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When I Grow Up…

Posted by on 29 May 2010

There’s a Malay proverb that goes “Lain hulu, lain parang; lain dulu, lain sekarang”  which roughly translates to: just as the handle of the keris is very different from its blade, what’s in the past is very different from the present.

Nowhere is this more evident than in today’s youth: children start schooling at a much earlier age; learn about the facts of life way before puberty; get more technologically adept than the average adult; dream bigger dreams than we dared dream when we were their age.

To illustrate the last point, just take a look at my children’s ambitions:

MyEldest: astronaut-scientist-engineer
OnlyGirl: teacher
RoundBoy: marine biologist
Twin1: fighter plane pilot
Twin2: mechanical engineer

What a contrast from my ambition way back when I was about 7 years old and tasked with a writing assignment that started with the line “When I grow up, I want to be a…

Me, playing the lead role of  St. Catherine in a school play. It was an all-girls school, so the 'priest' beside me was a girl, as well.

Me, playing the lead role of St. Catherine in a school play. It was an all-girls school, so the 'priest' beside me was a girl, as well.

Believe it or not, I actually wanted to become a nun! The idea of devoting my entire life to God just appealed to me somehow. That, plus the fact that I’ve spent my early years surrounded by Catholic sisters.

It did not take me long, however, to figure out that I couldn’t be a nun if I wanted to have children. Because I may not have always known what I wanted to do in life, but I’ve always known that I wanted to be a mother.

So I decided to change my ambition from being a nun to being a teacher. Afterall, both of my parents were teachers. [NB: My mum is still teaching at 67 years old, mind you!] I loved the idea of molding young minds and making an impact on people’s lives.

Then as I was growing up, I found myself increasingly drawn to the medical profession and found myself longing to become a doctor — an obstetrician-gynaecologist, to be exact. I was so ambitious that I didn’t want to be just any doctor working in a hospital or private clinic somewhere; I wanted to join Medecins San Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders).

I was very close to achieving that dream when I qualified for the INTARMED program of the University of the Philippines in its Manila campus. INTARMED is an accelerated comprehensive medical program that shortens the path to a medical degree by 2 years, i.e. 7 years instead of 9 years. Normally, a student in the Philippines who aspires to take up Medicine must take a four-year pre-Med course initially (such as BS Biology, Medical Technology, and other medical-related fields) before taking Medicine proper, which takes another five years. INTARMED covers both the pre-med and Med proper courses with its intensive 7-year program.

During my time, only 26 students — 13 boys and 13 girls — from all over the Philippines were admitted into INTARMED, so you can just imagine how enthralled I was to have qualified for the programme.

Unfortunately, it was also during that time that UP decided to implement a new tuition fee scheme that made it impossible for me to pursue Medicine. As I said, both my parents were teachers and teachers in the Philippines do not earn much. On top of the tuition fees, there were so many other things to think of, such as pricey medical textbooks and my room and board in Manila. So to make a long story short, I had to turn down INTARMED and opted to go to Ateneo de Manila University, where I was granted me a full scholarship plus a loan to cover dorm fees. [NB: Dorm = hostel]

Fast forward to some 20-odd years later, I now find myself in the manufacturing sector. My interest in Medicine never waned though — I devour novels with medical themes; I savour all movies and TV shows that have anything to do with medicine, such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, even CSI; I relish articles on the human body, diseases, medical discoveries, and all things scientific. Heck, I’ve even learned enough medical jargon to make doctors think I’m working in the medical sector.

And by interesting coincidence, many of my friends are also doctors, including Z, my best friend since we were 7 years old. Z is one of those few people who have always known what they wanted to do and ended up doing it, unlike people like me who ended up doing something entirely different from what I’ve dreamed of doing.

I’m not bitter or sad by any means. My job has fulfilled my childhood dream of seeing the world; it has gotten me to places that used to be just names on the map. My job has also allowed me to give my children the opportunity to do things that I have not been able to do when I was young and for that, I am very grateful.

I guess the bottom line is that no one really knows how our lives turn out in the end. We chase our dreams, give it our best, but in the end, it’s God who determines where we end up.

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