Interview by Lily Zhao ’18. Photos by Victor Alvarez ’19.
Angela Marie Teng, or Amber (an abbreviation of Angela Marie Bernadette, her full name) as known by her friends, is an international senior from the Philippines. She grew up in Manila, and lived there until she came to Providence for college. Here at Brown, she has been involved in a number of student activities and organizations such as the Archaeology Department’s Dig DUG, the Senior Class Gift, rugby, and the cheerleading team as an underclassman. She’s interested in issues such as improving awareness and removing the stigma around mental health and women’s empowerment internationally. Read on to find out about her thoughts on adjusting to Brown as an international student and her reflections looking back as a senior about to graduate, including everything about the value of the connections she has made over the years at Brown to her love of avocados.
Where are you from?
I’m from Manila, Philippines. I’ve lived there all my life, until coming here for university.
What is your major?
I double concentrate in Economics and Archaeology.
What languages do you speak?
Mostly just English and Tagalog. I actually couldn’t speak English until I was 6 years old.
Which clubs have you been involved in at Brown?
Right now, I’ve kind of been focused on the job search and have reduced my commitments, but freshman year until the start of senior year I was involved in the IFJ. I used to write and lead external affairs for a while. I also currently help lead the Dig DUG, which is the archaeology DUG. It’s super fun! We sponsor a lot of cool events with yummy Meeting Street cookies. You should come to our events! I also tried to stay involved in sports for a while, but the time commitment is just so intense. I played rugby and cheered for Brown for a bit… haha. It was great. I love the team. It’s just like a bunch of great people who want to share their passion for the sport with you. Aside from that, I also worked on campus as a research assistant for linguistics and environmental science. Right now, I also work closely with the Brown Senior Class Gift. Oh, and I work at BUDS hehe hit me up for iced coffee.
Why did you decide to study in the US?
I guess like initially I wanted to come to the US to study because education is one of America’s best exports. Brown is definitely a good match for me – I love Brown because it looks at a lot of aspects of who you are when they review your application, so it really made sure that this was a place that I would belong in, as well as contribute to. In addition, being in a school as liberal as Brown allowed me to explore various disciplines, instead of being limited to one field, choose my area of interest and subsequently helping me expand my knowledge.
Also, while this may sound idealistic, I wanted to do something to help my country, and get a chance to show how great and talented Filipinos are. When I was in high school, I started hearing about my country’s problems, a lot of which were economic in nature, like income inequality and poverty. This is what got me interested in Econ. I wanted to learn from the US and see how it is trying to solve similar challenges in the hope that this can be applied to my country.
How have your four years here been different from what you expected?
I think before coming to the States, I had like a very outsider perspective of universities like Brown. It was kind of like to me it was just an idea, an aspiration, you know like, kind of, my dream, like this has been my dream for so long, even all throughout high school. I worked really hard to get here. Like never in my life have I actually envisioned myself getting into like an Ivy League like Brown, like ever. In terms of how my expectations differed, I thought it would be like super duper ultra competitive with everyone just trying to kill themselves over the best grades, and like I expected that everyone you meet is just trying to pull you down to get on top. That’s how I thought it would be like. I thought the competition would be like that intense. Just because it was really hard to get in here, you know. And it is true that it is competitive, but I was surprised at how kind, and warm, and collaborative everyone is at Brown. Like at Brown, honestly it’s my home. I was surprised at how open everyone is and how willing they were to take the time and effort to help you succeed here and help you love the school and love what you do and help you navigate through the college experience. They provide so much support—not just academically, but also for mental health, peer counseling, everything. Honestly, it’s exceeded my expectations by so, so, so, so much. Aside from being an excellent academic institution, Brown just gives me this sense of warmth. Whenever I think about Brown, I think of home.
What did you find most difficult and/or easiest to get used to?
Culture for both–
I guess the hardest thing was the culture. I mean the US is already like kind of liberal compared to my country, maybe not my whole country but like my personal experience in my country. And Brown is even more liberal than that, to an extent. I studied in a Catholic school. It was not co-ed. It was all girls. We prayed a lot, and we wore uniforms and skirts that they strictly measured to be two inches below the knee. They measured your socks, you can’t wear colored hair ties, you can’t wear double piercings, no bracelets. Literally it’s super strict. It’s very traditional, because I feel like a large proportion of our population is Catholic. A lot of our value system stems from religious values as well. I guess initially the biggest adjustment for me at Brown was being in such a diverse place with people from all walks of life, and like people with different religions, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different beliefs, and kind of having all of my beliefs questioned because of that.
On the flipside, I think culturally, it’s a lot more open here—so that was something I really like and made it easier for me to transition. A lot of the taboo topics in my country to talk about are discussed more openly here. Like until recently, I feel like nobody really openly talks about condoms or sex or like mental health in the Philippines. I feel like now there’s a bit more discussion on that front because we have a really proactive and inclusive generation of youth. I think it’s important to talk about issues like these that might not be so culturally acceptable especially to the elders because we know things like these do happen in my country, it’s just that nobody talks about it because of the stigma. I guess it was different because here at Brown specifically people are aware of these issues and I think that’s one thing that I thought was really effective instead of having a somewhat false sense of innocence and purity. It helps to be able to provide people with complete and accurate information, so they know what they’re getting into and understand the consequences of their actions. Despite these challenges though, it’s evident that there are a lot of people in the Philippines who are putting in work to make critical improvements on these fronts.
On a more Brown-specific note, it was easier for me to feel at home here because people kind of let you do your own thing without judging you, and then just like take you as you are. I feel like I was really able to be myself here, and be a part of a community of people who I could get close with on a personal level, so that was great. I’ve met some of my best friends here
What is the food or dish that you miss from home?
