“JTA makes the world your classroom”

It’s probably on every millennial’s bucket list to see the world and Ateneo’s Junior Term Abroad (JTA) program plays right into that. One semester steeped in a foreign land certainly spells adventure and, let’s be honest, standout Instagram fodder. Think of the stories you can post: unique electives, foreign classmates, exotic food, and weekend side trips to your dream destinations. These are probably what so many JTA students before me thought about, before choosing to head down this merry road.

Though JTA has its fair share of picture-perfect moments, I’d like to talk about what hardly makes it to Instagram feeds. Not that these aspects spoil the experience, because they actually pave the journey most memorably. So far, JTA has been three things for me: a choice, a process, and a learning curve. 


The choice 


JTA begins as a question of whether you’re ready to leave behind family, friends, orgs, and whatnot for four to five months. Facetime and Google Hangouts help ease the homesickness, but with no guaranteed therapeutic claims. It takes effort to make the time difference work, to remember to start and end your day with a message sent home. And when you see pictures of home-cooked meals (for those in Western countries, this means rice dishes done right), you’ll wish their taste weren’t just a ghost on your tongue. 

In other words, for all the fun times ahead, you’ll also be giving up a lot: bonding time, org positions, the opportunity to spread your academic units more thinly over two years and of course, money. That last factor is pivotal, depending on your destination, but there are always ways to spend less without compromising your lifestyle. JTA, while a huge privilege, does not have to be as expensive as it seems if you‘re disciplined enough.

The real pros and cons vary from person to person, so it’s up to you to weigh the options (and your willpower). I chose JTA because I wanted to find my footing in a totally unfamiliar place. I wanted that taste of independence and knew I could commit to the long-distance relationship with family, to the overloaded semesters come my arrival in Ateneo, and more. 

The process

Ateneo doesn’t just clear you to leave on a plane once you aspire for JTA. Students have to meet a cutoff grade and apply for the program. In the John Gokongwei School of Management, JTA aspirants are ranked based on grades and extracurricular activities, and those with earlier ranks get the first say on which schools they want. Clearly, JTA is not a free ride and you’ll have to put in the work to go places.


Lille is a university city, and it definitely isn’t as famous as Paris, Barcelona, or other famous destinations one may know of. This picture is from the Lille Fun Fair (foire aux manèges), which is a month-long carnival with rides, snacks, and parades. The ferris wheel there showed us an incredible view of the city, making Lille the backdrop of this photo.

I was lucky enough to get into the school of my choice, Lille Catholic University's IÉSEG School of Management, with a couple of friends and batch mates whom I would later grow closer to. Still, the preparations did not stop there. The months leading up to JTA were a blur of submissions, from visa requirements to bank statements to notarized affidavits. Even when that part’s over, a more difficult phase comes: packing. Fitting your life into one or two suitcases makes you realize, more than ever, how much you can’t bring along. Nonetheless, rest assured that  when JTA is over, you will have souvenirs and memories that you’ll want to take home instead.


The learning curve


All things considered, I was still hesitant to leave for JTA. I was afraid it would just be a sabbatical of sorts where I’d fall in love with the weekend adventures and forget about the ones to be had in the classroom. Type A college student me didn’t want to waste time and four straight months of jet setting seemed counterproductive to how focused I could have been back home.


While school hasn’t started yet, I’ve been learning a lot, in the most valuable ways. As cheesy as it sounds, JTA makes the world your classroom if you will it. Orientation week introduced me to international students hailing from a load of different countries. We’ve done everything from speed dating and kayaking, to teaching them the ocho ocho and spaghetting pababa. Culture is encountered through chit chat and mutual craziness.

We couldn’t get over the designs of renowned architect Gaudí. Barcelona is full of his eccentric yet impressive work, and the sprawling enclosure of Park Güell, pictured here, is one of his most famous.


Those encounters are heightened during travel, when you get to meet people right in their hometowns. My housemates and I were lucky enough to have about two weeks off before school so we snuck in a trip across Spain and Portugal: two former colonial powers, one of which conquered the Philippines. Both countries also have dark histories with their own dictators. These are what you can learn on free walking tours with friendly locals, visiting renowned museums, or even strolling past a monument in a park.


With everything it promises, JTA allows you to be spontaneous. We’ve booked trips the night before and made up itineraries along the way, gotten lost in sprawling cities, sprinted after buses and trains—yet managed to have a good time anyway. The same goes when we’re at home in Lille, where five other girls and I navigate the mundane complexities of a shared apartment. We’ve cooked, done laundry, vacuumed ceilings, and chased flies out of our kitchen together. These are bonding activities that are just as character-forming.

This is a Portuguese sandwich we all ate in Porto. It’s filled with layers upon layers of steak and ham, topped with bread, cheese, and an optional egg—in other words, a heart attack on a plate. But it’s nearly impossible to resist, especially because of the heavenly 50-ingredient sauce where the sandwich and fries swim.


JTA in itself is shaping up to be a character-forming experience for me, at least. There’s a side of me that feels more daring, more willing to explore and engage people or places. If, as others say, that the point of travel is to change you, then JTA is already nudging me in that direction. As early as now, I’d count on this program to do the same for others, too.



Annicka is spending her JTA at Lille Catholic University's IÉSEG School of Management in France.

This article originally appeared on www.ateneo.edu.