In a state of siege

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AIt’s Sunday and I’ve done half my step quota for the day, walking/jogging on my way to pick up a 5lb tub of peanut butter. (That’s another post altogether..). I gave myself the luxury of sleeping in this morning, in large part due to waiting up for the 16 year old who went to a friend’s house to watch the boxing match last night. I thought I’d pick up brunch at the Paris Baguette along the way and sit and just enjoy a moment of quiet.

I needed a “me moment” because I know this coming week will be busy at work. I picked up my treats, went to sit at what appeared to be a safely distanced table in the dining area and picked up my phone to read. It was a choice between the New York Times app and my email prompts regarding new reads from fellow bloggers who are among a handful I follow. I chose the latter.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting other blogs when I get the chance — it’s like a silent and extended conversation in my mind. It’s a source of inspiration and helps me to ground my thinking in general. These are the thoughts of people who actually find the same release I do in putting my words down into a corner of the web. I know how it feels — I can relate. I only wish I could do it more often. Alas, there are not enough hours in a day.. and there are a dozen things I wish I could do more regularly but have no time.

I read Island Traveler’s post where he asks the question: What Happens if U.S. Run Out of Hospital Beds and Medical Staff by Christmas? For the first time in a long time, I read a blog post from start to finish, actually left a comment, and was moved enough to write about it here in my corner of the web.

Island Traveler is a blog by a fellow Filipino who had stumbled into me and thus started one of those silent conversations. He is a health care worker on the other side of the country. He has enthralled me with his photography and very profound photo essays. This time, though, he moved me just as another denizen of this great United States of America which, like most of the world, is currently in crisis because of the pandemic.

I wrote a comment in response to his post but I felt a need to reply in a longer fashion here because I feel what he is saying. Literally.

Earlier during the infancy of this crisis, New York was the epicenter of fear, panic and death. We froze with the realization that we were being overwhelmed by a force that we had to race against. We applauded our front liners who faced the crisis head on. We appealed for federal assistance and help from the medical professionals from other states and they came. We all came together as a community to grieve the dead who had to be kept in refrigerated vans, with funeral homes backed up.

I watched the news almost the whole time I was awake, as I saw families with medical professionals going into their houses through windows and the basement or garage, and sacrificing not hugging or kissing their children for days on end, afraid they would bring home the virus to them. There were lots of tears for the patients who were dying faster than they could be attended to, and tears of fear for the scarce personal protective equipment they needed. There was burnout and frustration. There still is.

While life is anything BUT normal these days, we managed to get a hold of the situation. The ambulances that came to our aid with their first responders have gone home. The nurses and doctors who volunteered their time and expertise have since returned to their states– and are now battling the virus there. The behemoth Javits Center which was converted into a hospital was hardly even used– but we braced for the surge. It came– just not in the magnitude we were warned it would, because people listened out of fear.

Work and school shifted to home. We learned to plan our resources to cope with disappearing items from the grocery shelves. And while the virus hasn’t totally disappeared from New York, we lived and continue to live with the shadow of the pandemic hanging over our heads. Which is why I find it sad and worrying that many parts of the country continue to be in denial of the dangers of the novel Corona virus.

There was a very striking news interview a couple of days ago of a hospital worker who was in tears, relaying that even in their deathbed, some of those afflicted didn’t believe the Corona virus was real.

There are many who are still raging against the restrictions imposed by states that are now buckling under the pressure of dealing with this crisis. They equate the mandate to wear a mask as an impingement on their personal freedom. I say you wear a mask out of a need for personal protection and as a manifestation of respect for others.

The numbers have not started going down for the country. We are already being warned as a nation that a second wave is coming. That warning is really for places like New York where there was an upsurge and then a decline– but not a total eradication of the problem. The truth of it is, many places continue to be in crisis– where patients are overwhelming the system. What second wave? They are still in the thick of the onslaught of this unseen killer. Even outside the United States, other countries are beginning to feel the effects of an echo of the crisis.

We are a world under siege. And despite the promise of a vaccine or improved cures in the horizon, thousands are continuing to be afflicted and are dying every day. As individuals, we have to come to terms with the reality that although we may be unaffected, many others are not. Whether or not we know someone who has died of the disease, there are many others who are affected by it in their day to day lives.

We’ve had some scares but have managed to steer clear of getting sick ourselves. Negative tests are not a guarantee of safety, and are not a reason to relax our guard. As a non-medical worker or other frontline participant, I feel it’s my responsibility to help ease the burden by doing my part in trying to stay healthy. As we all should.

I say do more than applaud them.. show your respect by doing your part. Even just wearing your mask will help, no matter how inconsequential you might think it to be.

