The Stradbroke Connection: Study with my father again

“It is said some lives are linked across time, Connected by an ancient calling that echoes through the ages”

— From the 2006 movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND, Queensland— The day for our trip to an island fell exactly on my birthday. It was the 10th of May 2012 and I was even more excited knowing that I can once again find myself on a quest to go on a soul searching of some description.

Photo by Shao Cheng Heng

Photo by Shao Cheng Heng

Another year has passed and I had a difficult juggling act of completing few academic work loads whilst battling with the tyranny of distance, being away from few family members back home. Plus keeping track of some priorities in life including most especially my faith, friends and university—so I have to make sure I have time to get a little time off and break away from the normal routine.

Little did my companions of that special trip know that after their singing of ‘Happy Birthday’, I was bound to entertain the idea of just sitting alone on a distant corner and engage on a peaceful relaxation and just forget about studying, while basking under the Aussie sun.  Despite the short break in between the next itinerary in the island, just around lunch time, oh boy was I lucky to take time drawing in the sand!


Personal reflections

Since it was my birthday it was an opportune time for me to reflect on what I have done so far in my life, particularly from the time I had to pick up myself after that tragic family event when I was nine, involving my mother’s vehicular accident—which led me to an awakening that I have to move on (hence, the theme of my very first post).

To start off, I guess I have constantly seen myself as a work in progress. Having to also endure the pain of the loss of my father due to complications of a health disorder, then to some of my own personal heartbreak stories and what not, sometimes I found that in nostalgic moments I clearly do not want them to be a usual refrain anymore.  Yet I know it is a part of my life and I am happy to rise and fall each time, and learn every step of the way—albeit those were all the source of my inspiration and definitely where I draw confidence from.


Seeking now for some connection whilst looking back to my timeline, allow me to start by remembering what my old man wished for in his own life. I have learned from my sister that it was my father’s wish to also study abroad—and he was nearly close to that as he was no doubt a brilliant guy who sought for possible opportunities in life to better the way of living after marrying my mother. I knew there was a sort of scholarship which he got qualified for, to study in the US during his early days.

Not only did he not have enough financial means to process his papers, he also did not get the much needed support from family members on his side including my mother’s—merely because of his imperfect health condition.  Early on, his life was a constant combat with life-threatening complications; heart-attack plus all the added misery and suffering caused by diabetes.  Particularly to his family and relatives, this meant that overseas travel would perhaps only worsen this.

But I’d like to believe that anybody who knew him well can easily get an impression that he is likely to set this plan in stone. But despite that sheer determination, he later believed that chasing this dream of furthering his studies abroad—as a conduit for escaping poverty—would only remain his one elusive dream.


Following Papa’s footprints 

Fittingly enough are the words spoken by the wife of the current US president, quoting the words she herself borrowed from her parents: “I may not have a chance to fulfill my dream, but maybe my children will, maybe my grandchildren will.”

And today I figured on my own that it’s as if these very words were spoken by my own father himself, and together with his constant encouragement and inspiration after all those years, continued to carry me through. He was this beacon of light that guided every path I tread on.  There were little disappointments on my part of course, but he continued to have that faith in me.


Like my mom, his attention to details was microscopic.  His mark of discipline for studying I have well-indoctrinated myself with, to an extent where—and I could still remember— I would sometimes blame him for not waking me up earlier than what we normally agreed to, sometimes 3, 4, or 5 o’clock in the morning.  Just so I can study well for exams back in high school/college in the Philippines.  Mind you, he would even feel sorry as if it was an important obligation as a father to me.

Photo by Leong Ming En

Lunch at Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island with student ambassadors Nathacha (Venezuela), Ali (Qatar), myself (Philippines), Guillaume (France), Shao (Malaysia) and Yoshiaki (Japan)   | Photo by Leong Ming En


No longer his unfinished business

Being on Queensland soil and soaking up on a brief island stint at North Stradbroke, quickly it came to mind that soon in December 2012 will be my graduation, I wish I can tell him that “what remained only as a dream for you Pa—to go overseas and study, has finally been realized by your own son, so thank you for giving me life.”   I have a strange feeling that his father (my grandfather) had the same aspirations for him.  True enough, my father’s life and my own are indeed interwoven by our common dreams and aspirations echoing through the sands of time. Needless to say that I love him even more, as besides our blood this is our connection.

How I wish he will be there in the audience clapping and saying, “I’m proud of that small guy right there. That’s my son!”

Not that he ever let me feel that he was not proud of me when he was alive. I know he is, but it’s a different feeling to get on stage being called with the surname we both share and to have him see that event unfold in his very own eyes.  This I’m sure—and many of you would agree (about your parents) that this is such a rare occasion that would serve as recognition of how much I value every bit of his legacy. For he once taught me how to pray, how to be humble, how to stand up for what I believe in, and he is one person I can show my genuine child-like character.  There would be no son in this world who will not be happy seeing a father happy and—most of all—proud of whatever that son achieves in life.

Aboard the Big Red Cat (catamaran vessel) off to North Stradbroke Island| Photo by Kritika Bansal

Aboard the Big Red Cat (catamaran vessel) off to North Stradbroke Island.  | Photo by Kritika Bansal

“Pa, I may not see you with Mama while I grab the parchment on stage but do know that this one’s for you both.  So here I am, finally did what you wanted to do in your life. Your words continue to carry me through and are much appreciated even to this day.”

This gave me a conclusion that my own father’s ‘American Dream’ has already become my own ‘Australian Reality’.




