I remember entering my university without much knowledge about the course I have chosen in the entrance exam. My first choice was bachelor degree in International Relations so when I passed the test, they automatically reserved me a slot in the college. Looking back, I felt proud to be one of the students to pass the conditions set for the course. It was rumored to have the highest grade requirement both for high school grades and test results from students vying to study there.
On my first day as a university student, I felt like a small girl walking along the school lobbies. Univ students walked down with ease and confidence while I searched for my room and got to know fellow freshmen. My first class was foreign language of my choice: Nihongo. There I met two funny and unintimidating students and we got along well easily. After the class, the three of us marched down to our next class room.
The second subject was Philippine history and we were greeted by a loud yet sweet professor who was also a lawyer. Since it was my second class, I felt the uneasiness slowly fading that when the bell rang, I was almost confident to face the third class.
The third was titled “Introduction to Political Science” with a touch of international relations already. It was one of I think two or three major-related subjects I had during my first semester so I felt excited to attend it. I entered the room with my newfound friends (and block mates forever) and sat at the middle row seats.
He was late. All of us knew it since we were already contemplating of ditching the class. Since it was the “first day, introduce yourselves” meeting, we held back and tried to wait for more minutes. Finally, the professor arrived. He was not that tall, probably few inches than me. He was wearing those big spectacles fit his age. He looked like a friendly grandfather with a dignified air in him. Hmm, friendly but deadly, I thought.
He was retired ambassador Alfredo Almendrala, Jr. Manila Bulletin, a Philippine daily newspaper, wrote something about him:
Almendrala has had a remarkable career in government and the military. In the Philippine Air Force, he served as administrative officer and assistant chief of the Curriculum Development Division. He was a faculty member and acting school secretary of the Air Command and Staff School and later became executive officer of the Directorate of Public Information.
He left the Philippine Air Force with the rank of captain when he passed the Foreign Service Officers Exam (FSO) and, thereafter, rose from the rank of Third Secretary and Vice Consul to become Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Burma. In between, he served as Consul and Consul General in New Orleans, London, Ireland, and San Francisco. He also served as assistant secretary for administration and also for consular services in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
During our first class, he introduced himself as a retired Foreign Service and military officer. For a military man, he was shy. I don’t know if it follows that men in military must be confident, but there’s something in my new professor then that I assumed as shy. Later, I’ll know why.
Since it was an introductory meeting, we introduced ourselves and talked about our expectation for the course. Then he explained mostly of what the subject would entail. He focused on being aware of current affairs both local and international, which started his questions on our views regarding current events. At one point, as he was absorbed in discussing something (sadly, I forgot what was that about), something unexpected happened.
Most of our classrooms in my major had raised platforms where the professor can stand while teaching. At the center of that was the teacher’s table and chair. During that moment, Amba. Almendrala was sitting in the chair, the table before him. At one movement, the chair moved backwards where there was a gap between the wall and the platform. The chair fell awkwardly, and so was my teacher. Then, silence.
No one laughed. No one dared to. He got up by himself while saying, “Good. Now I got your attention.” And just like that, he broke the ice. We smiled. Some of us even laughed at his humor. When we recovered, he confessed that like us, he’s also a “freshman”. Teaching wasn’t exactly his calling. In fact, he didn’t want to teach. It was only because of our dean, Ambassador Reynaldo Arcilla, in one of their golf meetings, persuaded him to help student aspiring for foreign posts learn more about the Service. He reluctantly agreed and entered the university as a fresh teacher. And ours was his first class.
He warmed to us immediately. In our meetings, we studied theories and ideologies, but he always cite examples, and sometimes real-life experiences in his Foreign Service days. We learned inside scoops by that.
Some of us were even inspired by his life story. I won’t relate it here since I wrote this post without even permission from Ambassador Almendrala, but I’m sure I won’t be liable to suit for the suspended Cybercrime Law. Anyway, I was motivated by our mentor’s anecdotes. Some were humbling, while others were brilliantly strategized amidst tensions in foreign countries at that time that we want to be just like him when we “grow” up.
He was, and still is, an endeared professor to me and to my blockmates. After that first semester, he had rest from teaching, but we encouraged him to teach us back. After a year, I think, he returned and he was a consistent teacher to us. Up until the end, he taught us Diplomatic Protocol and Etiquette in our senior year.
I will always remember Ambassador Almendrala. Whenever we have problems, mostly unrelated to university and grades, we always went to him for advice. If we found something of interest, we could easily share this to him. There’s this one event in my school life that I really appreciated his gesture.
I was to receive an award for being included in the Dean’s List for at least seven consecutive semesters. Awardees for my course were only me and my best friend, RB Osorio. We were supposed to bring parents with us to award us the medal. Unfortunately, mom couldn’t since she was sick at that time and my dad was in his overseas work. So who would go with me?
My best friend’s mom, more like my aunt already, offered, but I was too shy to accept. Later, after putting on my gown (awardees and guests were required to wear traditional Filipino clothes), RB and I went to our college office and went to visit our professors to give our thanks. We went to Ambassador Almendrala’s office and was given the required “You looked stunning/dashing” comment. For whatever reason, RB brought up my problem to him. I was embarrassed. I did not want to involve my teacher in my small dilemma. He answered that he had a barong (traditional Filipino men’s clothes) ready for any occasion, though he didn’t have a white undershirt with it. He wanted to be with me there in stage, but couldn’t do so.
I was in line with my fellow awardees in the Hall of Freedom to go up stage and receive my award. When there were already two more people ahead of me, Ambassador Almendrala went up beside me wearing his barong! He apologized for being late because he went to SM Manila (a not so nearby mall) to buy an undershirt. When he explained, my eyes were already watery.
I couldn’t forget that thoughtful moment with him. He’s like my uncle I never had. We had many memories together with my friends that were filled with happy memories. I was very thankful that it was him who entered that classroom door during that third period of my first day in my first semester.
This post is getting a bit long, and I do not to bore you with my personal experience. I am just inspired to write. Soon, I might want to continue what I’ve said to a closer friend: Someday, I’ll make Ambassador Almendrala my Morrie Schwartz.
To close this, I’d like to share with you some of my professor’s favorite quotes. Some are his, while others are diplomatically inspired:
A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age. – Robert Frost
A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip. – Caskie Stinett
A Filipino must always be a pro-Filipino. – Ambassador Almendrala
Still there? Thanks for sticking to this lengthy post. I’m sure some thoughts already floated in your mind while reading today’s entry. So who is the person who has inspired you? Care to share a short story?