The Philippines is a country steeped in Spanish colonial history, rich with cultural festivals, vibrant and colorful, with some of the best beaches in the world. The Spanish occupied this country of 7,000 islands for centuries, and they left behind a country devoutly catholic, with a love of music, dance, and sports. The Americans followed the Spanish, and left behind the English language. The combination of higher education in English, high quality instruction, and low costs make study abroad in the Philippines ideal for students looking to explore a destination off the beaten path.
Manila is the capital of the Philippines, located next to an ideal natural harbor, which made it a strategic center for the Spanish Conquistadors. Far from the days of a slow paced colonial life surrounding Fort Santiago, today Manila is one of the most chaotic cities on earth. Consistently ranked as the city with the worst airport in the world, massive traffic issues, pervasive urban poverty, and street crime make Manila less than alluring to the amateur traveler.
However, students should know that the city is changing, and with the economic boom that has come from overseas Filipino workers and the rise of outsourcing has resulted in a growing upper and middle class. Amenities are also on the rise, with comfortable flats in many neighborhoods, like Makati, close to high quality and affordable dining, convenient grocery stores, and entertainment, from concerts to movie theaters. Students who study abroad in Manila typically live at or near their university, the biggest of which is UP-Diliman, located in the Manila suburbs.
Cebu is the second largest city of the Philippines, located south of Manila on the island of Cebu. Though Cebu is large and still has many similar urban ills present in Manila, the pace of life is slightly slower in Cebu and there are beaches close by that attract travelers from around the world, as well as the notable Visayans culture. Cebu is where Magellan held the first Catholic Mass in the Philippines and where he met Lapu Lapu, a local who wasn’t celebrating the arrival of the Spanish or their Masses. Cebu is also home to a major Film School and much of the Tagalog film industry, but students who study abroad in Cebu will have a range of courses to choose from.
Davao is a city in Mindanao, which is the autonomous island at the southernmost end of the Philippines. While Davao is the fourth largest city in the country, the surrounding large island is populated with small fishing villages and inland rice farming hamlets. The Philippines is often the focus of travel warnings, most of which surround rebellious activities in Mindanao. This autonomous island is a hotbed for Islamic extremist and anti-government groups, including Abu Sayef, and unfortunately kidnapping for ransom has a historical legacy on this island. Nevertheless, despite the civil issues, Davao is still an affordable and generally safe place to study abroad in the Philippines.
Los Baños is a smaller city of 100,000 about 60 kilometers from Manila. The city is located at the steppe of the dormant volcano Mount Makiling. The local University of the Philippines - Los Baños campus is focused primarily on agriculture and is home to the International Rice Research Institute.
Baguio is a beautiful, smaller city in the mountains of central Luzon. The Philippines has two types of weather: hot and very hot. Baguio, on the other hand, is quite mild given its altitude and location. This small refuge from the tropics is dotted with pine trees, artist galleries, and cool local restaurants. It is also home to a University of the Philippines campus, which is focused primarily on agriculture and sciences but is also home to many faculty-led programs from the U.S.
Study Abroad in the Philippines
In many ways, the Philippines is one of the most educated nations in the developing world; you will often find PhDs teaching public school, schools like UP Diliman are consistently ranked among the best in Asia, and the pressure on children to compete academically is a driving force in the economy.
English was such a priority during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines that it become the second national language. Grade schools, high schools, and universities not only teach English but the majority are fully instructed in English. Textbooks are almost always written in English and pop culture is often delivered in English as well.
Study abroad in the Philippines is ideal for English speaking students because almost all courses are naturally taught in English; this means that while students can take specialized courses of interest, like Asian Studies or History of the Philippines, degree requirements for students studying Engineering, Special Education, and Nursing or Biomedical Sciences are equally available. Given the national language of English many Korean and Chinese students come to the Philippines to study English. The Philippines offers an affordable alternative to Australia, the UK, and the U.S. in this regard.
Classroom and university facilities even at the best universities are often basic and sparse. Textbooks can be older but the quality of the instruction is often exceptional. Teachers are approachable though FIlipino classroom etiquette, which is different than some western cultures, respect for elders is paramount, and classroom dialogue is more respectful and less critical.
Costs & Affordability
The Philippines is one of the most affordable study abroad destinations in the world. The overall cost of living is quite minimal for individuals coming from Western nations, as the minimum wage for a full time worker is less than $200 a month.
While some U.S. based study abroad organizations charge more for a semester in the Philippines than it might cost to go it alone, these organizations often provide a higher level of support services, including airport pick-up, orientation, pre-arranged Western style housing and some assistance through a bureaucratic visa and school registration system.
Accommodation & Visas
Basic housing off campus can be very, very affordable, and also very basic. Nicer Western style apartments with Western toilets and showers are more expensive, but still a great deal in comparison to counterpart housing options in Europe or North America.
Student visas need to be arranged in order to study abroad in the Philippines, either through a study abroad program provider or direct with a local university. A letter of acceptance is required for direct enrollment. Tourist visas can be obtained upon arrival and are good for 30 days, and can be extended at a local immigration office for a fee; however, these do not provide a legal way for international students to attend classes in the Philippines.
Benefits & Challenges
- Courses taught in English
- Top ranked universities
- Tuition, fees, housing, and international student fees are very affordable
- Graduate courses at the Masters and Doctoral level
- Beautiful island nation with plenty of excursions from diving to surfing to mountain biking
- Rich and colorful culture mixing Spanish pageantry with Asian life
- Filipinos have strong values and beliefs, among them are family, respect for elders, love of fiesta, and the importance of education