A Letter To My Future Self

Trust your Struggle

My dear future self,

This evening, I am writing  in typical fashion a blog of life lessons. I have purposely stopped myself from writing for the last few weeks because I felt that I might end up regretting what I write because at a certain point, you, my future self will look back and say, “Wow, that was really a difficult moment, huh.” But anyway, another voice in my head has won and now I am here, typing away some blah blah blahs to provide self-therapy. The thing is, I have somehow officially graduated from my masters degree. “Hooray, hooray…” True to form, I have done my masters degree some justice and I am graduating with grades that I never thought was possible. If I were doing it in UP, my final graded average will be considered “summa cum laude”. I have also become president of the World Heritage Studies Student Council, leading around 130 people for their social, academic and cultural integration to Cottbus and the World Heritage Studies Programme. I have also been involved in many heritage conferences and activities that my brain is saturated with knowledge, like a sponge almost leaking with mental juices because it can no longer contain any more liquid. My mind is at its saturation point and I believe that I am able to see heritage connections to everything, like Neo in the Matrix.

At some point in the beginning of 2014, I embarked on a journey of looking for the possibilities of the future. It is something that I usually do, as you may know and I currently call it, “The Six-Month Rule.” This rule possesses me to turn psychic and see where I will be six months after, and in a sci-fi kind of sense, I project myself there forcefully, and in the next six months, voila, I am there. There has always been a certain sense of security in my life, a sense of confidence and a sense of understanding where I am and where I should be going. For the last few months, I have tried to find jobs that I believed would be the next logical steps. However, as I now found out, the world is telling me that this ‘Six Month Rule’ needs to be shattered. I have come to a point that I no longer see the future, and that tomorrow is a day that may bring about new changes in my life in which I will be catapulted to places I do not know.

I have undergone so many different permutations of almost solid directions / opportunities but it seems that at the last moment, these options become meaningless words. I have almost gotten three jobs, and have been considered in several more but there always seem to be something that goes off tangent, like those photon torpedoes missing the targets. Piccard will be very disappointed.

Here are some basic concepts I have learned recently:

1. There are global policies that define who should be prioritised in employment. Here in Europe, its the Europeans first, and in specific countries like the UK and Switzerland, its the British / Swiss first, then the Europeans and then others. I have a proper name here, “third-country national”, sounding more like a third class citizen and probably that is how I am perceived. The world that we live in is unjust and it is not just about talents or desires but we are defined by our ethnicities, our nationalities and perhaps our identities and this is written in our faces at every moment of our lives. We think that we live an a just society when in fact, the society discriminates from those who fit the mould and those who are at the outskirts. Hegemonic culture dictates that there are those who will be meant to be minority, because they are not part of the greater definition of society.

2. More choices do not necessarily lead to better life satisfaction. We have often been told that anything is possible and that the world is our oyster. It was engrained to us when we were kids that if we work hard enough, then the things that we wish for will happen. To be honest, when I first had my classes for my masters, I thought that I will carry with me the knowledge that historic places are important, we should appreciate the past that we have and we have to protect it for the future generation. What our younger, 2012 version realised is that this also implied that there are deeper meanings that needs to be discussed about historic places, like the rights of local people and minorities, politics of heritage and identity formation, management realities and so on and this dramatically expounded the knowledge that I wanted to get. Indeed, knowledge itself is good to acquire but this new knowledge has also made me see the world with multiple facets, where there are so much more connections than I ever though possible. For example, the english language that I normally use for the last 8 years away from my country, this has been a tool of oppression for my real language and it has in some way, diminished my own national identity. It has on the one hand allowed me to communicate with my colleagues here, and them thinking  it is my native language,  but on the other hand, I realise that Filipinos are not internationally considered as native speakers. We are treated as second class english speakers. Why is that?

This new knowledge of my self, my identity, and the possibilities of my own career has allowed me to see that there are so much more that I can do. However, it also has disabled me, wherein I no longer  feel satisfied to just do my landscape architecture career. I now believe I am so much more than a landscape architect. There is so much a part of me that is not defined by my profession, my race and my background. I want to believe that I can be the best human being that I can possibly be, just like what Oprah has mentioned but by removing myself from my own niche profession and perhaps plunging myself to the realities of the world, I feel that I could do so much more. I now do not know what kind job will fulfil my own personal longing.

