I had resigned myself to staying in Nueva Vizcaya after taking the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (Upcat) in 2018. I went home disheartened, because I knew I only had three sure correct answers in the Mathematics test, and Science was the only test I actually managed to finish.

I told myself to push through with Plan B. I would chase my dream course, Architecture, in the only university that offered it in Vizcaya. I imagined my routine: I would continue boarding, study on weekdays, go home on Fridays, attend church in my hometown on Sundays, and hope that somehow something in my life would change. Satisfactory, yes, but deep down there was a longing to find something more. 

I went to Bayombong, the capital town of the province, for senior high school in search of a place to belong. Not a physical place, but an environment where I would be understood, challenged, and supported to grow as a person. However, even in Bayombong I was never able to find that place.

I hated how small, bland, and shackled I felt. I hated the discomfort brought by being too comfortable in my own little world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my town and my province, but I cannot be satisfied when I cannot find like-minded people who I can share my thoughts with. I cannot be satisfied when I know there are opportunities outside of Vizcaya that can push me to see and make full use of my potential. 

I have seen so many young people in Nueva Vizcaya with wasted potential and talent because they lacked opportunities, guidance, and knowledge. I hated that. I hated it more when they were my friends whose abilities, ideas, and skills I worked hard to keep up with. But their capabilities could have been something “more” had they not been caged in limitations like finances, parental decisions, and status. 

A part of me saw myself in them. Of course, the cases of my friends and I are really common. Nothing a little compromise cannot fix. Apparently, success stories about glamorously achieving your dreams that we see in films only happen to a few. But it wouldn’t kill anyone to have big dreams. 

My sisters and I once talked about the careers we wanted to pursue. My father told us “your dreams are too high.” It was painful to hear, because I knew that we had financial problems. I grew up minding our expenses, so I knew that if I had to dream, it had to be practical. It almost felt like I was not allowed to be ambitious even in my dreams.

I had good grades, and I had never caused my parents trouble. I had been responsible, and obedient, so I admit I felt entitled to at least get the chance to fight for the very few things I wanted. I had set my eyes on the University of the Philippines because I was told that the cost of studying there is low and that it is among the best schools in the country. I knew that passing the Upcat was my fastest chance of getting away to a bigger place with better opportunities—to find a place to belong, to find the place of “more.”

The day I took the Upcat, I had 3 chocolate bars with me, because they said chocolate has a calming effect and I had a band marching inside my chest. When the test was over, I instantly felt I did not do enough. I was disappointed, but I didn’t want to let go—not until the results came out. I readied myself for the worst. 

When April’s Fools came, I was surprised because I could make out the blurry edges of my name along with the degree and campus I was qualified for on the Upcat results. It took multiple Google searches, a couple of classmates, and a confirmation email to reassure me that the results were not a prank.

I called my father over the phone. I told him I passed, and that I qualified for UP Baguio. He was crying and happy, as he told me how proud he was. He would tell me later that he did not really expect that I would make it. 

Now I am a second-year student in UP Baguio, although, because of the pandemic, I am currently staying home. My parents spend less on my education in Baguio than they would had I pursued architecture in Vizcaya. If I had not taken the Upcat, I would not be where I am now. I now have friends I can open up to. I found a space to talk without being judged as weird or too deep. I also joined a school organization called Lightlife, where I met active Christian friends. 

I wouldn’t say that every goal can be achieved. I had to compromise my dream course when I decided to study in Baguio. What we have are choices and decisions that can lead to opportunities. We have to find ways to make our dreams come true and sometimes fight for those dreams, because we never know what is in store for us until we finally arrive on the path that will lead us. I’m still looking forward to discovering more things, but I am happy I fought for the “more” I had been looking for.

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