Article dedicated to Dionisio G. Villagonzalo (1935-2007)

Related Post: An Ambassador: The Child I Was


Summer is here in Brisbane. It’s the best time to embrace the beach culture of Australia’s sunshine state, Queensland. The Student Ambassadors (especially the birthday boy) just enjoy the treat from Redland City Council Tourism, a day at North Stradbroke Island is certainly the way to go when it comes to breaking the monotony of studying.

And finally the most awaited interview with Miss Tourism Vietnam 2011 Huynh Thi Ngoc Han. She shares about her life as a student in Brisbane & why she is proud of her roots.

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Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Study Brisbane


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2005 World Youth Day Experience: In Germany I Have Worshipped Him


Cologne, Germany – I won’t forget that travel westward from Oriental Taiwan across the interminable European continent; hearing international speakers, experiencing inspired worship, engaging in practical workshop and most importantly seeing the new pontiff Pope Benedict XVI plus an exciting bonus – meeting my brother in Rome, Italy.
After passing a series of interviews: first with Youth Arise International (YAI) Manila, and second, with the German Embassy in Makati City and having been recommended by the Commission on Youth of the Diocese of Dumaguete, I joined 8 other official delegates from Oriental Negros to the 20th World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany.
The World Youth Day (WYD) is a week-long spiritual journey where young adults from all over the world unite to know and fall deeper in love with God. And yes, we embraced the opportunity to make our Filipino voices heard about the urgent need to help other young people find their useful place in society.
Before all the print and TV media were flooded with news reports on 600 or so Filipinos who were denied by the German Embassy, we were lucky and (I believe) blessed by Him that we already got at hand our Schengen Visa (a type of visa that would allow the bearer to enter all Schengen states or member-countries of the European Union-EU). So we left Manila on the 9th of August off to Germany via Taiwan aboard China Airlines.
Frankfurt, Germany – I made the Filipino man’s mistake of heading for an empty table in an airport restaurant. An airport staff was shocked: “Hold on a minute, sir! Why don’t you sit over here with these folk? I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about.” He was right of course. Germany is a place where human contact is easy. Indeed, German or Deutsche friendliness is proverbial; first names are used freely and “kumpel” are easily made, especially if you show yourself ready to join in, say what a wonderful country it is (not difficult!), and refrain from invidious comparisons with wherever you come from.
Nowadays half the enjoyment of Germany lies in the many different ways there are of getting around. It was a special thrill for me to get up into the bus heading for a 2-hour ride to Essen City (northwest of Frankfurt) for our registration at YAI Youth Festival, which stretched for 4 days. However, there was a sudden change of track since we were with the four Diocesan priests Fr. Ireneo “Dodong” Ruiz, Fr. Ramonito Maata, Fr. Lonilo Torres, and Fr. Roland Omatang we decided to cut short our stay in Essen to proceed to a parish church in Mülheim-Karlich in the Koblenz region for our “Days in the Diocese.” It is a standard pre-WYD activity to give pilgrims an opportunity to visit other dioceses in Germany and get a chance to meet the Deutsche people. Activities were sponsored by all 26 dioceses in Germany except Cologne which hosted the actual WYD activities.
In Koblenz, all the Oriental Negros delegates (except for Fr. Ram Maata and Ms. Maria Rubie Gabay Quilinguin who stayed in Frankfurt) were housed in three different homes of Filipinas married to German nationals. Loren joined another delegate Mrs. Elena Ricklefs, a teacher of Colegio de Santa Catalina de Alejandria as the first group. The two priests Fr. Torres and Fr. Omatang composed the second, while I joined Ms. Candice Zosa, an alumna of St. Paul University-Dumaguete, and Fr. Ruiz in another. In an unbelievable span of a week, there we engaged in various spiritually stimulating activities with French, Slovakians, a Vietnamese and of course, the local German youths.
 In Mülheim-Kärlich after a procession which ended in a celebration of the Holy Eucharist attended by local German, French, Slovakian delegates who will be leaving for Cologne the next day.(From front Right to L)Fr. Leonilo Torres, myself, Fr. Ireneo Ruiz, Candice Zosa & Gitka Kurhajcova.

In Mülheim-Kärlich after a procession which ended in a celebration of the Holy Eucharist attended by local German, French, Slovakian delegates who will be leaving for Cologne the next day.
(From front Right to L)
Fr. Leonilo Torres, myself, Fr. Ireneo Ruiz, Candice Zosa & Gitka Kurhajcova.