Autumn In New York

Getting back into the swing of things

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AIt’s been ages since I was here.. I know. My bad. Life has totally taken me over (favorite excuse).. and yes, we are still far from normal.

While a very small percentage of people at work returned to the office, including my boss, I continue to work from home. I was fortunate that she insisted the commute to and from work was not worth the risk, plus there was the boy who I opted to do full remote learning for. I just gave her the option to call me in if the need ever arose. The numbers are rising again, and while we had hoped to inch our way towards “normal” in the weeks to come, there is a threat of another lockdown or shutdown or shelter in place hanging over our heads. So much for returning to normal.

The truth is, I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that this is now our new normal. Masks every time we go out. Social distancing. Washing hands the minute we get home. Having a container of hand sanitizer in our pockets all the time. No more shaking hands or hugging. Being careful what we touch and how we touch things.

I just wrote the second half of this post and it just disappeared on me with a stroke of my finger. When things like that happen, I attribute it to the simple conclusion that whatever I had written wasn’t meant to be published. I can try again, but it’s late.

New York City schools just announced that everyone will do remote learning beginning tomorrow due to the rising numbers in positive cases. I’m not really affected because my son has been fully remote from the start of the school year. The long commute and the transfer it would take was too much of a worry in terms of the possibility of exposure to the virus, so he has been learning remotely. I’m lucky that at 16, I can easily leave him at home if I were forced to return to work. But I am even luckier that I don’t have to and I continue to work from home. Working parents of younger kids are not as flexible because there would be the issue of childcare while they try to put food on the table.

Another day ended in the time of Corona..

Autumn in New York

Sundays be like

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AWeekends have not changed much when you think about spending it at home. It’s when you think about how much has changed about how you spent your weekends before the lockdown and after everything changed that it catches up with you. Life in New York has somewhat returned to something close to normal, but we are watching the numbers closely and hoping the uptick in new cases will be confined to certain areas and eventually stemmed.

I like spending my Sundays quietly and lazily. Unless something was planned beforehand, I don’t even go by the clock… I do things when I want to do it. I set up a breakfast treat and brewed some coffee, sat and ate leisurely while thinking about the things I want to accomplish today. No chores. Just things that need to get done but I won’t kill myself over not doing them. The week, even if working from home, is busy and hectic enough, framed by work schedules and task that need to be done.
Sunday Breakfast

I had things to do Saturday that ended up with me too exhausted to do anything much. I had taken the beads out of my supplies stash to make a few necklaces and bracelets for my sister. I didn’t get anywhere last night so I’m hoping to create a few pieces today. The request was for labradorites and jaspers, and some dyed jade had arrived over the weekend.

Sometimes I need to handle the beads a while before inspiration hits. It will come if it comes.

The weekend this weekend

It’s almost 2am and I’m just getting ready for bed, and for some reason, i decided I would write a post before I tried to bring myself to lala land. So if this turns out to be an incoherent attempt, blame it on the late hour.

It’s been a busy week. I’ve tried to start sewing again several times with no success. I am hoping I get to do some tomorrow. The art journal has been receiving lots of attention these days and I’m actually very happy at how that’s turning out because I am already thinking of next year’s journal.

I decided to take my daily walk later today, with the goal in mind of grabbing dinner along the way. It was chilly but not freezing cold. I walked with the determination of a woman craving a treat, and while I did get my grilled octopus and managed a bed of homemade Caesar salad to put it on when I got home, I think I overdid the dessert. Buyer’s remorse. Too late, I know, but I felt I deserved it. My diet app would tell me I’m being so emotional (with a “baby” at the end, to boot!) but I will live. I will try to be good for the rest of the weekend. Indulging myself last weekend resulted in gaining back some of the weight I had shed, but I’ve lost enough not to panic over it. Besides, I’ve started shedding it again.

Grilled Octopus over Caesar Salad at home

I’ve managed to walk 10,000 steps minimum everyday for the last couple of weeks– seeming out inclines and making sure I walk to a fast beat. (Donna Summer’s “Heaven knows” being the current favorite. ) I’ve counted the steps between two points in various configurations that I can easily plot which direction I should go to make my daily goal. I have been surprised at how close distances actually are between home and places I used to ride a cab to– not realizing they were actually walkable.

I like weekend walks because I’m not pressed for time like I am during the week. Whether I walk before officially starting my work day, or sneaking in a stretch during my lunch break, I don’t quite have the same freedom to walk as much as I want without worrying about the time. So tomorrow and Sunday are what I would call “adventure walks”.

But for now, it’s time to lay my head down on my pillow and drift off to dreamland. I am just so glad the weekend is finally here.

