On May 22, 2022 Halina sa Barangay was held by the Institute of Global Peace and Sustainable Governance (ISGPSG) under the leadership of its President, Dr Zeny Edwards, OAM.  It was an offering to celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity which aims to highlight the richness of the world’s cultures and the significance of cultural diversity as an agent of inclusion and positive change for achieving peace and sustainable development. This year, the focus was the Philippine culture through its cuisine and culinary delights.

One other feature of the event was highlighting the good work being done by ISGPSG involving international students.  This is through the initiative called Kapwa which aims to support international students.

One group of Filipinos which are doing us proud is the group of international students doing various studies. They pay huge tuition fees for their studies in addition to spent for their accommodation and day to day living expenses, on top of the visa processing outlay.  Some of them are able to afford all these through their parents’ financial help which could have involved borrowing money against the family’s land and house, and other properties. The students are allowed 20 hours of employment per week to help pay their rent and living expenses; the limit on the allowed hours of work was lifted when the COVID 19 restrictions finished and with businesses needing staff.

During the pandemic restrictions, a lot of cafes, cleaning and other hospitality businesses shut down or reduced their operations.  This meant the international students working in these etablishments lost their source of income.  The Fil-Aus community has rallied to give the international students food and care packages and some financial assistance.

The international students reflect well on Filipinos with their resilience and hard work while they study. They also excel in their studies and undertaking projects which benefit the community.  At the Halina Event, it was great to meet Sophia Cianne Maranan who is the President of the Filipino Student Society of the University of  Sydney and co-chair of Kapwa.

The Australian Filipina is glad to share a Q&A interview with Sophia to gain an insight about her persona and Kapwa.

Who is Sophia Cianne Maranan?

Hi! I’m Sophia, and I’m 20 years old. My father is from Batangas and my mother is from Parañaque, but I was born and raised in the Mandaluyong City and Cainta Rizal, respectively. My younger brother was born when I was six years old, and a couple of years later my family moved to Thailand. It was a challenging transition, as I initially struggled with the language barrier and the differences in culture. However, I grew to love Thailand and now consider it
my second home.

After graduating high school in Bangkok in 2019, I moved to Australia to
study at the University of Sydney.

Of your numerous awards, which do you hold fondly in your heart as your achievement?                  

Last May 25th, I accepted an award from the University of Sydney Union on behalf of the Filipino Student Society of the University of Sydney. We were awarded Best Community Impact for our fundraising initiative last November 2020 where we raised AU$2,000 for the victims of typhoon Ulysses.

This was our first collaboration with the Filipino Student Society of Macquarie University and my first project as President, thus allowing me to learn a lot about our team dynamics. Most importantly, our achievement served as a reminder of our responsibility in using our platforms to help those in need.

What challenges have you faced and overcome?

Being away from home at a young age was a very interesting experience. That coupled with the sudden pandemic and border closures proved to be trying times, but emerging from it were realisations on the aspects of life we often take for granted, such as being able to meet people and travel. These challenges taught me to be aware of my feelings and resilient amidst the hustle.

What course are you doing and why did you pick Australia to be where you are studying? What process did you undertake to get here?                          

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney.

I was drawn to studying in Sydney since it is a very multicultural city, and it was also practical given that double-degrees here can be completed within five years. It also helped that I attended university fairs back in high school, since I was able to find an agency that assisted in my university and visa application.

 Did you ever get to a point that you regret the decision to be in Australia?   What advice would you give somebody who is finding it difficult to cope with the studies and adjusting in their temporary ‘home country’?                                 

At times, I ponder how life would be different had I decided to study in a different country, but I’ve always been grateful for the opportunity to study in Australia. There have been ups and downs, but I am genuinely enjoying life here down under. In fact, living abroad has taught me so much about my identity, being independent, and what it means to be a global citizen.

To those who are struggling, my advice is don’t be afraid to take a step back and breathe. It’s easy to get caught up in the many complexities of life, but taking a short rest can be beneficial in the long run as it’ll allow you to clear your thoughts. Additionally, we never know where life will take us next, so make the most out of exploring Sydney or Australia!

 What is the Kapwa program?

Kapwa (meaning neighbour) is a newly established program  under the Institute of Global Peace and Sustainable Governance (IGPSG). It is led by young professionals and international students who are determined to strengthen the peer-to-peer support opportunities here in Sydney, Australia. In fact, much of the program takes inspiration from the experiences of current and past international students.

 Kapwa aims to empower and support international students by hosting events and initiatives that facilitate supportive discussion, encourage cultural exchange, and provide networking opportunities amongst young adults. It strives to create a safe environment and foster caring relationships between participants.

What does your role as IGPSG’s Assistant Director for Social Cohesion and Inclusion entail?

I started my role as Assistant Director for Social Cohesion and Inclusion last February 2022. I assist in the IGPSG’s events and am currently a co-lead for the Kapwa program.

I will also be partaking in preparing for the IGPSG’s Model Global Parliament later this year.

What is Kapwa’s next projects and where can people find more information about the group and its project?

Kapwa’s first event will be a roundtable that is open for all students and young professionals. This will be a casual event that aims to get all participants acquainted with the program and one another. More information will be released in the coming weeks.

For more updates on Kapwa, you may follow our Facebook page

Lastly, what is your definition of ‘tagumpay’?

Tagumpay means continuing to rise up despite all the obstacles life hurls at us.


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