO IS PAGENINETYNINE AND BLABLABLA… kidding) is about to show you what true torment in the form of soundwaves and lyrically-induced existential crisis is all about.