Feedback on feedback: You made my day, Lawyer Wannabe

I had just ended a video call with the family back home when I started scrolling through my email, still lying on the couch Sunday morning. It’s a bit nippy out there but I’ve made my mind up to head out a little later than usual so I can walk to this Asian grocery 5.000 steps away to get some moon cake. (And the store didn’t carry any!). This is me, trying to stick to my Noomin’ and planning for a special treat later today. My excuse: it’s seasonal.. (yeah, yeah..).

And this is what greeted me as I refreshed my inbox, which totally beats any special treat I was thinking of earlier. Talk about a major pick me up, and a heartwarming reminder of one of the reasons this topic is always near and dear to my heart. This email is being shared unedited, save for the omission of the identity of the writer.

Ateneo only has two classes at most (and maybe I’m wrong now because it’s been ages–) and in any case, it is easy to identify someone even by mere initials.. so here goes…

“Dear Pinay New Yorker,

Hello there. Four years ago, I wrote to you because I was worried about getting into Ateneo Law as a waitlisted applicant or as a student who wasn’t a graduate of Ateneo in college. I honestly don’t remember which of the two. I do remember being extremely insecure about my credentials and that I was anxious about not fitting in. You were kind enough to indulge my concerns and you gave me valuable advice.
I remember that  we exchanged a few emails (aside from addressing my concerns on your website). You even invited me to lunch since you were visiting the Philippines. I don’t remember what happened next but I do know that you really helped me when I needed it.  This wasn’t the email address I used because the goal was to keep myself anonymous. Unfortunately, I can’t find the email thread now.
I just wanted to randomly send you a thank you note for helping a stranger out. Just to let you know, I will be graduating from Ateneo this year. I wouldn’t have made it here without you so thanks again! ☺
Sincerely,
(Name withheld for privacy)”

Touched. Speechless. Grateful.

Related posts on the topic of law school and the pursuit of a legal education based on my personal experience can be found in this section: Lawyer Wannabe

Drop me a line at pinaynewyorker@gmail.com

Monday Musings: Exploring my neighborhood

Monday musings in paper and ink

I’m trying to make up my mind about where I should categorize this post. In many respects, it belongs to “Monday Musings,” a staple here for quite some time now, and at the same time, it also belongs under my “New York Corona Diaries.” I will settle on the former. I would like to get on with writing about an idea that struck me this morning as I was on my morning power walk before it totally gets lost in the Ethernet.

Noomin’. For the last two months, I’ve been on Noom and dieting and exercising like I had never done before. The dieting was much easier than most other diets I had been on, but that is not to say there wasn’t any effort. The fact that I’ve consistently walked every day except for one day when the rain wouldn’t let up, and that I have topped 10,000 steps EVERYDAY for the last month is a personal achievement for me. See, I was one person who always said you’d have to pay me to make me exercise. I was totally averse to any form of physical exertion. I was just plain lazy.

So although my actual weight is a state secret — I will share that I have lost 15 pounds the last 60 days. I know I would’ve lost more had I not indulged in a treat or two (or three) during this whole course, but I’m not going to beat myself up over this. The point is that I have lost THAT much — in a healthy way that didn’t see any adverse effects like hair loss or rashes or some other reaction that I had suffered with other diets. And so far, it looks like this is a lifestyle change that I can actually live with. This one is working for me.

But today is not the day when I will share with you my favorite recipes from the diet or the learnings from the new eating habits I’ve acquired. I want to talk about how my daily walks have brought me around my neighborhood and made me explore it and see things in a new light.

Reacquainting myself with Mother Nature’s domain. I have lived in this neighborhood for the last 18 years, and yet, I had never gone that deep into the hiking trails in the forest that makes up part of Alley Pond Park. I have always stuck around the periphery, but never really went into the forest.

In My Neighborhood

I had never even fully explored the path around the main park which I had viewed from the street hundreds of times.. until I found myself there maybe after the second week I had started walking. I walked the circular path around and round the main field, but I soon tired of it. I didn’t want to have to walk with my mask on 100% of the time, and so I strayed away and walked the outer periphery on the other side.

In My Neighborhood

I preferred to walk solitary so that I could pull my mask down when no one was around, and I’d pull it back up out of respect to the people I came across. I would even walk off the sidewalk just to keep my social distance — again, out of respect.

I discovered places in the park where people seemed to be so familiar — and I had to pull out Google Maps to bring myself to the right side of the park I wanted to emerge from.

In My Neighborhood

Fortunately there was enough pedestrian traffic deep in the forest that I felt I was never too far from anyone to hear a call for help, should I trip or fall.

