Karen Mae grew up by the Philippine Sea in Catarman, Northern Samar with her mother. In this corner of the Philippines, the pace of life is much slower than in the capital, Manila. ‘I used to just spend my days swimming in the ocean and playing outdoors’, she said. ‘But I was also always very curious. I was curious about everything!’

The same curiosity led her to apply to the University of the Philippines. Karen was the first from her province to have even tried applying to one of the top national universities in the country, not to mention getting accepted to attend it.

‘Of course, I took the opportunity!’, Mae exclaimed. ‘It was the first time for me to leave my province and be apart from my family, but I was ready for the adventure.’

Mae spent the next few years adjusting to the new pace of life in Manila and juggling numerous jobs to pay for her studies as a clothing technology major. One day, she saw her friend’s social media post about the European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (EU SHARE) programme.

‘I immediately asked her for more information about the programme’, Mae said. EU SHARE is a joint EU-ASEAN programme which aims to strengthen regional cooperation in the field of education, and enhance the quality, regional competitiveness and internationalisation of ASEAN higher education institutions and students. As the flagship project of the ASEAN higher education sector, the programme promotes regional harmonisation of higher education and facilitates the creation of an ASEAN Higher Education Space in support of a people-centred ASEAN Community.

Mae went through the registration and selection process of the EU SHARE intra-ASEAN scholarship programme without telling any of her family members about it. Only when she was confirmed as one of the recipients with a ticket in her hand did she tell her mom and grandma about it. ‘They were surprised, but in a good way’, Mae said. ‘I think they’re proud of me.’

With a funding of €10 million from the EU, EU SHARE has provided over 500 scholarships for ASEAN university students since its establishment in 2015.

The intra-ASEAN scholarship programme Mae participated in is a key component of the EU SHARE programme designed to test the application of credit transfer systems, and increase intra-ASEAN student mobility. The scholarship enables students to spend a few months earning their credits from another partnering university in the region.

For Mae, this meant spending four months at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Johor Baru. ‘It was really a once in a lifetime experience’, she said. Beyond the academic knowledge she received in her university classes, the programme has also broadened her cultural horizon.

In Johor Baru, she stayed with other international students from the region and experienced meals from different countries almost every night, ‘We did our groceries together and took turns cooking’, she said. ‘It was amazing to be able to learn about the diversity of our region first-hand.’

Coming from the predominantly Catholic Philippines, Mae also had her first experience celebrating one of the biggest Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr, with her professor’s family. Mae’s professor invited her and two of her friends to join their family’s celebration. ‘She was so nice and even took us to visit her extended family members who were all also very welcoming’, Mae said.

As a student of the Bachelor of Clothing Technology programme, Mae has always had an affinity towards the apparel industry and textiles. In Malaysia, she was able to visit a costume museum. ‘My heart skipped a beat, and I knew right then that I want to become a museum curator for textiles, costumes or traditional clothing.’

Mae is now finishing her studies back in the Philippines and has just received a job offer with a clothing company in Korea. ‘It’s a good opportunity to gain more experience in the industry before creating my own little clothing museum and business.’

Implemented by a consortium including the British Council, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and the Dutch non-profit for internationalisation in education Nuffic, the programme has been extended from 27 February 2021 to the end of December 2022.

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