Rather more relaxing was a pilgrimage trip through the same kind of landscape to Trier near the Luxembourg national border. Tall trees still cloak some of the less accessible areas of the southwest part, but most of German’s park-like woodland there did not suffer grievously at the hands of the timber-cutters.
In the stretch between Koblenz and Trier, the Moselle (wine towns and castles) winds and weaves its way, more than any other German river. In the many meanders one can clearly see the incredible force with which the Moselle once drove its way through the slate of the mountains on its way to Trier, where it flows into the Rhine. The craggy slopes and sheer cliffs are silent witnesses of this ancient battle of water to break through stone. Dams and locks have now tamed the river, and the Moselle has been navigable along most of its length for several decades. Sitting on the rear seat in the bus, I enjoyed the view of the medieval castles rearing up over the vineyards. Their towers and battlements reminded me of older, warlike times that I only see on movies and a couple of HBO or Cinemax experience; but today the old stone walls are just as romantic as the ruins perched on the ragged cliffs.
A number of the old castles, stately homes and fortified monasteries provided me an impression of the colourful history of the region. I bet those less interested in history can simply admire the imposing appearance of the massive old buildings, and the wonderful view over the beautiful Moselle Valley.
So much with the scenes of panoramic landscape drama, we’ve finally arrived at our pilgrimage destination in the city then became known as Treveris (now Trier), a former Roman Colony founded by Caesar Augustus. According to our guide, the glory of the Roman Colony, however, was short-lived as Germanic tribes gradually drove further and further southwards, and the Roman troops finally left in the Fourth Century.
100_1539Trier, Germany – Welcoming our arrival was the Porta Nigra (“Black Gate”), the largest surviving gate from the Roman Period. The massive, castle-like structure was originally made of blocks of light sandstones; its present dark color is a result of ageing over the centuries. After the end of Roman rule the Porta Nigra was converted into a twin church (1016). Much later, Napoleon Bonaparte had the relics and other religious paraphernalia removed.
[Porta Nigra “Black Gate” (Ooops wrong camera date setting) Photo taken 13Aug2005]
In Trier, according to an old tradition the Robe of Christ is kept and venerated in the Trier, Cathedral. But we haven’t got the chance to see it displayed. It is regarded as a symbol of the Son of God become man and of His redemptive work. We were told that Medieval tradition traces the presence of this relic of Our Lord in Trier back to St. Helena (died ca.330), mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. It is said that she discovered Christ’s cross and tunic during her stay in Jerusalem and gave orders that the robe be brought to Trier. Only in 1196 that it was glass-walled into the new altar of the east choir and since that time, the Robe has been displayed at irregular intervals, always attracting pilgrims to the Trier Cathedral. The age of the Robe and the fact that it was walled up for so long will no longer allow a display or long exposure to light as in earlier pilgrims, years long before I even set foot on German soil.
Very likely the question of the authenticity of the Holy Robe can no longer be settled. In that place it is regarded as image and symbol of Jesus Christ. It is expressed in this way in the pilgrim’s prayer used since 1959. In this prayer we have a reminder of the sacred robe, which, according to the Gospel of St. John (19:25), was not divided by the soldiers at Christ’s crucifixion, but was kept while after they had cast lots over it.
Now at this time, we were very much excited to the second stretch of another week; approaching fast was yet another track to marvel on Monday, 15th of August. The scented water we know was named after this place where it was first manufactured.
Willkommen in Köln! (Welcome to Cologne)
The city seems to offer its citizens most of the ingredients of good life: attractive homes in every price category in suburbs that range from the merely pleasant to the opulent; and every kind of outdoor playground, from the sweeps of the Rhine River and superb architectures to lavish parklands that bring the bush almost into the city center.
True Cologne is a synthesis of city and river, and I made sure that I enjoyed it not only from Rhine River but also from the Cologne Cathedral itself. For much of the latter part of my first day in Koln, my eyes returned again and again to the unforgettable image of the cathedral’s clustering towers rising over the functionally elegant Rhine Bridge. The location of the present cathedral was almost certainly the focal point of Christians living here in Roman times.
In the Middle Ages Cologne was one of the largest and richest cities in Europe. The imposing panoramic view of the city and the Rhine is therefore to be found in many old pictures even on history books, circulating around Filipino readership. Here, on the city’s northern perimeter, churches of ever-larger sizes replaced the buildings that were here before them. They formed part of a circle of collegiate churches and monasteries that made up “Holy Cologne”. I have seen high-rise buildings but none had appeared as tall as the Cathedral.
Shrine of the Magi

Shrine of the Magi

With the many information booklets given to us, I have encountered the name Archbishop Rainald von Dassel, the person who brought the relics (including human bones) of the “Three Wise Men from the East” to the city of Cologne from Milan in 1164. From then on, each year thousands from all over Europe made a pilgrimage to the relics of the Three Wise Men. The Pilgrimage of the Magi played an important part in the spiritual and economic life of the city. The crowns of the three wise men are still part of the city’s coat of arms today. A foremost goldsmith of the period between 1190 and 1220, Nicholas of Verdun created a golden shrine for the much-revered relics.
As we fell in line joining thousands of other youths of different colors, to march in towards the inside of the cathedral you’ve probably imagined me already: with a typical Filipino height, now desperately grasping for more air, as towering species partially blocked my sight of the edifice. Some Caucasians sunburned (by the way August is the height of summer in Europe), blond and blue-eyed. Some dark. Some Latino-looking beauties from either South America, or Latin Europe. And a few brown-complexioned just like me. So my only guide ahead was that Philippine flag raised in a pole by Fr. Ruiz, which we both took turns as flag-bearers. Good thing one generous Filipina bought us a tall yet elegant pole, which more often than not, stood out from a few ordinary flagpoles raised by other fellow foreigners.
As we were nearing towards the cathedral’s main entrance (St. Peter’s Gate in the South Tower), I could already see the arches which were pointed in the middle with all parts of the cathedral uniformly vaulted, thus underscoring the heavenward dynamism of the whole edifice. The colossal architecture was to give the people an impression of heaven, and oh gee, was the sight Heaven!
Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