Most days, I will walk around the park — not in it. My days are structured around work, so I am not wont to aimlessly wander and explore. Most of the time, I turn on some fast beat dance music to walk to, so that I can make good time. I walk fast, but cannot run. Even with my renewed endurance for physical exertion, I know better than to push myself and punish my feet without further priming. These two gems carry a lot of weight day in and day out and the last thing I want is to suffer some injury because I wasn’t careful. I need to be at my laptop by 9am and logged on to work. Although I can respond to emails on my phone, I don’t want to end up tripping or falling because I dared to text while walking. (Although I must confess, I do.)

I’ve managed to count the steps around and know which routes to take to rack up the numbers I need. I still end up doing it at just over an hour, but I am pretty happy at this pace.

I have come to appreciate my neighborhood more. I’ve actually walked early in the morning, under the searing heat of the midday sun and during the night one particularly busy day. The landscape changes depending on the time of day, and I see and hear things differently now, from the many nights I would find myself walking home from the bus to my doorstep.

In My Neighborhood

I’ve walked to a favorite bakeshop maybe 10-15 minutes away by car, only to discover that it took only 5,000 steps — barely. So when I walked back, I had to make up for what I owed to make 10,000 going around my block.

I have come to realize that exercise will not kill me. I may not be doing much, but given that a 45 minute work out used to be such a dreadful thought, being able to walk for hours on end like I did in Central Park a few weeks back is a feat. It’s a personal accomplishment that I now feel anxiety when I see that it’s going to rain when I look at the weather app. So I’ve taken to walking with a small sling bag with an umbrella — just in case.

I feel good that I don’t get as winded walking fast, and I can actually look at the uphill incline without worry or fear. I actually enjoy the walk and look forward to it in the mornings.

We remember, once again

Every year, when this day comes around, I remember where I was and all that happened 19 years ago.

Last Friday, I wrote on Instagram across my accounts:

“One week after, we returned. I was there when it happened, on the other side of Wall Street, closer to the water. I saw paper flying everywhere when I got out of the subway not knowing the first plane had hit. I went to work and started getting the calls from other states and even from Manila, asking if I was okay. Then I heard the explosion of the second tower getting hit. I saw the rolling plumes of dust and smoke when the first tower collapsed. And then the second. We couldn’t see across the street as the building disappeared in the thick dust. I waited for hours before deciding to walk home with some coworkers. Dead pigeons littered the streets, overwhelmed by the soot. I finally came upon a working subway station around 14th street and I took the subway back to Queens. So many lives lost in what was a senseless attack. #gothamchickwasthere #weremember911 #gothamchicksays

Downtown one week after

Return to school dilemma

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4ALabor day falls on the 7th of September this year. In years past, this would signal the beginning of the school year a few days after and came with a lot of excitement about school supplies, new schedules, outfits, etc. This year, there isn’t as much excitement as there is anxiety — more so on my part.

My soon-to-be junior in high school had picked a school which was quite a trek from where we live. It meant going into the city via Express Bus like I do, then a one stop subway ride and a 6 minute walk from the subway to school. All in all, if there was no traffic, he could make it to school in under an hour. He would take the subway and the local bus on the way home because the Express bus took longer, and meant catching his ride based on a schedule. We had gotten used to this the last two years.

When New York sheltered in place, we switched to remote learning. I gave the school some slack given the sudden adjustment from in-classroom learning to virtual, which, I can imagine, was quite the challenge to the faculty. It wasn’t a huge student population, but it also meant there was limited faculty presence. We made do with the system, and I tried to monitor his progress through the remainder of the school year. Although he did very well during this time, I couldn’t help but feel he was missing out on much of what should’ve been learned had there be in person instruction instead. But what can we do given the pandemic?

Over the summer, the school administration kept in touch and came up with a novel proposal regarding the return to school come fall. The Department of Education had given several models to follow and choose from, depending on the size of the school population and the physical space available that would accommodate social distancing. Add to that the optimum distribution of faculty between in-person and remote learning. We had two options essentially: one was to be fully remote, and the other, to do blended learning. The latter meant that he would spend part of the time in school, doing in person learning and part of the time, remotely.

The principal of my son’s school took great pains to explain what they thought was the best solution, given the above factors. “Blended learning” would have to be a half day in school every two weeks. That meant that for 9.5 days of the 10 day two week cycle, the students would be remote. This would enable the faculty to focus equally on the 7 students who would actually be physically present in the classroom at any given time, and the rest of the student body doing remote learning. That seemed like quite a lopsided proposition at first, but after it was explained that 10 of the 30 or so faculty would actually qualify to teach remote due to pre-existing conditions, etc., it didn’t make sense to force any of the other proposed models. If we were to follow the DOE directive, it looked like our school would fall into the twice a week weekly, with a third day in school every other week model. It was confusing for most parents — and there was an uproar and some really bewildered people on the ” virtual townhall” I participated in. There was just no way to make it simple enough for everyone to understand. But I found the school’s proposal acceptable.

