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by Chin Lapidante on Academic Clinic Fanpage

UP Survival Guide: UP Culture Shock

up survival guide

Yey!  You got through the monstrous UPCAT and came through to become one of the chosen few who have the right to be called UPians.  Of course, you still have to learn a bit more about the university before you can become a true-blooded vampire… err… UPian.  Prepare for the University of the Philippines’ culture shock.

Important Note: This article is not for those who prefer going in blind to going in armed and prepared.  It is also most assuredly not for those parents who’d rather turn a blind eye now than face reality and learn (then teach their kids how) to deal with the unique culture that is UP’s.

Size Does Matter

The University of the Philippines campuses are unbelievably huge.  If you think this is an exaggeration, we suggest you try even crossing from one point to the other on foot.  Once you’ve arrived, gasping and sweating and ready to trade a kidney for a good long drink of water, you’ll be glad you’re in the only university in the country with its own jeepney lines (which is an interestingly helpful idea on its own, considering most students do not have their own vehicles).

Owing largely to the multitude of places to be, the University of the Philippines’ culture is known for its love of place-name contractions and variations.  Almost every college and building has its standard name, e.g. College of Engineering; its hall name, eg Melchor Hall, and its abbreviated name, e.g. Eng’g.

The first few times you come here, you’ll be spending a few hours doing either of two things:  staring at the beautiful, varied terrain, or getting hopelessly lost.  Most places will appear similar the first time you see them, owing largely to the abundance of plant life (any two given fields near the main university will seem identical) and building construction (the lobby of the College of Law looks like a serious, stiff doppelganger of the lobby of the College of Education, right down to the pillars).

But fear not, it gets less confusing with time.  Along with learning and appreciating the history and character of the University of the Philippines, you’ll soon be able to identify places correctly at a glance.  You’ll be able to differentiate the two identical-at-first-glance brick buildings near the College of Mass Communications (one is the UP Theatre and the other is the UP Film Center).

Take some time to go around and get used to the terrain.  There are a million untold stories out there – feel free to discover some and create some of your own tales to tell.

University of Freedom

UP, being THE place for many forms of academic freedom, you’ll run into several expressions of religious, personal and sexual-orientation emancipation here.

No Dress Code. One of the most readily apparent ones is the freedom in the choice of clothing:  while UST and some other notable universities enforce uniforms, UP’s only guiding principle for clothing is comfort.  You can (and at some point, might) roll in wearing clothes you slept and woke up in (some people do that on a regular basis), but as long as your clothes (or lack of clothes, for that matter) do not impede you from doing your work well, no one’s going to bat an eyelid or stop you from wearing what you want to wear.  After all, as Hum I Prof Mabitad – Azada quoted Umberto Eco:  Thought abhors Tights.

One of the most notable things you’ll learn in UP will be to appreciate beauty, the freedom of self expression via clothing ensures that, more often than not, you’ll run into the occasional “hot, hot, hot” femme wearing a daring dress or tank or shred of cloth (and yes, there are plenty of females who fit that description all over the University), that’ll make you want to attend your classes, if nothing else.  Get used to it, and remember, you need to think with the right head if you want to keep going.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the freedom of sexual orientation will also ensure that you’ll see the occasional male wearing similarly – er, expressive – outfits.  You never know… but play along, its all part of the system.

Sunken Garden and Lagoon Adventures. You’ll also hear some rather interesting stories about one night stands.  It’ll either shock or stimulate you for now, but remember that down the line you might be bragging about your own exploits and you’ll be laughing at how you’re exaggerating exactly the same way as your friend who once told you about that one wild night at the Sunken Garden.

Sometimes sex goes further than one night stands, as you’ll find out when you run into classmates your age who have their own children.  Get over the initial surprise, accept that life deals different people different cards, and recognize that happiness is always relative whether you understand it or not.

The Tough Side. Beyond sex-related topics, of course, the University’s openness to many things have also left the door wide open for a solid dose of violence.  The University’s open doors and lack of a front gate (an honest, unique-to-UP expression of acceptance and freedom) make it susceptible to the entry of unsavory elements of society.  And the University has consequently had its (comparatively small) share of unfortunate incidents.  Such is the price paid for freedom.  After all, the real world is no different.  If nothing else, in UP, you’ll learn how to take care of yourself well.

Free to Volt In – er, Assemble

The university has long fought against stifling conventions and several counterproductive traditions; its students have fiercely maintained several freedoms over the decades.

Rallies. You’ll eventually be invited to leave your classrooms, walk out of subjects, and even march to goodness-knows-where to protest and decry any of a thousand things, from political decisions to economical turnovers.  Don’t be scared, and don’t be surprised:  this happens all the time.  Just listen to what everyone has to say, filter the chaff from the grain, and figure out which side of the fence you want to stand on and how you want to stand.

Incidentally, when going to a rally, bring some toothpaste.  It works wonders against tear gas (should enforcement forces get desperate) AND guarantees you’ll be able to ask out that cure tibak (ak-tib + ista) girl without fear of bad breath and gingivitis.

Be warned though, you’ll find that not all causes are worth your time.

Remember that whatever the University of the Philippines’ policy may be on freedom to assemble and protest, the academic rules still stand.  You won’t get any 1’s by spending more than your allowable absences screaming at the picket lines.  On the other hand, history’s most memorable heroes have had to bend the rules past the breaking point.

Weird Science

You’ll also run into the occasional novelty (well, it’ll be new to you at least) at the University of the Philippines.  Some days you’ll see some students in detailed costume (either they’re applying for a UP student organization or promoting an event or both], singing, dancing or walking from place to place.  There will be people walking around in boxes (they’re doing a fair imitation of a gift-wrapped box) or people dressed in Superman’s cape or Batman’s armor.