With its great black-marble high altar inside, the inner choir is encompassed by an ambulatory adjoining a circle of chapels. The pillars are made up of a large number of round rods, the so-called shafts, and the vaults being supported by the ribs. The interior is decorated with capitals with gilded, naturalistic leaves. Stone ornaments are set in big windows, the tracery. The whole of the exterior is decorated in similar fashion with circles and circular elements. The southern side of the chancel, the one facing the city, is more richly decorated than the northern side.
The pier buttresses rise up from the circle of apsidal chapels as from a pedestal, dissolving in myriad arches and peaks as they soar upwards. A view of the windows of the upper choir with its fine tracery and richly decorated tympana opens up between them. The steep lead roof has a calming effect on the whole, while the golden cross on it shone forth from that point to my pupil gave a sense of the ethereal.
The high quality of all the work done, from the hundreds of sculptures hewn for the façade to the towers and the entrance portals to the large stained glass windows, makes the Cathedral indeed one of the foremost works of art of the Neo-Gothic Period.
Before we could all finally flock together in one big gathering for the entire WYD delegations from all over the world, our days were first filled with a roster of interesting catechetical activities: together with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and celebrations of the Holy Eucharist all over the 3 core cities of Cologne, Bonn, and Düsseldorf.
Along the Rhine River in Cologne— Waiting for Pope Benedict XVI, as he will be waving to pilgrims and spectators from a boat on the river Rhine in Cologne, western Germany, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005. (From Left to Right) With Fr. Ireneo Ruiz, Candice Zosa, daughter of our host in Cologne, Ms. Elena D. Ricklefs, Loren Tañac-Gonzalez & a Filipino-German local.

Along the Rhine River in Cologne— Waiting for Pope Benedict XVI, as he will be waving to pilgrims and spectators from a boat on the river Rhine in Cologne, western Germany, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005.
(From Left to Right) With Fr. Ireneo Ruiz, Candice Zosa, daughter of our host in Cologne, Ms. Elena D. Ricklefs, Loren Tañac-Gonzalez & a Filipino-German local.

Public Transportation
The sprawl of high-density suburbs surrounding major cities is conducive to the operation of an effective transportation system, and Germans have become very dependent on cars for work, shopping, and recreational trips. However, city public transportation services based on bus and rail are surprisingly efficient, albeit a heavy drain on the public purse. But lucky for us we did not have to spend a Euro or two, our WYD pilgrim IDs served as tickets and passes.
So within the intervals of the different events we were to commute from one venue to another via all-access-free rides on Inter-City Express (ICE) trains wherever in Germany for the entire duration of the WYD for as long as we wear our pilgrim IDs.
Food and Drinks
Dishes found nationwide and even in our host families tended to be of the heart variety and included cold meats, veal, pork chops, cheese, wurst (sausage), superlative breads, potato or bread dumplings (knodel) served with meat and sauce, fabulous Lake Constance trout, Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets), duck and game (especially in the south), Konigsberger klopse (pork and veal meatballs with capers), apfelstrudel (apple strudel), Rhine salmon and sauerkraut. These were food totally new to my palate; however, I started to feel a strange hunger, because every time we ate I was not quite satisfied. I felt something was lacking, until I realized I was in dire crave for rice. Well as expected, where can you see rice fields in a non-tropical setting? But that wasn’t at all a major problem since I then administered in my system a forcible no-carbo diet. So my lady companions, Candice, Loren and Ma’am Elena thought it was a blessing in the guise of finally getting rid of the numbers around their waistlines.
Though I don’t really drink any sorts of liquor, I must admit it was difficult not to try the excellent German wines and beers for the sake of quenching my curiosity. Weisse, weizen or weissbier refer to a wheat beer, which comes in 2 varieties: hefe (high yeast content) and kristall (clear, sparkling and served with a lemon slice). Apfelwein (apple wine), a Frankfurt specialty, was also very good.
Our companion Loren Tañac-Gonzalez is now ready with our lading mats while we were claiming our WYD2005 food vouchers for dinner tonight.

Our companion Loren Tañac-Gonzalez is now ready with our sleeping mats while we were claiming our WYD2005 food vouchers for dinner at Marienfield.

The Vigil with the Pope

What a better way to conclude the World Youth day is by enduring that feeling of renewed spiritual awakening spent on a vigil night at the Marienfield. Walking 8 kilometers for an hour or almost two to get there was nothing to measure, what seemed to be immeasurable was the thought that we neither got hungry or too tired while hiking. Finally entering the field felt like we were on hallowed grounds: a place where I can meditate and be in communion with my Higher Self. Seeing all the other youths of different races march in jamboree is like witnessing Moses’ people traverse a long and arduous journey to Canaan. That one of a kind feeling transcended my inner being to another dimension.
We laid our sleeping mats at our respective areas in the open field with the usual setting of the summer sun still at 10 o’clock in the evening. The night was unbelievably cold, that we talked with smoke coming out from our mouths. “It’s like I’m gonna die with the coldness here, ‘dong Xavier,” said Fr. Torres, who decided not to join the other priests who went to con-celebrate the mass the next day.
And all commenced the following day (21st of August) in a Holy Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. I heard the youths repeatedly cried: “Papst Benedikto, We love you!” followed by two subsequent claps over and over again. So finally we received the final blessings of the pope. And yes, indeed “We have come to worship Him” Matt. 2:2 (The latter is also the official theme of WYD 2005).
***This is a tribute to Pope Benedict XVI who has recently resigned as head of the Catholic Church last 28 February 2013 due to health reasons. The article was first published in The Visayan Daily Star StarLife Sunday by columnist Dr. Maria Cecilia Genove (Dean, College of Mass Communication at Silliman University) on 18 December 2005 in the Philippines. ***

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Youth Ministry


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New chapter of my Brisbane story

“Today my life begins” and so was the inspiring line sang by my favourite Filipino-American singer, Bruno Mars.

