Making the Dream a Reality

Angelica Villafuerte, an international student from the Philippines studying at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor is a finalist for the ISV Magazine Margaret W. Wong Scholarship. Read her essay here!

It was three years ago when I moved halfway across the world to begin my journey as an international graduate student. Born and raised in the Philippines, I left in 2012 to pursue my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Special Education at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB) in Texas. While it was daunting to leave the place I called home for all my life, I knew studying in the United States would take me one step closer to my dreams.

The current state of special education in the Philippines is said to be 20 years behind that of the United States. Of an estimated population of 97 million, approximately 5.4 million Filipinos have special needs, and the number continues to increase. Having worked as a classroom teacher in the Philippines and being actively involved in organizations that advocate for children with disabilities, I learned firsthand that teachers (and even parents) in the Philippines often do not receive adequate special education training. In addition, not all schools are equipped with the resources to accommodate students with special needs. I would like to change that.

The author with athletes from Special Olympics Philippines at the Asia-Pacific Bocce Competition held in Brunei Darussalam in 2008.
The author with athletes from Special Olympics Philippines at the Asia-Pacific Bocce Competition held in Brunei Darussalam in 2008.

My long-term goal is to set up a school in the Philippines with an inclusion program for students with special needs. My dream is for special education students to have the opportunity to learn with their typically developing peers. I would also like to be able to provide different types of therapy (Speech, Occupational, Applied Behavior Analysis, etc.) within the school instead of parents having to pull out their child on certain days to receive therapy at a different center. Having in-house therapy would also allow teachers, therapists, and parents to work together as a team to best provide for the child’s needs.

The classes I have taken at UMHB as a Master’s student, and now, a doctorate student, are molding me to become a better educator and leader. Being an international student in the United States has provided me with opportunities that are not available back home. In my three years in Texas, I have met experts in the field who have become mentors to me. Numerous resources such as conferences and trainings are also more accessible here than in the Philippines. I am grateful for the opportunity to be studying abroad and am trying to learn as much as I can to be able to make a difference when I go back home.

With one of my students during OPT as a Kindergarten inclusion teacher.
With one of my students during OPT as a Kindergarten inclusion teacher.

Before I left the Philippines, the dream of having a school always seemed so far-fetched and distant. As I look back at the past three years, it amazes me how much the experience has equipped me to achieve my goals. As my journey as an international student in the United States continues, I am excited for what lies ahead and the different opportunities that will help make my dreams a reality.

[typography font=”Lobster” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]Angelica Villafuerte [/typography]

Home Country: Philippines

University/College: University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, Texas

margaret w. wong scholarship international student voice magazine

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