Pisay Homecoming

When I was in Grade 6, my classmates Florence, Corinne, and I were the day’s cleaners at our classroom in St. Theresa’s College, Cebu.  While we wiped the blackboard, swept and scrubbed the cement floors, a lady from Admin came looking for the honor students of our class. Curious, we asked why.  Oh, they had to take an entrance exam the next day for a scholarship school, we were told.  For the heck of it, the three of us thought of taking the exam, too!

Weeks after, a PT&T telegram in a red plastic envelope came. I could see my name from the see-thru window.  It came with a short message that said I was being offered a place at the Philippine Science High School (PSHS or Pisay) in Manila. My father thought that was such a great thing! So just like that, at eleven years old, I left my family and everything I had known thus far to start living at the girls’ dorm on campus at Diliman, Quezon City.. an island away.  Everyone and everything was new to me. Ate Amor and Ate Vising who headed the Residence Hall were the new guardians for about two hundred of us high school students from different provinces from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

The sprawling campus which became my new home for the year was like a village on its own, surrounded by a wide stretch of grassy fields, trees, brushes, a creek.  It resonated vaguely of home back in Cebu except for what looked to me like huge buildings with clusters of boy and girl teenagers in the cream and brown checkered uniforms.30219_414035413632_8253359_nCommunicating to my family meant pulling out some cute stationery and ballpen, handwriting my message, sealing it in an envelope and dropping it in the mailbox. Eventually, I would get a reply in about three or four weeks.  If there was a question on my original letter, I sometimes forgot what it was by the time the reply came.  There were times, I heard my name paged on the loudspeaker from my room at the third floor and I would have to run downstairs to the ground floor to pick up the call from home.

I cried every single night without being able to articulate “the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home” a.k.a. homesickness.

We had Biology, Algebra, Chemistry, and Physics in the first year. I didn’t buy a Physics book due to my wrong application of what my father taught me, “Don’t buy expensive things.” The driveway of the girls’ dorm seemed to always be free of any foot traffic  while I skateboarded back and forth; I think it was because most everyone else was studying. After skateboarding, I kept up with Flordeluna.

There are students who are focused and studious and there are those who do well without studying. I was neither. I had the maturity of… an eleven year old.

My favorite subject next to Lunch and Algebra with Madame Gerochi would have been Gymnastics but on rainy days, we couldn’t cross The Oval to the gym because of the then-recent incident of a student getting struck dead by lightning on that path.


I was terrified of boys except for the few in my own section, Opal.I was more terrified when a boy would want to dance with me during the school dances at the cafeteria and I was most terrified when one gave me a doll. My sophomore dorm-mate, Patty, and her roommates comforted me.

When the monthly student stipend of P200 came, it was time to go with Patty or my classmates, Claudia and Vina, or my other dorm-mates, to Hi-Top Grocery across Edsa to shop for Chocolait and other goodies.  Sa kaka-reserve ng Chocolait, napanis na lang.  We had a communal fridge at the ground floor and that’s where I kept the Leche Flan my cousin Vilma brought me every now and then. When my soft-spoken roommate, Sandra’s mom came from Los Banos, she would share with me her pasalubong Buko Pie. Those were my joys.

My dorm-mates (some in the higher years) became my friends as we shared in the experience of surviving in the absence of our families albeit with crying at night. We had a school-wide weekly platoon training at The Oval marching across the field. My classmates and I had field trips and activities together.  Section Opal with Mr. Cipriano had camping in Liliw, Laguna.

One day, a Campus Crusade for Christ missionary shared the gospel with me and I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Savior during a banana-bread baking day.

But at the end of the year, my Physics grade did not make the cut and I couldn’t continue my scholarship. My father was very displeased with me (understatement).

At twelve years old, I saw myself as an official failure.

To top that, just when I had already gotten over my homesickness, I would have to be plucked out of my new comfort zone to go back to Cebu.  I wished forever that no one would ask me why I was back. I regretted skateboarding and watching Flordeluna, and not studying. Wasn’t it ironic that I was attending a school for smart people but was stupid not to buy the Physics school book? But it wasn’t just the book. My time there was up.

I was filled with feelings of failure, rejection, inadequacy, unworthiness, self-doubt, regret, shame, and being alone.