I know I try my best to keep this department a bit private but, yes it’s love—but sad to say—so it was.

I’m sure not a lot of people even find some entertainment in sharing miserable heartbreak stories, so I’ll try to keep it that way. Though I felt like I was almost there but some things are just not meant to be. Oh! Stop me now. Okay, let’s park that case right there.

So, ever wonder why my blog space was in deep slumber? Now it’s hoping to scream out louder.

“Love is like a river, never ending as it flows, but gets greater with time!”
—Reinhold Niebuhr

THIS NEW CHAPTER I wish you happiness with your ‘river’ as I stay here hoping this time I might finally find mine…

This is funny. At least I’ve got some excuse now—I hope it’s a valid one—for not having been inspired to get some literary concoction going on about my colourful life in Brisbane. Well that’s it, colorful indeed. You see wherever you go, you cannot deny people, things and events to come your way, and they are just inevitable. No way to predict. No way to avoid.  Every person you meet is a whole new experience.

I guess all you really want to happen is give yourself in. And I’m glad these all happened in Brisbane.

As I’m nearing towards the end of my two year role as a Brisbane International Student Ambassador, it just makes sense that I get to experience all the facets of living in this wonderful city. Not to mention all the fun, I got to meet some dignitaries around the world with the likes of Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of Companies;  Philips Senior Director of Energy & Climate Change Harry Verhaar; and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit in 2011.

Going to exciting familiarization tours—from the unforgettable overnight at Tangalooma Island Resort, to celebrating my birthday at North Stradbroke Island, and to visiting the lush, green side of Redland’s Indigiscape Centre—they are not just my favourite but a whole heaps more that are quite memorable too.

And when I say different facets, I also mean the not-so-good bits (besides the heartbreak) including the tyranny of distance; not being with few family members who are in the Philippines, having been absent in many relative and friends’ celebrations—from weddings, graduation, reunions and anniversaries and the list goes on…

Well it’s sometimes bittersweet you know but that’s life, we sacrifice one thing to also experience the joy of doing another. Pros and cons will not dare go out of our way, so we just have to go with the flow.  Like my niece Kerrie’s favourite line in ‘Finding Nemo’—when Dorry was trying to help a worried father find his lost son—“just keep swimming, just keep swimming”.  Oh swimming shall I go, amidst all the heaving waves that try to push me back—but I will keep going until I find what I am looking for (not Nemo of course!).

In a sea of endless possibilities, Brisbane has taught me to LOVE and BE LOVED—not only by a set of good friends in the Filipino Students in Brisbane group but also amongst my local Aussie friends and a beautiful bunch of international friends—so how will I forget my fellow International Student Ambassadors coming from 23 different nations.  I must say we have all journeyed together and have established a strong camaraderie that neither one of us will ever forget. You guys have probably gotten tired of my saying ‘Thank You’ so I say it in my own tongue ‘Maraming Salamat’.

I can safely say that regardless of our religion, colour of skin, cultural beliefs and background—it was all about FAITH, not only in some Divine Intervention but faith in ourselves and being aware that we are capable of doing things even bigger than ourselves, and lastly faith in shaping our dreams!

ALL of you friends (and also to her)—together with those dreams, we can still make them happen.

Our journey will not end there, it has only BEGUN!

“You only have one life to live, so you better make the best of it”—Bruno Mars

Graham Quirk with BISA 2012

The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Graham Quirk with the Brisbane International Student Ambassadors appointment in March 2012


 Au Courant’s Corner is preparing to air a whole new exciting set of webisodes. As a primer, have a look at the work of a very talented member (name withheld upon request) of the Filipino Students in Brisbane (FSB) who crafted this full of life OFFICIAL TEASER for the Brisbane Mabuhay Philippines Festival held last 12 October 2012.

An initiative of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Australia-Philippines—together with the Filipino Students in Brisbane—and proudly supported by the Brisbane City Council, the Brisbane Mabuhay Philippines Festival this year was definitely more exciting as it showcased some of the best Filipino talents in the city from dancing to singing—not to mention an awe-inspiring cultural rendition of the Kalinga tribe of the Philippines by another FSB member Paul Mariano and a Melbourne-based international student, April de Chavez, who flew her way from interstate to enjoy the festival with us. Commenting on the success of the event, it was seen posted in the Facebook page of Lord Mayor of Brisbane – Graham Quirk on 15 October saying: “A great turn out at the Festival”

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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Study Brisbane


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Get Wet and Learn To Surf at the Gold Coast

Whilst Brisbane is forecast to sweat through its hottest few weeks ago, the question is why swelter when you don’t have to. Being in the capital of the ‘Sunshine State’ one should always be on the look out for ways to staying cool.

Besides my Filo mates’ favorite artificial beach in Southbank, all the long sandy ones are just within striking distance of Brisbane. I am talking about the nine major beaches that dot along the Gold Coast which made the latter as Australia’s most famous tourist area. Not to mention all the innumerable high-profile attractions such as Warner Bros. Movie World, Wet ‘n’ Wild, Sea World and Paradise Country which Gold Coast houses, I still reckon this beach culture is ought to be the best way to embrace the sunshine.

9 Gold Coast Beaches

Coolangatta (Photo by Deiter Dizon)

Coolangatta in a Rainy Sunset (Deiter Dizon)

Coolangatta — fun for the whole family.

Currumbin — more famous for its bird sanctuary than its beach.

