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Lost in translation, far from home

Two Ateneans recount their experiences in adjusting to college, in light of growing up and belonging to different linguistic groups.

By Lyka Janelle Pacleb

Dormers and non-dormers alike attend Ateneo Resident Students Association’s 2018 TALAB talk entitled Bisayanihan, which taught them the basics of speaking Bisaya. According to the residents of Ateneo de Manila University’s University Dorm (UD), the lingua franca of the UD dormers is not Tagalog or English, but Bisaya. (Photo from Ateneo Resident Students Association)

Culture shock in going to university isn’t just a breeze. Adjusting from high school to college is one thing; moving into a new language community is another. It can get hard when the opportunity to adapt more easily is diminished, especially if one’s own linguistic group is but a minority against the more dominant Filipino and English. 

There has been different testaments of young probinsyanos moving to the big city, or of young Filipinos overseas moving to the motherland, but only so little has talked specifically about adjusting to language. With 121 foreigners and at least 585 hailing from different provinces, Ateneo de Manila University’s (ADMU) student population can be considered a very diverse one. Among such a dense population are narratives of Ateneans finding their place in the big blue sea — their navigation and journey continuing in the years ahead.

Leaving home ain’t easy

Emerson Mananquil, a sophomore BS Management Engineering student, has spent all his life in the comforts of San Fernando, Pampanga. Even though his native tongue is Kapampangan, he began learning how to speak Tagalog and English at an early age, mainly in school.

Mananquil’s familiarity with Metro Manila only extends to the field trips and family vacations he had before going to college. When he moved in to ADMU’s University Dorm (UD) last year, he admits he initially had a hard time. “I encountered several challenges in adjusting the way I communicate my thoughts,” he says. “There are times when I unconsciously use Kapampangan words in talking to my classmates.” 

Not being able to talk in his native tongue also felt quite restrictive for him. “I feel more like [myself] when I use the language we use in the province,” Mananquil admits. “I also feel more comfortable and at ease, compared to using Filipino or English.”

On the other hand, Jochebed Burias, a senior AB Psychology student, grew up outside the country but with a purely Filipino family. She’s also spent most of her years living in Chiangmai, Thailand, and considers Thai as her first language.

However, her parents taught her Tagalog along with Thai. “As I grew up, my parents made sure that I spoke Tagalog even if we were in another country,” Burias shares. “This is to [to] ensure that I won’t be lost when I go to the Philippines.”

Like Mananquil, Burias also became familiar with the Philippines, specifically Metro Manila, through the trips her family had. “I [used to come] visit here once in a while, but [I have] not actually lived here,” she says. “I knew about the traffic and the ‘commute’ life, [as well as other traditions like] karaoke and Christmas parties becoming family reunions.”

Jochebed Burias (second from left) discusses with fellow Third Culture Kids (TCKs) studying in the Ateneo during Ateneo Student Exchange Council’s TCK Cafe. (Photo from Ateneo Student Exchange Council)

In her freshman year, she found it difficult to adjust, especially with how she perceived the use of spoken English among students. “What was difficult in the Atenean setting in terms of language is that speaking [in] English is a status symbol,” she says. “But, for me, I don’t care about that [now], because [I believe] we [lose] the essence of being a Filipino if we talk in English.” 

In spite of this, Burias’ ability to speak Tagalog became her edge. “In Ateneo, [nalaman kong] baluktot din naman yung Tagalog [ng mga estudyante], lalo na yung [mga] burgis,” she shares. “In Ateneo, I found myself [as] more Filipino, because mas Tagalog talaga yung accent ko.” (“In Ateneo, I found out that the way other students speak Tagalog was also imperfect, especially the rich ones. In Ateneo, I found myself as more Filipino, because my accent sounds more Tagalog.”)

Finding the way

It took a while for Mananquil to find his footing in the Ateneo. Primarily, he had to get more used to speaking in the two other languages he knows. “I tried to blend in with my friends in college,” he says. “Eventually, I got used to speaking Filipino or English.”

However, Burias confesses she is still going through the adjustment period. Although language plays a big part in the said adjustment, she deems the loss of an immediate community as a heavier burden. “What bothers me most is finding a community,” she shares. 

“[I lived for] 16 years in Thailand and I have my community there, [tapos] bigla nalang nawala; walang naka-replace in the last four years na nandito ako,” she adds. (“I lived for 16 years in Thailand and I have my community there, then I suddenly lost it; nothing has replaced it in the last four years that I’ve stayed here.”)

Because of his experience, Mananquil advises Kapampangan freshmen and fellows to immerse themselves in the new community they belong in. “[I think it’s best to learn] through proper observation and associating oneself to the present culture,” he says. “Acknowledge the difference, then try to learn the language.”

Meanwhile, Burias gives emphasis in finding a solid community within the university. “Find community; know you’re not alone,” she advises. “And I think the institution [itself] should also do something about it and be aware of the phenomenon.”


Published by lyka pacleb

lyka janelle, 19. likes to believe she writes not nonsensically. loves cats and dogs, politics, the beatles, and queen (as in, the band). also creates her own multimedia from scratch.

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