In looking at heritage, I have come to the chasm that I can see into my own culture, my personal experiences, and the places I have lived and I am left wondering what kind of future I can help shape. It seems like this dilemma is also seen in my own convictions and CV that possible employers no longer know where to place me in their traditional structures. I am a Filipino landscape architect, who practiced primarily in Singapore, was involved in one of the biggest urban development projects in Asia, studied culture and heritage in Germany, lived in different parts of Europe and would like to find a job in a possible field that I can be useful and personally satisfying. There you go. In the pursuit of knowledge, I have broken free of the chains of my own background but  I no longer know where I fit. I have strengthened my voice but I don’t know who will listen.

That is the reason why I write here today. I have gone beyond my own expectations and yet, I have a feeling that the world will be the same place where I left it. I am going to be defined by the same rules as before and I can only laugh or get depressed by it. What is out there dear future self? Because for the moment, I really do no know. Perhaps one day, you can tell me. Let’s exchange notes at some point.



Gabriel of the present time, as of November 2014


Some interesting thoughts during my German Language Class

I have signed up for an intensive introduction to the German Language when I first arrived in Cottbus. We are now through with the second week of three weeks of training. We have daily lessons which, by the beginning of the semester will be done twice a week for an hour, more like an extensive lesson. I am enjoying the lessons, although I must admit that at a certain point of the lecture of every day, around 2 hours in the class proper, I find myself really just dumb struck with what we are talking about. I make it a point to do my assignments and improve my vocabulary on a daily basis. I am proud to say that I have ordered beers for myself and two friends , figured out how much the cashier says in the grocery, went to the museum and asked the for discounted rates for students to get a special tour package, spoke to the city hall personnel to clear my residency permit and I have also discussed with the local insurance on how I can get additional travel insurance – this has been done with more or less half German, a quarter English and a quarter of patience and guesswork.

Let me share some of the stories I have had with my basic German knowledge. My teacher asked me today what languages we speak at home and I told her in German, “Wir sprechen Englisch und Philippinisch.” explaining that we both speak the two languages at home. She was puzzled by the answer and she asked, “Is that normal?” I said the language we speak is mostly a combination but we are comfortable to speak in either Filipino or English. She found this an interesting response. Generally, Germans would prefer to speak German at home and not combine the two languages together because it will be a bit confusing. There are already some words that are similarly expressed so creating a Gerlish (my own term for German-English talk) isn’t really a fad here.


Map of the biased world

Another day, we were also asked to show the country we came from and she wittily said, “The country is far far away!” I never really saw it as that far in my mind – its only 6 hours difference as compared to the US which is 12 hour difference to Manila / Singapore but when I reflected on it, maps usually show that New Zealand is in the right most side of the map and the US is is in the left side and of course, Europe is in the middle. We are like on the right hand side of the map covered with so much water.  Most people would here have not met any Filipino, even the woman in Stadtbüro (City Office) was surprised most Filipinos are Roman Catholics.


Like in Singapore, I have also encountered many questions mostly from International students, why my English is good, and they ask where I studied my bachelor’s degree. I can’t seem to find the right words for this yet and my usual response is that, “We have good education back home.” That conversation usually just ends there.


I have also been asked a couple of times by the Spanish students if I speak Spanish and I say, “I can count in Spanish. I don’t know if that’s the same thing.” I would usually throw some bente dos, bente quatro, lamesa, eskaparate, and ola in the word list and they nod affirmatively. I am still slightly part of the family.


Lastly, as part of our lessons, we were asked us to convert a German expressions to our native tongue. Here was the trick conversion that got me. “Was sind Ihr Hobbys? Ich sammle Briefmarken” (What are your Hobbies? I collect stamps.) I actually had a hard time translating hobbies and stamps to Filipino. Finally I got it. “Ano po ang iyong kinalilibangan? Ako any mahilig mangolekta ng selyo.” After writing that, I pondered when I last used the word selyo. It was probably in primary school.

Language Translation

There is a German – English -Filipino conundrum in my mind. I feel that German is my first foreign language. English has been so engrained in our daily conversations as Filipinos because it has been taught in schools from kinder garten to high school so much so that I have associated it with normal conversations. We can’t escape a day not seeing an English phrase or saying something in English. I won’t dare to say it is my mother tongue because I know that I speak Filipino easily too but at some point, English has only become a tool for me to communicate.  I no longer differentiate the medium of communication from my own native tongue. When I speak German, I am like a toddler, jumbling the words together to find the most appropriate way of saying things. I process the words in English, translate it to German and check if it is correct. We have never really learned or possibly created a German -Filipino educational tool, or at least none that I know of. I rely on my grasp of the English language to help me learn this foreign language.

When we heavily rely on one language to learn another, do we consider it a foreign language? Are we a bilingual nation?