Have you ever experienced any of these in your life?  If you have, I would like to share with you the words of love and grace that the Lord showed me; hope these will encourage you:

  1. Psalm 139:16b All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Acts 17:26 26b He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live.  There are no accidents in our lives. Each day before and after the failure is appointed. As we continue to seek Him, He will guard our hearts from pride and rebellion during the seasons of success and from discouragement during the seasons of failure. There will still be continuing seasons of failure and triumph so keep on keeping on…
  2. Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. God uses all things (including failures, rejections, inadequacies, regrets, and shameful things) for the good of those who love and obey Him if we let Him use them for His purposes.
  3. Lam 3:22-23  The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.Every day is a fresh slate with the Lord. He is faithful even when we are faithless / unfaithful. Start anew today. He is rooting for you to triumph.
  4. 2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.Our weaknesses and failures are the very instruments that enable us to see our need for Jesus and serve as the platform for His glory. 
  5. Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. When we are in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation for us as He covers our shame, accepts us as we are warts and all, and He will empower us with His Spirit to act according to His will and live the full life He came to give despite all that may be wrong right now.
  6. Jer 29:11  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  No matter what bad situation you find yourself in, in God’s hands, it is not for calamity or harm. God knows the plans He has for us and it is for welfare, hope, and a future. The bad situations draw us to seek, call, come, pray to Him and we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts.
  7. Phil 3:13-14  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Victory is just one try more than the last failure; And no success or failure is ever final so forget what happened. Press on towards Jesus. He loves us unconditionally and will never leave nor forsake us.

I thank the Lord for revealing that He had other appointed plans waiting for me. The humbling experience was necessary for my character to grow (even though I still have a lot of growing up to do). I finally came out of my shell when in my senior year, God stepped in once again to give me an opportunity to receive a Rotary exchange scholarship to New Jersey where I had different things to learn that I would have missed out had He not plucked me out of Pisay when He did.

It was in Pisay where I heard the gospel even though it would take many years before I would understand the breadth of His perfect love.

Sharing this long ago story hopefully underscores the fact that there are times in our lives when circumstances seem to be going against us but with God in the equation, they actually work for our good… no, not for our good— for our best life yet.   He has appointed plans for you too. If you are going through a trying circumstance now, it is passing.  You may not see how this situation will get resolved but when you know The One who does, you can rest and be filled with His peace that surpasses all understanding.  Fix your eyes not on what is seen (because they are temporary) but fix your eyes on Him (because He is eternal).

I also thank Him for each of my childhood friends from Pisay. It is such a blessing to keep in touch with them through the years.

Years after, my Opal classmate, Monique surprised me when she rang the doorbell at my house in Cebu. In Pisay, I was an intern (dormer whose family is in the province) and she was an extern (she lived with her family in Manila) so we didn’t have as many shared experiences then but after high school/ college, we continued to grow up together through wifery, motherhood, work, and discovering places together. Along with her husband, our batchmate, Adee (whom I fondly call Kuya Eddie), and their children are like my family too.

We got together with other batch mates and have continued to do so through the years…

Deegee, Olive, Gwen, Monique





The nurturing figure of my Pisay experience, Patty Covarrubias, and I reconnected through Facebook.  When she came to Manila for a visit, for the first time since we both left Pisay, we visited our old school together and took a nostalgic stroll. <heart> <heart> We are in touch until today, literally 🙂

Me and my big Sis, Patty Covarrubias


Photo Credit: Gerald Baldivia

Last weekend was my first trip to a gym these past two years, not to exercise but to partake of the Pisay homecoming at the school gym with my batch mates for the first time. What a joy to be with the Pisay survivors, a great bunch of excellent men and women I admire.

Photo Credit: Randy Estrellado

Photo Credits: Olive Nuestro

Photo Credits: Ninnie Abejo:


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Ann M. Vicentina says:

    God is ever so Great! My only source of joy and triumph amidst extreme challenges in my life!

    1. Amen. Dear Mary Ann, yes! They say that sometimes God allows us to be separated from everything and everyone we want so we will know that He is the One we need. What extreme challenges did He enable you to overcome?

  2. Patty Covarrubias says:

    Good morning, Karen! You made me so nostalgic! You always have a wonderful way of expressing your thoughts in words! You are truly gifted and thank you for sharing these wonderful Pisay memories! I am so blessed to have shared that time with you!

    God truly works in wondrous ways. I am so happy that you have been able to piece things together and share it! You are gifted and you are a gift to have as a friend! You are blessed because you are such a blessing to know! I am so proud of you! I am so happy to see how you’ve grown in the Light of God’s love and serve as a beacon of light with your life, for His glory!

    Thank you for reaching out when you did. It means so much to me…❤️

    1. Dearest Patty, Praise God that you saw Him when you read this. I consider you the nurturing figure in my Pisay year because of your big sister care and concern that really helped me throughout that season. I thank Him for giving me the gift of you. We laughed so much, didn’t we! And though it was hard to keep connected with the mail situation and all the moving we had been doing, aren’t we blessed to live in the age of Facebook! Love you and praying His stream of abundant blessings for you and your whole family!

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