It’s bad enough that I have to worry about his commute. Everyone knows that classrooms are breeding grounds for infectious diseases among the younger generation. – pandemic or not. Masks all day? I wouldn’t trust my boy to do that unless I was watching. Sanitizers? Okay, maybe that one, I can trust him to do. Even at home, he has always taken to washing his hands often.

So we signed a petition to the Department of Education, endorsing the proposal of the school. And then we were turned down.

Last week, the principal announced that we would do the 2 days one week and 3 days the next week model. It was also revealed that 55% of the students had opted for remote learning. The boy chimed in that most of his classmates who opted to return to school either lived close by or were coming in because of the free meals.

I didn’t need much convincing to switch sides and opt for fully remote learning. I called the boy’s father and had a discussion and we agreed.

As a parent, I have tried my best to protect him during this time of social distancing and COVID worries. I was rooting for the school’s proposal because I wouldn’t have had any problems spending for Uber both ways for that once-biweekly class. But to have him commuting in what is a usually tighter than tight route even just by one stop was a cause of anxiety.

He and I have been lucky to have been untouched (so far) by COVID. There was a false alarm earlier in the summer when his father got sick but tested negative, and then tested positive for antibodies. Thankfully, the boy tested negative.

I have been trying to limit his social interaction with his friends, while acknowledging that I cannot totally keep him locked up at home. He has a small group of friends he sees once a week, with a strict rule of staying outdoors and not going into anybody’s house. We are lucky to be surrounded by lots of open space courts and playgrounds, along with an abundance of parks and greenery. Most homes like ours have courtyards or backyards to practice social distancing in. But school would’ve been totally different matter.

I cannot say I was torn between prioritizing his education over his safety. This was a no-brainer for me. His safety was of primary concern. During this time when it seems like so much has changed and uncertainty continues to permeate our everyday lives, there is very little that we have retained control over. And this one, I could steer one way or the other.

It’s one of the big sacrifices that the pandemic has imposed upon us as parents — while I would want school to go back to normal, I know that even having him there physically doesn’t mean he will receive normal instruction. Teachers would also be wearing masks . Interaction would be limited. Half their time would be consumed by work geared towards the students who aren’t physically with them. It is a test of wills on both ends.

Just today, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that school opening will be delayed 10 days to September 21. Apparently, the teachers and principals are up in arms, threatening a strike as they are apprehensive about their safety and the ability of the government to help protect them in the current scenario. Many of our educators also feel that they aren’t prepared to head into the blended learning scenarios and fully remote learning option that many children and their families have taken. I can relate. Unlike the children they will teach, the opening of school will mean they will have to be in every day. The cadence of school attendance was offered to the students — but not to the teachers.

Many working parents have been thrown in a bind due to this postponement of the school opening, particularly those who were relying on a semblance of normalcy with the kids off to school. Some companies have actually slowly started going back to work, although many companies have declared they would return next year. Still, parents who don’t have the option to work from home or stay at home are now caught between a rock and a hard place.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work from home all this time. I will not complain about the difficulty of doing what I had been used to doing in the office in my dining room. I am fully connected. Most importantly, I am continuing to work full time. We will eventually return to work, and while that is a source of mild anxiety, it is something I can prepare myself for both mentally and physically.

We all have to make adjustments. While I believe I am getting the short end of the stick with the option of keeping my boy home to learn remotely or sending him out into a Covid-ridden world on his own to go back to school, I will take the lesser of two evils. I have my own anxiety about the fall and all the things that go with it in this new normal. I had always lived by the tenet that although there is much that we cannot control, we must be firm about those that we have a handle on.

I am hopeful that there will come a time — hopefully soon — when our kids will be able to go back to school and actually learn in a classroom setting. I just know that we aren’t quite there yet, so for now, I choose to keep him at home. We will just have to make the most of it.

Finding time

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AI have been busy doing other things in the real world and I haven’t really had the energy to write. That is not for lack of anything to write about , but I guess you can say I just had to pause and take a breath. I started drafting this post midweek and it has stayed in my drafts folder for days.

I was looking forward to a quiet weekend writing letters and hopefully sending them off by Monday or Tuesday next week. A bit of non a delivery glitch on something else I was expecting, sort of, delayed me. I have been seeing a bit here and there, and more projects await.

