This Filipina receives highest honors distinction at Oxford University

By Catalina Ricci S. Madarang

This December 2021 photo shows Ellaine Joy Calapao Sanidad received her recognition under the Master of Studies in Diplomatic Studies program at the University of Oxford (Photo courtesy of Ellaine Joy Sanidad)

A Filipino student received the highest honors distinction at the prestigious University of Oxford in the United Kingdom this December.

Ellaine Joy Calapao Sanidad received her recognition under the Master of Studies in Diplomatic Studies program at the university on December 2.

She is set to graduate with the Oxford degree and award on March 12, 2022.

The Facebook page of Immaculate Conception Academy, Sanidad’s alma mater, shared a Facebook post that lauded for her for this achievement.

In an interview with Interaksyon on December 6, Sanidad explained that in Filipino terms, distinction may be considered as a Summa Cum Laude standing.

To receive a distinction is also considered the “highest honors a graduate/postgraduate can achieve” in British communities.

This would also be her second master’s degree after finishing her MA in Speech Communication at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Sanidad, who is from Ilocos Norte, shared that she attributed this success to God, her family, friends, mentors and other people who helped her along the way.

“First of all, always the Almighty God. Next, my family, relatives, friends, teachers and mentors, former colleagues and bosses, people who always believed in me,” she said.

She also gave a shout out to herself.

“I have always been too hard on myself, and it was only recently that I learned how important it is to give myself a tap once in a while for being able to put up with the ever ambitious, difficult me,” she added.

A stellar student

Sanidad had always sought for excellence in school since she was a child. She looked up to her elder cousins and sister who were top students back then.

Prior to her Oxford degree, she also earned other noteworthy achievements.

In 2010, she graduated Magna Cum Laude at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños.

While she was taking up her first master’s degree, she taught in UPLB for around four years. Her rank also went from an instructor to an assistant professor.

In 2016, she started to pursue a bigger dream of studying abroad.

Scholarship journey

Sanidad recalled that after her teaching job, she worked with the National Coast Watch Center under the Office of the President.

It was during that time when she applied for the Chevening Scholarship, a UK-based scholarship offered to eligible developing countries.

Her first attempt, however, did not go well.

Despite this hurdle, Sanidad still remained steadfast with her goal. She turned her failure into a learning process of acquiring her scholarship from 2016 to 2019.

“Although I failed my first attempt for a scholarship abroad, I remained determined to apply again. My first attempt taught me a lot about the application process and what type of individuals successfully get such a prestigious scholarship,” she said.

Sanidad’s hard work started to pay off in 2020. She got the scholarship and was offered a place in Oxford.

“As I described it in one of my posts on IG, my application in Oxford was ‘suntok sa buwan’. I just tried applying there, but never really expected to be offered a place. So, imagine my joy when I received those two big news in 2020 — getting the Chevening scholarship, and offered a place in Oxford,” she said.

Pandemic woes

Sanidad recalled her first term in Oxford also happened to be the first year of the pandemic in 2020.

During this time, her father was also diagnosed with dementia.

While she was writing her dissertation, Sanidad’s parents contracted COVID-19. She also learned that a very close aunt and cousin of hers died.

These difficulties initially made her doubt herself if she should stay in the UK or return home to her family.

“It came to a point I asked my ambitious self why she needed to dream that big. Why she brought me into that, so far, toughest year of my life. I wanted and needed to be with my family so bad, but there was little to nothing I could do. So, I studied hard and aimed to finish my program quick, as if those could make that one year away from home shorter,” Sanidad told Interaksyon.

She was also challenged by homesickness which she described as “emotional torture.”

“I thought being in the UK for a year would only feel like my usual life working in Manila, only, not coming to visit home at all for a year. I underestimated the emotional torture brought by the physical distance between the UK and the Philippines,” Sanidad said.

What’s next?

Despite being thankful for her success in the UK, Sanidad admitted she is scared for the next stage of her life after graduation.

She said she has no plans yet if she would take up a doctorate degree.

For now, Sanidad plans to rest and spend time with her family.

“Coming back home, my priority were to rest, spend quality time with my family, and work on my physical recuperation before pursuing my next plans in life. My physical health suffered a lot from the many restless days in the university, barely sleeping and eating anything at all due to dealing with all kinds of pressure studying in Oxford,” she said.

Sanidad also said that she celebrated her Oxford distinction with her family, relatives and friends after she returned home to the Philippines.

“We had two thanksgiving parties: first was when I just arrived back from the UK; second, just last week, a day after I learned my final award, when my family threw me a surprise thanksgiving party after knowing about it themselves,” she said.

To those who are dreaming of studying in Oxford, Sanidad has one advic which is to give their best in every step of the process.

“Think of Oxford as just any other university abroad. Considering it as an unreachable university won’t help you get there. However, that doesn’t mean working less towards getting there. Learn to always give your best in every endeavor you take, because only with giving your best could you get the best reward,” the Filipina achiever concluded.