Palm Beach.

Burleigh Heads.

Nobby Beach.

Mermaid Beach.

Broadbeach — in the heart of the tourist attraction.

Surfers Paradise— the most famous of all the beaches. A long sandy strip backed by high-rise apartments.

Burleigh Heads

Burleigh Heads (Photo by Deiter Dizon)

Southport — the more modern and exclusive end of the coast

But wait before you even start your set of wheels please hold it right there, it’s important to keep in mind how to stay safer at the beach by remembering the FLAGS—well not the British Blue Ensign defaced with the state badge on a white disc in the fly, but simply these simple tips by Surf Life Saving Queensland:

Swim Between RED and YELLOW Flags

Swim Between RED and YELLOW Flags (Filipino Students in Brisbane's Romena de Chavez)


F—Find the flags and swim between them.

L—Look at and read the safety signs.

A—Ask a lifesaver or lifeguard for advice

G—Get a friend to swim with you

S—Stick your hand up for help.


Always remember to swim between the RED and YELLOW flags.

If either sunbathing or swimming is not your cup of tea, then SURFING should be your best option. That two-hour surf lesson with Get Wet Surf School last year together with Study Brisbane’s International Student Ambassadors just goes to prove (I am sure) that Queensland is not known as ‘Sunshine State’ around Australia for nothing, with plenty other ways to always keep cool.

Excited as I was to keeping my cool in The Spit Beach, Gold Coast, I frantically stood up on my first surfboard lesson in that one but I learned that I also have to keep a look around next time to make sure I won’t get washed into someone’s path again. For the less experienced like myself, learn to surf too on the Gold Coast & Surfers Paradise with Get Wet Surf School. (1800GETWET or

2011 - This was before, still struggling on making that stand.

Me Surfing in Action

2012 - This was after, just a perfect example of that mantra in life: "Try and try, until you SUCCEED!"



Another guaranteed FUN day out!

Brisbane Welcomes International Students 2012 event here we come.

We HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON wearing that smile!


And oh, just as you think of heading to the Gold Coast (I know it’s fun to surf) but do check out first our own story as documented by the video blog at  Au Courant’s Corner now on its seventh webisode with an exclusive up-close and personal interview with Charlton Brown’s 2011 Most Outstanding International Student, Kyoko Yamazaki from Japan.

Not even the afternoon storms possibly pushing temperatures into the high 30s last time could STOP Au Courant’s Corner from bringing you an entertainment while learning about the life of an international student in Australia’s New World City.

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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Study Brisbane


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One Brisbane Christmas of Finding a Purpose

Photo credit: Debbie Yarra (’s almost my favorite time of the year once again and just as I was beginning to start writing again for my blog I realized something. This all started when a former classmate of mine since elementary up to high school posted on her Facebook wall:

(With permission to post from her)

With permission to post from Ms. Nikki Claire Flores









Contrary to what I have commented, I suddenly feel that what she said might also hold true to my situation. But there have been a lot of things that have happened in my life that I could say, in my humble opinion, are significant enough to me. The lost of both my parents at an early age I even consider well significant to make me understand that things happen for a reason. Moving to another country is perhaps another one.  But like Nikki, most of us know the emotions of life can take us into all the dark corners of doubt and I admit that I too have a lifelong dream that I’m continually working on so likewise I ask myself “What is the purpose of my existence?”

In the different stages of our lives, just like you, there are several times I asked that perennial question.  But to be quite honest no one here on earth would immediately have a ready answer. Other than the one above us, really it’s for us individuals to find out for ourselves through a life-long process I reckon.   Well lucky for those who think they might already have but at least for both Nikki and I, we don’t.

Photo Credits:

Lately, because I miss home and especially that a recent flashflood badly hit the City of Dumaguete (my hometown) and 2 other cities in Mindanao—Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, I was listening to my favorite, The Black Eyed Peas’ music entitled The APL Song then came this strange feeling.  A sudden rush so powerful that inevitably caught my emotions to run deep. This does not happen too often though, but tonight conveyed a mind-boggling message I just cannot afford to ignore. No matter how hard I try to relax my line of thoughts, the surge just remained even stronger and stronger.

Oh well this is really nothing I thought, but there it was again now becoming a little too familiar. Then it struck like someone just poured a glass of cold water on me so I finally surrendered to it.

“Okay, okay you win.”  Nostalgia why do you knock on my door—all this sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in my not so distant past is perhaps not new to me and may be similar to others who have left from their place of birth to another where one have not yet significantly spent a good number of years. The longing for home can even become harder for some, especially during this holiday season.

Along with a friend Deiter Dizon, I helped established the Filipino Students in Brisbane, a group which started as a Facebook page now becoming a community for students who have just arrived in Brisbane to help them adjust to a culture different from what they are accustomed to.  Other local youth whose families have migrated from the Philippines years a while back to this city are also becoming active towards tracing back to their ancestral roots. In the SPIRIT of Christmas, the Filipino Students in Brisbane, or FSB as we commonly call it, is conducting this humble endeavor wherein we are requesting friends and members to donate their unused clothing and non-perishable food items.  As for money donations, the group has decided to direct all philanthropic hearts to UNICEF Philippines to support their emergency campaign for victims of Tropical Storm Sendong.