A friend actually asked me where I find the time. As these tasks or projects are a source of de-stressing and finding time to relax, I find myself stealing pockets of time here and there. Sometimes, it’s the midday lunch break. Or between logging off of work and cooking dinner. Or that window when the whole day has come to an end and I’m just about ready to turn in for the night.

No pressure. I do them when I can, which means it might take me a while.

I remember around three months ago, I said I was preparing for returning to work. Back then, even with the prevailing panic as numbers of deaths recorded and hospitalizations rose to staggering heights, there was a sense that this would abate and end. I felt encouraged as the numbers trickled down, and the panic finally subsided. For the first two months or so, I ventured out only every 3 weeks.. 2 weeks if there was a sense of urgency.

Then New York started a phased reopening. The numbers started raging upwards everywhere else and that dashed all optimism about anything going back to how things used to be.

So I adjusted my own projections and hopes. Still preparing for a return to work that can happen anytime in the next four weeks. Frankly, I am not looking forward to it even if I know it is an eventuality. Even the prospect of any return to work become voluntary does not assuage my anxiety, even partially. It is a situation that continues to evolve, but all we can do is cope.

I’m still trying to get my arms wrapped around the idea of returning to work. For the last month and a half, I’ve been bravely walking outside.. more to take care of myself really. I’ve been on Noom for as many days, and besides eating healthier, I’ve tried to move more. It takes some planning and getting used to wearing a mask while out and about, but I’ve managed. In more ways than one, these daily walking trips around have helped me get more comfortable with the new normal we all find ourselves in. I always carry a few pieces of disposable gloves, a small container of hand sanitizer, and a folded paper towel or napkin (to open doors with.

I find time every morning, or later in the day when I cannot to get my steps in.

One thing I’m grateful for during the challenge of the “sheltering in place” and “working from home” debacle is that there is now time to actually walk and do some physical exertion, no matter how minor a task it may seem to be. For someone who has always been averse to exercise of any sort, this is a positive change I’m quite happy about. When I see the clouds threatening with rain in the morning, I adjust for a later time in the day. Thank God, for the weather app on my phone!

Just another one of the many adjustments to this new normal we have all been plunged into.

Morning walk in my neighborhood

The school you choose

In the midst of the corona virus pandemic enveloping the globe, life decisions have to be made. There is comfort in the thought that the world continues spinning and each day comes and goes, reminding us that there IS tomorrow.

Although there is much uncertainty about the face of education given our current dilemma, there are hopes and dreams that cannot be put on hold — more so those that involve deciding where we will go, or what we will do. The school calendar hasn’t completely stopped — school has just taken on a new face, until we can grapple with the challenge of going back to what used to be without causing the spread of more infections.

I’ve been writing about life in New York in the time of the Corona virus, and I was ready to begin a post focusing on my day in Central Park two Saturdays ago. That will have to wait.

I woke up to this email at pinaynewyorker@gmail.com from a lawyer wannabe. That was indeed a pleasant surprise and at the same time, it is not, being that my most popular posts in the blog relate to the pursuit of a legal education. That’s the main reason why the posts dedicated to this topic are grouped together under a specific section. I am no expert in this field but I’ve lived it, and I’ve always been more than happy to give my two cents on this topic near and dear to my heart.


So our lawyer wannabe wrote:

“I came across your blog as I have been sad and lost for the past weeks because I did not get into my dream law school – the Ateneo Law School (ALS). I typed “I didn’t pass Ateneo Law School” in the Google search bar and your blog came out. Your stories are very inspiring!

I graduated from De La Salle University (DLSU). While taking the Ateneo LAE again next year is an option, my family and some friends are telling me to take DLSU Law instead since it is still a good school even though it is relatively new (10 years), and also it is the only school that is still accepting applicants for this year (2020).

My question is if your law school would really matter in long-run?
Say in the workforce? In firms or in the government? After I graduate law school and pass the Bar, I am also planning to live either in New York or D.C. And I think it is coincidental that I was able to find your blog.

Looking forward to hearing from you!”

And the Pinay New Yorker says:

Let me preface my answer with the caveat that this is MY personal opinion. This is in no way cast in stone and some people might disagree, but like I always said, I write here for my personal benefit, not to gain profit or followers, or to persuade others.

I am, however, being cautious. I have learned through the years that what I write or say here does make an impact. I have been heartened by emails or comments from young people back home — and some of those that have meant the most came back years later with an affirmation that their efforts saw them succeeding in their chosen path. I don’t take credit for any of that, just that as we say in the vernacular, nakakataba ng puso. It warms my heart.

