Baguio is referred to as the educational center of Northern Luzon because it is the closest city for students from the Ilocos and Cordillera region, usually, for tertiary education. Apart from offering bachelor degree courses, some universities are also providing masters and doctorate degrees, as well as courses in Law and Medicine, which students have always pursued in Manila in the past. A huge number of vocational short-term courses for specific technical skills have proliferated as well.
It is true that in the past, Baguio was the educational center for the residents of the Cordillera region only. However, studying in Baguio also became favorable to students from other provinces including those who live in Manila, Central and Southern Luzon just to escape the heat of the lowlands.
During the late 90s, Baguio opened its arms once more to a new wave of students, this time, from overseas. It was in 1997 that the first academy for ESL was established. The academy, which is now called HELP, started when a summer and a winter camp were organized for students from South Korea. The first few batches were composed of 50 students who stayed in the city for two to three months to study English. The trend became popular in just a short period of time that a few more schools were established afterwards. After studying English, most of the students would enter Baguio’s universities to take special exchange programs or enroll in their desired course.
HOTSPOT FOR LEARNING ENGLISH
Since the start of the new millennium, Baguio has been populated with what ESL learners would call “English academies” – a term brought about by the boom of the trend of studying English. According to the Bureau of Immigration (BI), the ESL industry prospered too fast that from 50 individuals from HELP’s vacation camp, foreign students reached to an outstanding 15,000 in 2006. Until recently, the number has reached around 22,000 that the BI Baguio Office has even ranked 2nd for having the highest visa fee collection next to Cebu. At present, there are around 38 academies that offer ESL programs, TESOL courses, as well as review courses for the different English testing systems. These programs are not isolated to South Koreans anymore since Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans have also discovered Baguio for this purpose.
If students from other provinces come to Baguio for its cool climate, the same can also be said for the foreign nationals who study English in the city. Apart from that, these ESL learners are attracted to the environment of Baguio – the serene countryside atmosphere but with enough venues for recreation and entertainment. Though Baguio is not as developed as the nation’s capital, Manila, it has sufficient establishments and basic services to cater to the needs of various types of students. Signage for apartments and houses for rent are everywhere and stalls for meals, snacks and drinks have sprouted like mushrooms. The same goes for computer shops, printing shops, and 24-hour convenience stores. Moreover, as the city gets more crowded with foreign students, restaurants and grocery stores specifically catering to them also flourish quite well.
More importantly, Baguio has transformed into a hotspot for learning English because its teachers are molded to master the language and are trained to specifically educate ESL learners of different nationalities. Despite their not being native speakers, these teachers are always given venues and support to improve their skills as well as to ensure quality education to students.
Communicating in English has become natural among the people of Baguio since the language was taught by missionaries in the 1900s. Whether a student stays for a few months for ESL or lives in the city to finish a four-year course, it has always been easy to communicate to the people of Baguio, adapt to a new environment and apply what is learned in class.
FOR LEARNING, EXPERIENCE, AND GROWTH
In the past, one would notice that Baguio was usually populated by tourists and missionaries on retreats or vacations. In addition to these tourists, you see all kinds of students nowadays – local and foreign.
Apparently, students are not only attracted to the cool climate of Baguio anymore but also to the various venues for self-discovery and personality development during their academic journey. The art community is very alive and active, programs for indigenous youth as well as research for Cordilleran studies are well-promoted, religious organizations are free to practice their faith, and advocacies for advancing human rights and welfare are being voiced. One would also notice that foreign students are now more involved in sports, evangelical missions, and community development projects. Indeed, Baguio is now populated with and is nurturing more passionate and critical thinkers.
For such a small city, supposedly designed for 30,000 residents only, it is astounding that Baguio is able to withstand the bloat in population considering the number of students that come and go every year. Nevertheless, as long as the students keep their burning passion for ambition, never stop aiming for successful careers, and never lose the diligence for studying their chosen fields, Baguio will continue to be the home to these young minds and lead them to a better future.