It started in the Philippines…

My journey to earn a Ph.D. degree began around 2017 when I decided that it was time for me to pursue a doctorate. It was about 5 years since I last left the country to complete my Master of Science in Practising Sustainable Development at Royal Holloway, University of London (read about it here: Today, two years ago I began a wonderful journey. : Bemuse. (!) and I felt that if I were to ever find time in my life now to do a terminal degree the time would be now. I was getting very busy with a lot of things, especially career-wise and I had to make that decision to either do it later or now – and I thought it better to disrupt my current life and career trajectory in exchange for having much better knowledge when I come back (since anyway, nothing is going anywhere, all the opportunity is still there when I come back). I applied to several schools but unfortunately it was unsuccessful since I didn’t get any funding and I couldn’t afford the entire costs for studying outside the country. I was, however, determined to find a way – be it studying in Europe (where I heard costs would be more manageable) or by taking out a loan if I had to study in the USA. Having already studied in Europe for my masters, I was intent on taking my Ph.D. in the United States of America – besides, I told myself, I’d love to live in the most advanced country in the world for a time. The experience from that would surely change me for the better when I came back home and helped the country grow! I did used to live in the States when I was younger. My family lived in Rockville, Maryland for a few years while my dad trained at the National Institutes of Health. I told myself, I can make this happen. I just need more time.

Me and my family in front of our house at Maryland.
Me (front and center) and my family in front of our house at Maryland. Circa 1987.

But as we all know, time is hard to come by when you’re a little bit older. Especially when your career has picked up somewhat, you are getting more settled in life, and importantly, many large life milestones that you have targeted seem to be converging together. So, I waited and continued my life – there was a lot to do at work, planning to build my house, and many others things. Before I knew it, it was already 2019 and I told myself, wow, I really need to seriously figure this out. But of course, we all know what happened in 2020! The COVID pandemic really messed things up but at the same time gave me some space to sort things out. At around that same time my mentor, Assistant Professor Carla Jimena, reached out to me for the third year in a row, that I should apply to Fulbright. Ma’am Carla, as we fondly call her, was the head of the Department of Social Development Services at the College of Human Ecology, University of the Philippines Los Banos when I was teaching there as an Assistant Professor. I capitulated, despite knowing how tough it was to get into that scholarship program, since I confess, was desperate! It’s hard to raise the millions of pesos needed to even begin to think of studying a postgraduate degree in the United States as an international student. So, in early 2021, I applied for the very prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.

A picture of me and my Fulbright-CHED cohort after a seminar at the PAEF HQ.
During one of the many seminars I had to attend with my Fulbright-CHED cohort.

My Fulbright journey begins…

I was out doing work the entire day as it was the first day of classes and as usual during the pandemic, there were so many adjustments to be made for the upcoming academic year. Never ending meetings, curriculum revisions, timetable modifications, reports to be made, and more that I missed an important text that day. September 20th, the next day at seven in the morning I read it and responded – the Director of the Philippine-American Educational Foundation called me right after and told me that he wanted to personally tell all the successful applicants about the outcome of their Fulbright Scholarships. I was the last call he made since I was completely oblivious with work the day before and didn’t immediately respond. I was so excited but at the same time dreadful! I had to now face the possible future that I would be gone for 5 years! And this was quite difficult since by the end of 2021, I was already planning to start construction of my house, I just accepted a very large consultancy project, still had some architecture projects ongoing, and I was still Director for Extensions Services at the College of Architecture. Thinking of all the preparation that had to be done and completing all the currently ongoing work made me queasy. Despite a successful application, I still had to get into a Ph.D. program a good university before the scholarship could be finalized and only after then I could make preparations for leaving. From September to December of 2021 my cohort of Fulbright-CHED scholars went through a series of seminars that helped us in the process of applying to different Ph.D. programs. From January to March of 2022, I received two acceptance letters, two rejections, and one waitlist. By April, I had registered for matriculation into the University of Washington, Seattle, and by May of 2022, I had signed my Fulbright contract after having chosen the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Signing my Fulbright-CHED Scholarship contract.
Signing my Fulbright-CHED Scholarship contract at the PAEF HQ in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Lucky for me June till August was the summer months in the academic calendar in the Philippines which faculty allotted for admin, research, and public service work. That summer of 2022, though, I was busy packing my entire life’s worth of things into boxes. I would be giving up the place I was staying since I would not be able to build my house in time before I left. Packing more than ten years of your life into about 25 or so very large boxes is hard – physically and mentally. Being a stickler for organization, I wanted to pack similar things together, have physical lists printed for each box’s contents and digital records through lists and photographs. I got it done but not 100%, I left a few boxes open for the last things that would be packed and transferred to my mom’s place. Thank God for family who did the rest! Meanwhile, knowing I would be gone for a long time, I went to the beach for a quick vacation with some friends! Of course, where else would I be but in the sunny warm sands in the tropical beaches with cool crystal clear azure waters of Boracay and El Nido?