These weirdly garbed people, as well as people in normal everyday attire may suddenly approach you with a flyer or an ad.  Don’t laugh too hard; you might be wearing a costume yourself one day – or, at the very least, approaching people with flyers and ads and whatnots.

There will be times when people aren’t in costume, but seem to be.  After all, as hard as it is to believe, the freedom of clothing means more than hotties in practically painted on outfits (or hotties poured into their tight, tight, tight clothing).  Some people have more unique (eclectic, anti-cliché, different, kewl, goth, grunge, ghetto, artistic, free-spirit, strange, f’d up – take your pick) clothing styles.  Dreadlocks, skirts, saris, tattoos, bald heads, skull pendants, everywhere-in-the-body piercing, unusual pattern combinations, the works – practically nothing is taboo here anymore and we’re just on the subject of clothing.  This will either weird you out or inspire you to make a statement of your own.

Bottom line is, its best to be yourself and to be your own fashion statement.

Class Clowning

Classroom policies are also largely different here, at least from what you’re probably used to.

Identification. In the past, ID’s weren’t worn but merely flashed when needed, like an FBI badge.  Now, however, you’ll find it more convenient to wear your ID card on a neck strap rather than fish it out of your cavernous bag every time you need to show it to a guard.  Right, dear parents, there are now guards to guard the portals of wisdom (i.e. the college buildings).  Once inside the building, the IDs may be taken off once more and hidden, but what’s the point?

No standing up when reciting. One thing hasn’t changed, however.  The students of the University of the Philippines don’t need to stand in class when reciting (unless you’re asked to, in which case you stand the hell up!).

Specific policies will vary from professor to professor and from subject to subject.  For instance, at MassCOMM (that’s College of Mass Communications to you, newbie), they’re specific about what type of footwear is appropriate for being inside the recording studios.  Greco-Roman wrestling PE requires clipped toenails and a pair of good socks among other things.  Judo, Aikido and Taekwondo classes likewise require that you be in socks and your Judo/Aikido/Taekwondo Gi (that’s the white, belted martial arts uniform) when you come in for class.

The 1/3 class time rule. The 1/3 class time rule says that if a professor or instructor hasn’t arrived after a third of the class period has passed – that’s 30 minutes for the standard one-and-a-half-hour classes in the university – students are free to leave.  Even if the professor arrives afterwards, those who have left cannot be marked absent.  As you can imagine, this is one rule that UP students are more than willing to follow.

Unfortunately, this is not that firm a rule – in other words, this is not a university law.  Some profs will come in late regularly and stipulate that you can’t walk out as per the 1/3 class time rule.  If you have such a professor or if a professor advises you through text or whatever means in his power that he is going to be late but that you students should wait, there’s nothing you can do about it.  Insist on the 1/3 class time rule and leave the class after 30 minutes if you want; no one’s going to stop you.  However, your professor will be well within his rights to mark you absent if you do.

This isn’t as bad as it sounds.  A perpetually late professor means you may be able to walk in late yourself and still be earlier than your prof.

Whatever the case, listen well and keep these things in mind.  Let others make the mistakes and learn from them.

They’re teachers, not babysitters. Be warned that UP professors won’t give a flying fark about you and your progress.  This is, after all, the Next Level.  You have completed high school and you’re in the University of the Philippines.

Think of it this way:  your bosses in the real world won’t chase after you for forgotten projects and other deficiencies; they can and will just fire your ass.  The same goes with University of the Philippines’ professors.

Technically, their job is to walk in, dispense the information as per your syllabus (your course outline) to the best of their abilities, assign you projects and give you exams to measure how well you’ve learned, and grade your performances.  That’s it.  Nowhere in there does it say they have to mother you, appreciate your efforts with praise and a pat on the back, or compensate for your chickenslag slacking or laziness.

UP professors can be as stimulating as the hum of the air conditioner – but it’s your responsibility to listen and suffer through their monotonous delivery.  Heck, UP professors aren’t hired because they’re funny or witty or even entertaining – they’re just plain good with their subject matter.  Of course, most UP professors and instructors can be funny, witty and even entertaining, as well, and you’ll be one lucky son or daughter of a gun if you get those in some of your classes – but that’s just a boon.

You’ll have to pull your own weight in the University of the Philippines.  You have so much freedom here and you’re free to be good or bad as you will.  If you don’t get good grades, don’t blame your boring professor.  It’s you who did not listen and did not make the effort to learn.  Even boring professors have a syllabus with a reading list as long as your arm.  Why didn’t you read the materials listed there in your spare time?

In the University of the Philippines, you have to earn your grades.  Style might get you in, but it’ll take skill to keep you in.

Note: If you DO find a prof that appreciates your work, gives you good grades and cares about what you end up becoming, treasure that prof like crazy.  Such diamonds in the rough are rare.  And for the love of Pete, make sure you deserve such humane treatment.

Shock Therapy

Still in shock?  Deal with it.  You wouldn’t want to have to suffer through a nervous breakdown and leave UP just because you were too overwhelmed by things you weren’t used to.  There’s too much at stake, and too much to miss.

This is UP, more free time and more freedom, than you’ve ever had before.  As with any free people, it’s your call as to how to put all this freedom to good use.  The University of the Philippines will give you the equipment; it will give you the ammunition; but it’s up to you to keep yourself from shooting yourself in the head with it and, instead, fire straight and true to hit your target dead on.


While every effort has been made to keep this website accurate and updated, makes no guarantees about the veracity and accuracy of the information it provides. has been established to provide students and their parents an additional source of timely and relevant information.  It is not meant to serve as nor claim to be a replacement for the information portals of universities, schools, government agencies, private organizations, and any other entities we may have used as references.

Please be advised. Thank you.

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