When it comes to inspiring people from the Philippines, there are seemingly countless — even those who have yet to finish high school. There’s just something about their Filipino values and Filipino resilience that make them stand out to top colleges and universities.
Now, this isn’t an easy feat. Getting admitted into Harvard or any other Ivy League institution as a Filipino means competing with hundreds and thousands of other ambitious applicants from all over the world — people who probably had better schools, better governments and better opportunities. Winning a scholarship is even tougher — if there are fewer spaces to fill, there are even fewer scholarships available.
We have much to learn from those who do make it. These inspiring people from the Philippines can help us grow and realise what is possible within ourselves. Here are five young people from the Philippines who got full scholarships to top US unis and tickets to brighter futures:
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1. Xyza Cruz Bacani
Xyza Cruz Bacani was a cleaner and nanny in Hong Kong before becoming a global icon. Like her ancestors, she was part of the “people you don’t read about in history books.” “They are unseen and unheard,” she shares on Instagram. Today, she’s making new history as not just a Filipina documentary photographer and author whose work capturing the lives of Filipino migrant workers has been featured on CNN and New York Times, but also a graduate of New York University.
It all started by borrowing money from her HK employer to buy a camera. With talent, a great back story and a whole lot of grit, her photos were recognised by the editors of New York Times and profiled on the newspaper’s photography-focused Lens blog. It was “a rollercoaster ride” after that — Bacani was awarded a Human Rights Fellowship by the Magnum photographic agency. She left her job as a nanny and cleaner and to study at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.
2. Benjamin Arches Baui
Benjamin Arches Baui, from the Advance Montessori Education Center of Isabela, has achieved what many will think impossible. He was not only admitted to seven universities abroad — but won scholarships too. These universities were Arizona State University, Xavier University in Ohio, University of Arizona, Merrimack College in Massachusetts, Syracuse University in New York, Jacob University in Bremen, Germany. He received scholarships, the highest of which was US$100,000.
3. EJ Obiena
EJ Obiena, the Asian men’s pole vault record holder, is a recipient of the Olympic Solidarity Scholarships (OSS) by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Together with nine other Filipino athletes, they will each receive a grant of US$833 a month until the Paris 2024 Olympics. They will also get to use training facilities, work with a specialist coach, receive regular medical and scientific assistance as well as accident and illness insurance, and have their board and loading paid for. Travel costs to get to competitions and Paris 2024 qualification events are included as well.
4. Cheska Galve
Cheska Galve was admitted into three Japanese business schools (Hitotsubashi ICS, Waseda, and NUCB) and was nominated for the prestigious national scholarship. Although she already had an accounting degree from the University of Santo Tomas and a career at SGV & Co. (a member firm of Ernst & Young), Philippine’s top audit and professional services firm, she wanted more experience in Japanese business practices, despite knowing how notoriously difficult it is for a foreigner to break into the local industry. Although she had to juggle a full-time job, studying for the tough GMAT exam and the pre-advanced level of the Japanese language proficiency test every day, and writing essays for each B-school, she succeeded.
“On top of core MBA courses, I wanted to learn more about Japanese business and economy, do internships with Japanese companies, and improve my Japanese language skills,” she told GMAT Club. “I won’t be able to do these activities anywhere else, so it only made sense for me to pursue my MBA in Japan.”
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5. Catherine Tan
In April 2022, Catherine Tan joined the likes of NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, policy analyst in the Obama administration Bilal Mahmood, former Malaysian minister Yeo Bee Yin and the guy who completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. She became the fifth Filipino national and only the second Filipino woman to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
“Gates is simply an award that celebrates intellectuals who know how to turn their ideas into passion projects. And those passion projects into lasting institutions. That’s something I display a track record of doing – becoming a transmission belt across academia, industry, and policy to advance various advocacies, most recently for climate justice and tech through the Climate Revamp Movement I’m building in the Philippines,” Tan told Ateneo De Manila.