Me at the beach at Boracay and during an island hopping boat tour in El Nido.
At the powdery white sand beach at Boracay (left) and an island-hopping boat tour in El Nido (right).

I also had a vacation with my family, and I made sure to spend lots of time with them as I would be away for such a long time. Every moment that I could (which is usually all time anyways), I stayed with my niece and nephew, my sisters, my brother-in-laws, and my mom and dad. This was honestly the hardest part of the preparations but knowing that in five years I would be back and that I could visit every year made preparing to leave a lot easier. I also had to meet with all my coworkers and my boss at the University of the Philippines, meet with partners and collaborators in the different work I do from projects at Credesign, and the DENR-NCR, to the SCPW, and especially with the Office of Senator Cynthia A. Villar.

Meeting with Senator Villar, and DENR NCR RED Caancan, and Atty. Corpuz of the Office of Senator Cynthia A. Villar. I am accompanied by my mom Mrs. Amy M. Lecciones.
A send-off meeting with Senator Villar accompanied by my mother Mrs. Amy M. Lecciones (left). A send-off gathering at the LPPWP Wetland Center Wave with DENR NCR RED Jacqueline Caancan and Atty. Corpuz of the Office of Senator Cynthia A. Villar accompanied again by my mom.
A Dinner send off with my uncle Mr. Arturo A. Morado, Jr. and mom; and also another lunch send-off with my friend Karen Hipol.
A dinner send off with my uncle Mr. Arturo A. Morado, Jr. and mom (left); and another lunch send-off with my co-British Chevening Scholar and friend Karen A. Hipol (right).

Before leaving the Philippine Fulbright Commission, PAEF, held a reception for all the scholars of the 2022 cohort at the Garden Ballroom of the EDSA Shangri-la Hotel. This ballroom has good memories for me since this was also where my sister had her debut and that was a lot of fun and positive vibes!

At the 2022 Fulbright Reception meeting.
At the 2022 Fulbright Reception with my co-British Chevening Scholar and co-Fulbright Scholar, Landbank Senior Vice-President Elcid C. Pangilinan (left) and Professor Luis Maria V. Bo-ot, (current Dean) representing then Dean of the UP College of Architecture, Prof. Grace C. Ramos (right).
At the 2022 Fulbright Reception and meeting my mentor Prof Carla G. Jimena.
At the 2022 Fulbright Reception pointing to my profile on a presentation of scholars (right) and meeting my mentor Prof Carla G. Jimena who came to visit from Portland State University, Oregon (left).

And, just like that, I had to leave a lot of what I was doing – from work at the university, to projects with the SCPW, and lots of unfinished work at the Las Piñas – Parañaque Wetland Park.

The day to leave for the USA arrives.

In the morning of September 12, with all what I could pack in my three check-in luggage, my carry-on and my personal bag, I was off to the airport accompanied by my family. This was a special day since it was also the same day I left for the United Kingdom to take my masters a good 11 years prior. To get to this point involved a lot of planning and praying. A lot of ups and downs – and a lot of help from family. At the airport I felt so uneasy, like I wish I didn’t have to go but at the same time I knew this was something I wanted. I always get sentimental with good-byes!

Me at the airport with family on the way to the US.
Me at the airport with family on the way to the US.

With a somewhat heavy heart, I said good bye to my mom and three sisters – Yayi, Aisa, and Sara.

And this journey continues in Seattle, Washington…

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