By, Christine Ho
I’m notoriously bad at remembering things, even more so when it comes to articulating them. Hence there’s quite a lot of trepidation in writing the last blog post – how exactly do I summarize the experience I’ve had in Philippines aptly in a few hundred words? The answer of course, is the usual “put your best foot forward”. Thus I apologize in advance for my inadequacy in vocalization of my thoughts and experience and I do hope whatever I write would help in whatever minute way, for you as a reader to learn more about the course, Philippines or the people here.
First and foremost, business consultancy must be broached as a subject (we have to fulfill our course requirement after all). It’s hard to say what I expected from this course and it’s again, hard to determine whether or if I have changed at all after this trip. I can however, state quite clearly that this is the first time I have been in touched with Business Consultancy and quite frankly I was astounded at the job description (what do you mean we are simply there to look at another business and provide fresh perspectives?), I mean in very simple terms, it seems that your college degree does not have much to do with your work so much as the amount of wit and logical deduction skills you have. That was my initial impression and after this course I find it hard to imagine how people determine who is good enough to get a consultancy job. There is the obvious GPA which could be used as the distinguishing feature among candidates, but whilst GPA depicted a certain combination of work attitude and intelligence it fails to truly capture the amount the flexibility that you may need as a consultant. While being within this course, I have come to the conclusion that to be consultant you require a lot of flexibility and the ability to pick up new information as the solution which you propose is rarely applicable without a single problem.
One of the frustrating parts of being in Philippines and consulting for a local business is that many information that we needed to write our proposal such as how the schools system works, were not common knowledge to us. This was where we literally have to start from zero. We cannot rely on the common knowledge we’ve gained from living within a place for 18 years because the environment has completely changed. It came as quite a shock to me when I realize that a lot of the times the idea that we give are baseless and what might seem like a good idea in Hong Kong, takes a large discount when placed within Philippines. For example, I thought that developing a package for schools to visit the ecopark was a good idea since it increases revenue, markets the ecopark to another audience and increases the ecoparks worth as a CSR initiative. While interviewing the education department and schools we’ve come to realize that this is easier said than done. First of all, the ecopark charges a high rate of entry and which would be hard for public schools to pay the price. Second of all, Guimaras has a limited amount of private schools of which some parents rely on government subsidy. At the same time, there may be more private schools in Iloilo and they may have more money but geographically speaking Guimaras is still a bit far from Iloilo and there are not any particularly attractive points about our ecopark as a school visit destination. As the management has already made it rather clear that they would not want to invest more money into the ecopark for facilities, it begs the question of what can attract private schools from Iloilo to our ecopark? Thirdly, one of the major activity which the ecopark offers is mangrove planting, however many of the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) within the region allows for mangrove planting for free and thus is a must cheaper alternative than the ecopark. Lastly, school visits in general have been frowned upon by schools because there have many past accidents on school trips and the curriculum in school is rather packed, freeing up people to go on a school visit indicates a day less of teaching. So many problems exist for the solution that I vocalized but there was no way for us to understand this without going to schools and government departments and interviewing the people there. If I have had the knowledge of a local (or consulted a local student) it would have been a much faster process in crossing out this solution and focusing our energy on finding information on other solutions that would yield a higher benefit for our business. Our ignorance on “common” local knowledge meant that our ideas took more time to develop and hone and perhaps one of my regrets is I should have consulted the local university students sent to help us more often. Please be prepared to take a lot of winding roads when it comes to proposed solutions – also, consult the local people about your solutions as often as possible. The solution may look 100% applicable to you but a lot of the times the conditions that make the solution work comes from the environment you grew up in and unfortunately, may not relate to the place you are in.
As mentioned before, part of our development of ideas for the business we’ve had to travel to many different places to collect data – whether it is the department of education, department of tourism or schools. Being a Chinese (or perhaps, just being me) comes with a certain degree of shyness, it was an unpleasant surprise to me how we were visiting a myriad of places and interviewing people for our projects. What made it more uncomfortable was my deep-set belief that the interviewing of government officials, principals of school required a certain amount of formality – at the very least we should have booked an appointment with them! But the people in Philippine are a truly accommodating bunch and much less bureaucratic than you would expect (of course there are exception – our high and mighty business partners for example. And the reduction of bureaucracy only appears in meeting people but perhaps not so much in attaining licenses etc.). So even though you think people might not respond or take an interest in you, it’s of the utmost important that you try first and perhaps have a little more confidence in yourself, even if you have to fake it.
I love my host family. That’s quite blatant statement but there’s no other way of putting it. The hospitality of my host family is off the chart. Despite having communication difficulties due my host mum having a limited range of English, she never fails to make Metis (my housemate) and my stay as comfortable as possible. Whether if it’s having an array of snacks always ready on the table in case of us being hungry (this never happens – they feed you like you’ve just been through a famine…for all three meals a day), waiting for us to sleep before turning off the lights (we felt super guilty after the first night and thus, slept at 8 every day afterwards) or pulling out all their assortment of gadgets (such as a well-hideen lunch box or their toasting machine) simply because they feel as if we need them. Gloria (my host mum) truly cares about us and it humbles me when I see the extent she would go to for us. I forever thankful for the hospitality she has shown us and if this course was to be held in the same place again, I hope that you too would be able to experience the relationship that can be formed between your host mum and you.
All in all it’s been a wonderful, eye-opening experience. I am truly glad to have taken this course despite my initial doubts on my ease of assimilation (a.k.a. I’m a spoilt brat), there isn’t really any other way to open your eyes to the ways of living of another group of people without living with them and interacting with them day in, day out. I would not have had my experience of this course and Philippine in any other way. Thank you to all my classmates and Professor for making this trip truly unforgettable.