Back home I always believe that people are finely attuned to what we call as the spirit of “Bayanihan” – a Filipino word derived from ‘bayani’ which means “hero or heroine leader”; and bayan’ which means “town, nation, or community in general.”  If the essence of both words combined, it literally means “being a bayan,” and is thus used to refer to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation. Unarguably, that same spirit which is often exhibited during these times of calamities like earthquakes, typhoons and floods is perhaps part of every culture in the world the city of Brisbane included—with the January 2011 floods.


So it’s probably nothing more than a continuation of this synergy of togetherness all gluing us together.
Whilst I always understand that the purpose of Christmas is of course to celebrate the birth of Christ, with all these recent events this, I’m sure, was a portent of things to come. And that is why I still often find myself staring blankly wondering what could be the purpose He created me for and thinking back on my friend’s mind-boggling question: What really is my purpose?

Well, I may have not yet found the true purpose of my existence but I think as for now—being around and active with my fellow Filipino community—can serve as the reason for which my determination continue to exists.

And it is through looking back to where I come from that I can safely get to where I am going, that’s why in the many activities I try to emphasize not only to others—but for myself as well— that tracing back to our FILIPINO roots is one way of paying tribute to our worthy ancestors as we received from them a fair inheritance: OUR CULTURE, OUR TRADITION, and OUR IDENTITY.


I am Xavier Villagonzalo. I am a FILIPINO.

And probably from there, I will start finding my life’s purpose.  I hope you’ll find yours too. Merry Christmas everyone!



 Au Courant’s Corner gives you this holiday season a special webisode featuring the Filipino Students in Brisbane having their second Filo BBQ at Southbank Parklands, Brisbane. 

Philip Cox from the Brisbane City Council (City Cat Sales & Marketing) graced the occasion to witness what Filipino culture is all about. Lucky participants get FREE passes to the iconic “Wheel of Brisbane.”

If exotic food is your thing, then who would have thought that eating ‘balut’ in a contest would send audience grinning from ear to ear rather nefariously. Probably due to the bonus treats that aren’t usually included on your ordinary hard-boiled egg such as feathers, duck’s bill and what not. So if you are morbidly curious to know their reactions, then watch it for yourself!

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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Study Brisbane



Blogging’s Evolution to the Entreprise

If I were to liken storytelling to the theory of evolution, Neanderthals would be those ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Cro-Magnons can be Gutenburg’s printing press and the Modern men are definitely blogging.

My job today is neither to focus on the discourses surrounding the origins of humans, nor to substantiate mutation of certain species simply evolving into another.  But evolution in this context thus refers to the advent of new and better world of mass media with blogs turning it on its head.

AT some point in my previous learning back home I have encountered the name Johannes Gutenburg— whose name may not immediately ring a bell to you especially to the later generation but journalism or communication students simply know him, I am sure, as the man who invented the printing press!

Credits to Seán Pòl Ó Creachmhaoil

As easy as setting up a blog account at WordPress or Blogger,  you can see a great difference when the price of publishing is practically nothing as long as you have three things; a computer, an Internet connection and an exciting literary concoction, then voilà!  You are now your own publisher.

Just like you and me, I am well-fascinated by the sudden community that sprung up and ever since the bandwagon jumping began even to corporations.  Now corporations either used blogs externally for the purposes of branding, public relations or marketing which take the name of corporate blogs, or internally to enhance the communication and culture within them.  The rapid growth of blogs spread like a wildfire as an indispensable tool in practically most clubs, societies and events.

CLEARLY, I for one am a believer of Johannes Gutenburg with his printing press—an idea of intelligent design that paved the way to the boom of publishing, and what later became as the start of information revolution.  Now another revolution made even better—BLOGGING in the Entreprise!

So there is NO reason why the event on my previous post—the 34th International Geoscience Congress—would not benefit from a blog.  Primarily a blog can be used too as an interactive and collaborative bulletin board benefitting stakeholders ranging from prospective registrants up to the organizing committee level.

Well to start with, one can always choose to sign-up for premium subscriptions to open source blogging tools and publishing platforms like WordPress and Blogger.  Or even to the more tech savvy individuals or corporations—small and large scale alike—who would want to go beyond learning or hiring someone respectively to get a bespoke interface built on sophisticated content management systems and web application frameworks like Drupal and Ruby on Rails.

But for those people who like a less complicated life, like me, I would go anywhere for FREE and what’s more is that they have built-in features, including a plug-in architecture, and a ready-made template system. You know what I’m talking about, yes, WordPress (learning and loving it) and Blogger (by Google)!

■   WordPress provides a free online blogging service for the users who do not have a server or do not set up a server. In addition, WordPress also provides an open resource blog program which allows users to build blogs on their own servers. Below is my own dashboard which allows me to post and modify entries so I can deliver right on your computer screens.

One main feature of WordPress blog is its multi-authoring functionality which allows several authors to manage one blog, just perfect, so if we take the 34th IGC event for case study purposes, members of the organizing committee can access, modify changes and answer enquiries from those attending the Congress.

In addition, WordPress blog provides ‘Pages’ function. For example, an ‘about’ page provides the author to make an introduction of one’s self or business, and the same can add more pages if need be.  However, not most blogging tools provide similar function though. Yet it also offers an eclectic range of themes and page arrangement for authors.

Blogger, on the other hand, is Google-owned and its main feature is that it syncs in with your Gmail account; hence, a Gmail user can automatically own a blog. Blogger, as you can see on my dashboard, also has a crisp layout yet with a rather simple and clear interface. It, too, provides themes and handy page arrangement for authors.