Oh my god, like everything. My favorite food is sinigang, which is a Filipino dish. It’s like kind of sour soup but my dad makes it with tuna belly. It’s so good! It’s like my favorite. And rice, I love Philippine rice, like the way we make it there. It’s just the right stickiness. There’s not too much water, there’s not too little water, it’s just right. Rice! Rice is life. Oh and mangoes, oh my god, I love mangoes so much. It’s just the best thing ever. I love food, honestly if you get me on the topic of food, I’ll never stop talking about it. But yeah, those are my favorites, the fruits, and rice. Sophomore year I cooked a bit. Junior year, I made food for my roommates. I would make them this dish called adobo, which is just like chicken, with a sauce, and you put it on rice. I always liked to experiment, and try making new stuff junior year, and then senior year came and I’m just like “I’m going to live off eggs for the rest of the week.” I actually just bought like two dozen eggs, so I’m living off that, because it takes so much effort, and I live across from Tallulah’s. I’m close to basically all the restaurants on Ives, and Medeira’s.
What is an Americanism you have picked up in the last four years?
My first two weeks here, I had a super thick accent and nobody could understand what I was saying, so I tried to say it how they say it, so that we could communicate properly and I would stop holding the lines at the v-dub. The first time I went home I was talking to my friends and they were asking me about the Filipinos at Brown. And then apparently, I was saying “Filipino” with an “ohhhhh”, instead of a hard “o” and they were like “dude, what did you just say?” and they were like “you have an accent.” I didn’t even notice that but apparently it’s a big thing. It’s like if you’re American then I have an accent, but if you’re Filipino then I have an accent also. I feel like it depends on where I’m at, like if I’m in the States my accent is more American, versus if I’m in Manila then my accent is more Filipino. So there’s that, so just the way I talk. Oh and avocados. I’m addicted to avocados now. My whole housing group, we just hoard avocados, it’s like the worst thing ever. I mean, the best, but also the worst. I barely ate them in Manila the way we eat them here. And Greek yogurt!
What do you wish you knew as an incoming freshman?
If I could go back in time and talk to freshman year me, I would tell myself to be more open and be less shy, and less timid, and less scared. I feel like as a freshman, I was kind of hesitant to be that open and to let myself feel the culture here and life at Brown. It took me a while before I actually felt like Brown was my home. For the first few years, I was like half here and half in Manila, and I kind of wasn’t living in the moment. It was only when I stopped dwelling on what I had in Manila that I didn’t have here, and just focusing on the things I have at Brown and in the States…that was the only time that I felt at home, like I belonged here. I was kind of scared to get to know people, because it was different, and I was kind of scared to get out of my comfort zone and let go. So if I could go back I would tell myself, “just do it, you know, you only live once.” Haha. Honestly, life is too short to be too concerned about what everyone thinks of you. College is so short, I’m literally about to leave and I wish I’d done more at Brown. There are just so many great people, and so many great things to do at Brown, and it’s only now in senior year that I’m really taking advantage of that. And making a huge effort to make deep bonds with people, and this whole time I feel like if I started sooner, I would have been able to get closer to a lot more people, been able to experience and contribute a lot more.
How has living here changed how you act or interact at home?
I think I’m a lot more empathetic, I’m a lot more open to new ideas and new people, and I’m a lot more understanding I think. I feel like when you’re in an environment where everyone is very similar to you, like everyone is coming from similar backgrounds and you all have the same beliefs, it’s easy to kind of be closed to new things and fall into routine. Being at Brown being exposed to everybody from different walks of life, from different parts of the world, with different beliefs. I think it’s made me a lot kinder, and just understanding. When people say things, give out new and “crazy” ideas; it doesn’t really faze me because Brown teaches you to be open to everyone, to be open and inclusive, and to really cherish diversity. That’s definitely one of the things I learned.
But also because it’s kind of liberal here, sometimes when I go back home, there are small things and mannerisms that people have that I’ve begun to question and I guess think about more deeply, especially when people use terms that are somewhat politically incorrect or could be offensive in other cultures. Also, I think when I was in Manila I was somewhat passive, to an extent, about the double-standard that existed for women and that was especially prominent in traditional societies. I mean, it was so routine that it felt almost normal and okay and just something that didn’t need to be questioned. I’m in this class right now about women in the Ancient Mediterranean, and a lot of it is understanding where those social constructs come from, as well as the gender values we have. I guess that made me more passionate and aware about women empowerment, in a sense, so when people say misogynistic stuff in Manila that I used to just let pass or not even notice, I can now identify it better and take action rather than just being passive. I feel like that awareness has helped me have the courage to stand up for my beliefs even though it was kind of the norm in my society.
What is one thing that you’re going to miss about Brown?
I guess what I’m going to miss the most about Brown is the people, for sure. It’s really only sometimes that you can be in a community where you actually want to get to know everyone around you, everyone at Brown. It’s only sometimes that you can say that, you know? Just being in a place where everyone is very open, understanding, warm, and excited to get to know you, super innovative and super passionate about what they do. We’re literally in a university made of the most passionate, brightest, driven people. That’s exciting and super inspiring, like coming to class and sitting with people who have launched start-ups, are in Forbes 30 under 30, having professors who have won Nobel Prizes, just being with people who genuinely love what they do. That’s something that inspires me everyday, and that’s something that I’ll miss the most about Brown, just being in this creative environment where people really value learning and want to help you succeed. Honestly, that’s my favorite thing about Brown.
What was your favorite spring break memory?
Actually my spring breaks are pretty chill, because I have an aunt in Ohio so I just go see her during spring break in Columbus. I love spending time with my family and just relaxing with their dog haha.
Anything to add? Any words of wisdom to younger students?
Stay driven, love what you do, do what you love. Oh and always be kind!!!