Cathy Alcantara isn’t one to stay idle during her downtime. When she was an Economics student in UP Diliman, she wanted to combine what she has learned in school with practical knowledge beyond the four corners of the classroom.

Her friend Pat Garcia knew what Cathy was thinking which was why she asked Cathy if she wanted to work as a review assistant (RA) at AHEAD where Pat was working as one.

Since AHEAD is located in Katipunan Avenue which was only minutes away from UP,  Cathy decided to give it a try.  As a review assistant, Cathy helped students prepare for their entrance exams to UP, Ateneo and La Salle. She worked at AHEAD after school, or during long breaks in-between classes. 

Since Cathy and the students were almost the same age, she was able to connect with them easily. She was like an older sister to them – advising, encouraging, and guiding them on what to do come the big day.

The students, on their part, confided to Ate Cathy their hopes and fears, mostly about the exam with an occasional reviewee seeking advice on personal matters. 

“A good review assistant must have a good relationship with his or her students. It’s easier to motivate them to prepare for the exams seriously when they know they can talk to someone who’s gone through a similar experience,” says Cathy.

She shared her experience with her friend and fellow UP student JC Tejano, who, after hearing her story, wanted to join AHEAD as a lecturer. Cathy helped him with his application and was soon accepted. Before he began his AHEAD adventure, Cathy advised JC on how to build rapport with his students to make the review classes more fun and enjoyable. 

Since AHEAD was their first work experience, Cathy and JC learned many new things along the way such as how one must conduct oneself properly at the workplace, how to deal with different people, and more importantly, a job, no matter how simple or common it may seem, plays an important role in the shaping of our society.

“It was in AHEAD where I realized that work can be fun, challenging and fulfilling all at the same time,” recalls Cathy. She enjoyed herself so much her stint as an RA that she moderated AHEAD’s annual UPCAT Refresher Course for three straight years.

Soon after, Cathy and JC went on to pursue different interests/careers.  The two lawyers  work for different organizations. JC, named one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines and a magna cum laude  graduate of UP Diliman, is serving the country as part of a non-profit organization.  Cathy, a Dean’s Service Awardee at the UP College of Law,  worked for the Office of Vice-President Leni Robredo and other government officials.

But JC and Cathy would occasionally drop by AHEAD the same way a child would always want to visit his or her “hood” and catch up with their homies.

Because AHEAD President Rossana Llenado cultivated a fun, light, and relaxed work atmosphere, both Cathy and JC grew not only professionally but personally as well.

“I learned not to be afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes are so important to reviews, especially in AHEAD, where students improve their chance of passing by taking mock exams. Personally, I’ve improved a lot both as a lecturer and as a person by focusing on my weak attributes and improving them,” says JC.

Cathy, on the other hand, learned that she must constantly improve.

As lecturer and review assistant, it was only normal for JC’s and Cathy’s paths to cross. Most of the time, conversations would revolve around their responsibilities to their students but to her surprise, Cathy found herself falling for the friendly guy who towered over her. On his part, JC found it easy to fall for the pretty, nice girl whose big smile can light up an entire room. What started out as a common desire to help others grew into friendship, finally blossoming into love

“Cathy isn’t the type you let go,” JC exclaims when they’ve finally decided to take their friendship to the next level.

As a couple for eight  years now, JC and Cathy may have bid good-bye to their respective jobs in AHEAD, but they’ve retained the values their teaching stint had taught them – that of continuous learning and personal growth.

“We enjoy challenging each other’s ideas and beliefs,” reveals JC. According to him, it’s a win-win situation. “Either you learn and outgrow your own ideas and beliefs, or you have a better appreciation for them.”

Cathy, for her part, reveals that she and JC try to enjoy everything that they do together – from assembling DIY furniture to studying for classes in law school. They’d seize every opportunity to go on adventures because they see them as a chance to learn some more about new cultures, people and places. They’re desire to be better versions of themselves keep the fire of learning, and love, or course, burning bright.

Cathy and JC would want what they’ve learned in AHEAD to be the foundation of the home they’ll build together someday.

Someday, when they have children of their own, JC would want to make learning fun for them the same way he made it interesting for his students in AHEAD.

“A good lecturer makes learning easy by making it fun. Humor is especially important. I don’t know how to teach math other than through humor. Numbers and equations can be very intimidating, but kids become unafraid of them with laughter,” he says. 

And because Cathy and JC have nothing but fond memories of the place which nurtured their love, the couple plans to return to AHEAD someday – when their children prepare for their college entrance exams. After all, getting your child into the country’s top universities is a goal every parent wants to achieve. 

Love, after all, is looking ahead, and loving what has come before. 

By Maridol Ranoa-Bismark ,as published in Inquirer Lifestyle, February 12, 2020

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