Brief Comparison on WordPress vs. Blogger

WordPress and Blogger are both FREE and very easy to use. However, what sets WordPress apart—at least for me—is that it provides more functions than Blogger, like on the ratings and polls. In addition, WordPress provides blog analytics to show the traffic and trends of visitors. While WordPress only has the limited authority level for modifying page themes (only to premium account users), Blogger themes, on the other hand, can be modified using CSS as the authors wish.

“It is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams…Through it, God will spread His Word. A spring of truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men”
Johannes Gutenberg




Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Enterprise 2.0


34th IGC—Geoscience ‘Olympics’ in Brisbane

Asia Pacific Cities Summit Ambassadors rendering service in the spirit of volunteerism last July 2011

For the international student that I am here, I could not just disregard the beautiful trajectory for BrisbaneAustralia’s New World City—  last year and this year.  2011 saw Australia hosting a summit in July for Asia Pacific region and in 2012 still Australia will play host to another international event on behalf of Oceania.

Asia Pacific. Oceania. Wow! I know from a modest point of view (since I was never geek enough in the sciences) that they may seem just two orthographic projections playing in my mind. But how relevant then shall be our knowledge of the Geosciences today, when every so often we hear natural catastrophes occurring from this side of the planet to another?

We ought to stress that—as human beings living in this planet—we are in an unprecedented territory, just as we started to think that Mother Nature will leave us for a little while, it will always come back with a full force. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and other natural hazards are all inevitable—and all covered by Earth Science!

The International Geological Congress (IGC) is the leading global forum for the Earth sciences.

What is IGC?

The Congress, being held once every four years and typically attracts 5000 delegates from over 100 countries, has been referred to as the Geosciences’ Olympics.  Having been held first in 1876 in Paris, the IGC is one of the longest running professional sector conferences in the world.  It has been regularly held ever since with the most recent ones hosted in Oslo, Norway (2008) and Florence, Italy (2004).

Dr. Ian Lambert, secretary general of the 34th IGC Organising Committee, states that

“the IGC is really big and important…it is the premier global geoscience event.  It brings geoscientists from around the world where they freely exchange information, they give oral and poster presentations presenting their research. They also have the opportunity to go on field trips to look at geographical features in the field.”

With the theme Unearthing our Past and Future – Resourcing Tomorrow”, the 34th IGC is being hosted by the Australian Geoscience Council (AGC).  The AGC is the peak representative body for geoscientists in Australia and consists of the following member societies, which represent specialty areas of the Earth sciences:

  • Association of Applied Geochemists
  • Australian Institute of Geoscientists
  • Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  • Geological Society of Australia
  • International Association of Hydrologists (Australian Chapter)
  • Australian Geoscience Information Association
  • The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
  • Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia.

IGCs are run under the auspices of the International Union of Geological Sciences, which facilitates international geoscientific collaboration and development of standards.

Many delegates are involved in cutting edge research. There will also be distinguished senior personnel representing national geosciences agencies, major resource companies as well as the extensive supporting contracting industry.  In fact, the 34th IGC Scientific Program will feature a daily Plenary Session, 220 symposia under 37 themes in which distinguished speakers will give invited presentations on major contemporary themes in the geosciences.

One that I am particularly keen to meet for the day, if only we get lucky to have that same volunteering opportunity again just like last July’s  Asian Pacific Cities Summit 2011 (as student ambassadors for Brisbane), is a familiar face from my home country—Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum, Jr.who has said in one of his interviews that “the Philippines has 20 earthquakes everyday on average. Having 20 earthquakes is a normal occurrence.”



IGC’s are held in host cities throughout the world. Countries that wish to host an IGC must bid for the event. The bid must demonstrate that the country has the expertise and resources necessary to run the event and do so at a cost that is reasonable to delegates who must pay fees to attend. Bids are submitted by numerous countries and are subjected to a competitive selection process. The 34th IGC is being held in Brisbane as a result of a successful bid against India and Morocco back in 2004 during a previous IGC in Florence, Italy.

Accommodation in Brisbane 

As released in the third circular of the 34th IGC, there are discounted accommodation rates available that were negotiated particularly for IGC delegates only at an extensive range of hotels and accommodation establishments in central Brisbane. Booking your accommodation can be done when you register for the Congress via the online system or through the downloadable registration form.  Apparently since there is a heavy demand for accommodation in the city, expected delegates are urged to book accommodation as soon as possible.

The international congress, slated on 510 August, 2012 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, will also provide an opportunity for young scientists and students to engage with some of the best geosciences minds in the world. The YES (Young Earth Scientists) Network will hold its second Congress within the 34th IGC.

This event is brought to you by Geoscience Australia, GNS Science (New Zealand), Carillon Conference Management along with academic partners Queensland Institute of Technology and the University of Queensland, while Vale as one of the major sponsors.  If interested, please register now by visiting its official website at


Lambert, I., & Gordon, A. (2011, September). Guest Lecture from IGC. In J. Watson (Professor), Entreprise 2.0. Lecture conducted from Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD.



Someone got even luckier on his last birthday to be granted an exclusive interview with a beauty queen whose interest lies in calligraphy, fashion, food and design, and who once said “I Just Got Lucky” in this one-on-one chat for a webisode that will take you to the changing skyline of her country.

Ms. Tourism Vietnam 2011 Huynh Thi Ngoc Han tells it all in this webisode while the rest of the student ambassadors enjoy their day at North Stradbroke Island, QLD, Australia. Here is the sneak peek to that upcoming Au Courant’s Corner webisode…


Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Enterprise 2.0, Study Brisbane


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