So you asked if your law school would really matter in the long run.. Yes, it does.

But I think that’s not really your question based on whether or not which school you choose really matters. You’re asking if you should keep trying for the Ateneo School of Law. (It is ASL not ALS)

My personal choice/s. I had only three law schools in mind, and my first choice was UP Law, having come from UP for my prelaw, and the alternative — not a second choice, —was Ateneo School of Law. It was one or the other. I did take the entrance exams to San Beda Law as a back up. That was my second choice. I had gone to college to go to law school — so I was getting into a law school come what may. Being a lawyer was a dream I had nurtured long before I even graduated from high school. Everything I did was meant to get me there.

I wasn’t cocky enough to think either or both my first choice was a sure shot, because I knew I was competing with hordes of other hopefuls. My time in UP taught me one thing — I sit among people with the same if not more superior intellect than I possess. No matter how good I thought I was, there were hundreds more who would clearly edge me out. I took the entrance exams knowing that I was in a numbers game. If luck was not on my side, I would not be as high on the totem pole as I would hope to be to make the cut off.

I also took the exams accepting that making it to any one of the three schools would be my dream come true. Unlike you, I had not singled out one school. If it was meant to be, they would choose me. My grades were passable but not stellar, but I prepared with word power exercises with the intent to “exercise my brain” and improve thinking speed. There really is no “studying” for these entrance exams, because they are aptitude tests that gauge your suitability to the course based on what you already know. I knew I had the English to carry me through an eloquent essay. And I gave that essay my all.

So why did I choose these three schools? UP was obvious and not because I think it is the better school, but because I was from UP, and everyone thinks highly of the state university which is a reputation well deserved. Ateneo was as good a choice as UP because I consider their academic standard equal, but I also knew their bar passing rate was higher. San Beda appealed to me as a good back up choice because of their distinguished list of alumni which seemed to back a solid reputation as well.

At the time I made these choices, I was a full time student, our business was doing okay so I had no money worries, and I had the determination to land in law school. I was at the threshold of seeing my dreams come true.

So as it happened, UP said no, and Ateneo and San Beda said yes. But with a yes from ASL, that was that. I would have loved to have landed UP, but even if I didn’t make it to Ateneo and ended up in San Beda, it was the pursuit of a legal education that mattered to me. Then and even now, I lived by the mantra that if it was meant to be, it would land on my lap.

Does it matter which school you choose when it comes to finally going out into the real world? This, to my mind, is not an exclusively law school related question. This is a question that everyone asks even when it comes to college education. And the reality of it is, it does.

Whether it is in the field of law or of any other profession, when people hear you’re from UP or Ateneo or yes, even DLSU, they look at you differently compared to the other universities. When hiring people and going through dozens of resumes for any given position, your academic background will make you stand out. The truth is, the school where you come from gives you that added edge. If, say, you’re hiring for an entry level position, and you are faced with candidates who are fresh graduates from UP, Ateneo and DLSU and other schools, the resumes with these three schools will be on top of the pile. That is the plain truth. All things being equal and the position requires the mental acuity that these institutions are known for, you would pay the successful candidate the same starting salary. So there is a tendency to prefer one from the so called top schools over the others. That sounds very biased but it is how it goes.

Of course, this is not to say that the hiring manager has no other preferences to consider. Their own alma mater always figures, but is not always a deal breaker. In the long run, experience tops the academic background although it will always be a consideration.

I do believe that the better question that you should be asking is which school would best prepare you to pass the all important hurdle of the Bar Exam. This question is answered on a case to case basis, because not everyone has the same personal circumstances. Not having made it to your dream school doesn’t mean that you are not cut out for the legal profession — it just means you didn’t make the grade for ASL. Do not compare yourself to the others who made it — they might have performed better than you did during the actual test, or they answered the essay question a certain way. They might have better grades. It doesn’t make them better than you — it just meant that by ASL standards, they and those who passed, made the grade.

The Quality Percentile Index requirement of ASL is also very rigorous, seeing the original freshman class dwindle to half by the time they make it to the bar exams. So while working students may make it to the roster as freshmen, it is not the best environment for someone who is working full time during the day. It requires a different kind of focus and tenacity to make it through the rigorous curriculum.

If you feel very strongly about giving ASL another try, remember that they don’t accept transferees, so you cannot go to one law school this year and transfer next year. And I hate to say this, but taking the entrance exam a second time is no guarantee you will make it.

