Last weekend, someone asked me whether or not I think I’m following my dreams. His question made an impression on me and actually made me reflect on what I’ve been doing with my life for the past seventeen years.
When I was little girl, all I really wanted was to be a scientist. I think all children (at least those privileged enough to go to school) have dreamt about becoming a doctor, a scientist, a lawyer or an engineer when they grow up. But things change and so do, sometimes, our dreams. Only, not all of us get to realize our dreams.
I think my mother was the one who influenced me the most. My mom is a Chemistry teacher and she, somehow, was able to show me the beauty of that particular science at a very young age. Ever since I can remember, I question a lot. And I, almost all the time, want those questions answered. My mom told me that when I was young – younger, I mean — that I used to ask things like why does the fire burns or why is the sky blue. And my mother, for some weird reason, responds with stuffs like molecules, chemical reaction, mixtures and similar things. And this will lead to even more questions. Even when science at school only teaches us things like go, glow and grow (kindergarten, if I remember right) I was already amazed with stuffs like the test tubes, platform balance and the chemicals on glass and plastic containers inside those cabinets at the laboratory whenever my mom brings me with her to work. Science appealed to me because it is precise, intriguing and, at some point, magical.
On the other hand, I was very young when I began toying with a computer. It was even before school. I was eight or nine when I started writing simple computer programs with DOS and BASIC. But, unlike Chemistry, a career in computer science never appealed to me. I love programming but, again unlike Chemistry, I don’t share this interest with anybody in my immediate family. Programming was something I did for fun.
I think the schools that I attended throughout the years played a big part on my choices. The Academy that I attended focused a lot on Religion (Roman Catholicism), Values formation, Science, and Technology. The medium of instruction is the English language which is also the primary language inside the Academy. They believe strongly that Information Technology plays an important role in education. Even nursery students have computer class. And all teachers need to be computer literate. The Academy has exchange programs with schools in Malaysia and Singapore where teachers train every summer. Of course an education like this comes with a price tag. We pay fees like library fee, computer laboratory fee, internet laboratory fee and all other fees that you can think of. But what is more important is that when I entered this Academy I became even more fascinated with computers. When I was in sixth grade we were doing BASIC at school. There I met people who shared the same interest with me. Of course, my cousins were into these stuffs back then, too. But we were literally separated by seas and oceans, so, it was really cool to actually have friends who enjoy the same stuff I did. I didn’t enjoy much of the sciences they taught us, though. It was really more on biology. I mean, what’s fun in memorizing phyla or scientific names or parts of a cell in fourth grade? Of all the pure sciences, biology is on the bottom of my list. (Ok, that was just for me. Don’t give me that look, I hated memorizing.) Anyway, I enjoyed astronomy which was our focus in sixth grade.
And then I entered high school and my parents decided to put me in a public high school to have a better foundation in History, Sciences and the local language. (Which, needless to say, I’m very poor at. No kidding.) Now, as with all government ran institution, the school I attended was also under-funded. Although we have a very good laboratory, classes sometimes find themselves lacking equipments. So, we were taught to improvise. We learned how to make alcohol lamps with coke cans or how to make our own distilling tube and stuffs like that. That is then that I found the pure sciences even more fascinating. And since we were under the science curriculum, I really had fun. I found myself truly interested in Chemistry.
For four years we had computer classes. Only, not all students are fortunate enough to have computer classes during their elementary days. Throughout the years, I actually became the teachers’ assistant, helping my classmates out. There were the two of us, me and my best friend. It was funny at first. Really. I mean seeing your classmate’s hands trembling the first time he held a mouse and some who practically don’t even know how to turn on a computer. But we were patient. And it was really a rewarding experience even though the two of us don’t really get anything from those classes. So, we decided to learn things on our own. During our final year we rarely attended the computer class partly because we had a lot of competition to prepare for and partly because we believe we’ve done our share. And it was really OK for our teacher. As long as we submit homework, projects and pass the exams, that is. But we were still very busy with our academics and extra-curricular plus we were also both in the student government and the school paper so my interest in programming and the time I spent doing it dropped drastically. Plus I was so into the sciences that I was actually reading my mom’s college books. I excelled a lot in the sciences and fell in love with it. Especially Chemistry.
But when the time came to decided what I wanted to do with my life, I was utterly confused. A number of teachers (most of them from the science department) expected me to pursue a career in the sciences. Some urged me for a career in literature or arts — someone even suggested theatre. And there was a handful who encouraged me to continue further studies in computer science. I was really confused. And, to be honest, I really didn’t know what I want to do with my life. I applied in two schools only. If there was anything certain back then, it was the fact that I will settle for nothing but the best. In both schools, I expressed interest in computer science. In my application in UP, I also expressed interest in HRIM. (And until now, I don’t know why.) When I applied for Princeton, I expressed interest in three different fields: B.S.E. Computer Science, Chemistry and Foreign Relations (Woodrow Wilson School) respectively. (At Princeton, you don’t enter a degree program during your freshman year. You declare a degree program, instead, at the end of your sophomore year.) But my parents didn’t want to send so far away at the age of 15. And so, I entered UP. And I loved it.
It turned out that I’m training to be a scientist, after all. A scientist dealing with an applied science instead of pure and working in an entirely different kind of laboratory. Whenever former teachers ask me about what degree program I decided to take, after I answer “ComSci” they often say, “Really? Why?” I guess they never pretty much expected me to pursue a career in computer science. They were probably expecting something like that from my best friend who interestingly took up a degree program in the pure sciences and went to the US after a year at La Salle. But right now, one thing is clear to me: I love what I do. I’m fulfilling my dreams, I guess. 😀