I consulted one of my friends who has a successful practice and is a name partner in one of the law firms in Makati. Here’s the voice from the other side of the table — the one hiring. I am paraphrasing his answer to your question, but he believes that the quality of applicants is apparent depending on which school they came from. But it isn’t one school vs. the other. He separates UP Law and Ateneo law as a class all its own. “There is a presumption of competence and capability as compared to other law schools. x x x. Those who came from these schools tend to have the ability to think critically and question the norm.”

I cannot speak about UP Law or San Beda Law because I came from Ateneo. I know that years after I left and I successfully passed the Bar with a cursory review, I realized what training I got from the case overload and the questions that seemed to be pulled from several different books or chapters I hadn’t even gotten to yet. Even the dress code made sense to me. What had appeared to be arrogance by some professors showed me a different side of the the legal field. I still hear the lectures I heard ringing in my ears when I reminisce sometimes. Through blood, sweat and tears, I lived my dream.

Weigh your options very carefully. If DLSU Law is an option — do not take the relatively young history of their law school against them. Faculty comparisons don’t always work as well as you don’t know which professors will be there when you take a certain course. Also, it’s not unusual to have two professors teaching the same subject, so seeing a star faculty member in one roster doesn’t mean you will get that professor. That is not unusual because these professors are not full time faculty — they all have a legal career. I have friends who are UP Law or Ateneo Law graduates and who are now teaching in UE and FEU, so do not belittle the lesser known law schools, and more so the younger ones.

Ateneo Law and UP Law have very rare “crossovers”, as most of their faculty are their own alumni, but it is not unheard of. During my time in Ateneo, I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to be taught by an esteemed UP law professor — the only one from the “other school” who taught in Ateneo at that time. So to land in DLSU law doesn’t meant that you won’t have those occasional UP or Ateneo Lawyers at the helm of a class. It has also been touted that they have the deep pockets to pay decent honoraria to these professors from the other schools to beef up their faculty.

My two cents: Focus on the here and now. While worrying about the future is a real question that you will hurdle in time, you are faced with the first important step to get there: making it through law school. You can land in your dream school, but getting from the first to the fourth year of that arduous course is going to be a big hurdle by itself. Get to a law school of good repute. They each have their standards — Respect that. And yet do not let yourself be cowed by their refusal. Instead, work on making that your crutch to prove them you will be a passing statistic for the other school that accepted you. That’s what I told myself — when I pass, I will be part of the passing statistic of Ateneo. That’s one less for UP.

Wherever you land, do not think of the “could have been’ s”. Think of the “what is.” Not landing in Ateneo doesn’t mean that you won’t be the best damn lawyer you can be in the future. Whether you decide to stay in the Philippines or move here to the US, you will always be a lawyer wherever you are. You will be a legal eagle whether you practice or not, for as long as you live your dream, survive law school and pass the bar.

If you choose to move here, will it really matter to the firms here that you studied in Ateneo or UP or DLSU? Only if they came from those schools themselves. When you get here, it’s a totally different ball game and another Bar exam. Right now, you train for that if that is your end goal, and any decent law school can bring you to that point.

Is money a problem? Is English proficiency lacking? Are you starting a family? Are you supporting siblings? No. The one big thorn on your side is that you didn’t get to your dream law school.

I get it, the disappointment is eating at you. You have to get over that, and get over it quick. You will have many more of that in whichever law school you land in. I remember many tests where I thought I did okay and my grade was many levels below what I expected. Or those days when I memorized dozens of codal provisions only to be asked about a case I didn’t even get to read the digest of. I remember telling a professor I did not read the case. He gives me a second chance with another, and still, I didn’t read that either. And I sit down, head bowed. I remember semesters when I nervously gritted my teeth as the grades were released praying as hard as I can that I make the QPI. (You will understand what I mean when you get to law school.). I was lucky that by my junior and senior year, all classes were in the late afternoon and evenings, and I kept going even when I had to work full time to support myself through the second half of law school. How I envied my classmates who were full time students — whose lives revolved around being able to study all hours of the day and saunter into class without worrying about rushing from work to school. And finally, when I sat for the bar exams armed with more hope than actual preparation, I wrote with the determination and feigned confidence that would convince the examiner I could argue my case, even if I answered the question incorrectly.

You have the English to get you through.. I can see that. You have the fire in your heart. Don’t let the fact that ASL didn’t accept you snuff that out. Don’t make it the be all and end all of this dream. Focus on what you have and work on that.

You want to be a lawyer.

Law school is just a step towards making that come true. Get yourself on that road by studying as hard as you can and never let go of the dream. And write me five years from now that you passed the Bar.

Related posts on the topic of law school and the pursuit of a legal education based on my personal experience can be found in this section: Lawyer Wannabe

Drop me a line at pinaynewyorker@gmail.com