When applying to colleges, Philippe Bungabong ’22 was looking for an opportunity to further expand his intellectual horizons. Throughout his time at the University, Bungabong has made himself an indispensable member of several campus communities, including the sailing team, the Economics department, and the Career Center. Outside of class, Bungabong can be found co-running his nonprofit, cooking up delicious meals, or singing. The Argus caught up with Bungabong on a foggy Tuesday night over a glass of wine.
The Argus: Why do you think you are nominated to be a WesCeleb?
Philippe Bungabong: [Laughs.] I think I was nominated for, well, part of it has to be nepotism.
A: Yeah, WesCeleb is becoming about nepotism. [Laughs.]
PB: I have a number of good friends on The Argus, but also I think the other part of it would have to be the time that I’ve spent working in different capacities on campus. I’ve been a Residential Advisor, worked as a Teaching Assistant for multiple classes, and am also a part of the Sailing Team. I also sing and write songs and am friends with multiple people on the artistic side of campus. It’s just been a gift, knowing different people from different walks of life, and I’m honored to be a WesCeleb.
A: Could you talk about the Freeman Scholarship more?
PB: The Freeman Scholarship program, the way it worked in my year, was that Wesleyan selected one student each from 11 countries in the East and Southeast Asian regions. I believe the countries are the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Of course, it has been a great opportunity to learn at Wesleyan at no cost, but also I think the Freeman Scholars community is such a powerful community just to have students who really love to learn and who are studying so many different things. I love how I study econ and applied data science, but a number of other Freeman Scholars are more in the computer science fields or more in environmental studies or government. And they’re always the first, or among the first, groups of people that I would tap into for insight into those fields.
A: Speaking of fields of study, did you know you wanted to study econ when you came in? How did that come about?
PB: I came in thinking I wanted to study something more quantitative. I was thinking either Physics, Math, or Econ, and I took all three freshman and sophomore year, but I think what I felt most passionate about was really economics, and the class ECON300, which I’m currently a CA of. It’s a class about quantitative methods in economics. It was in that class that I really realized how economics is a field that will help me see and quantify systems and interactions in the world.
A: That makes a lot of sense! I want to go back to your experiences at Wes—you’ve mentioned that you’ve met so many different people on campus, people from all different walks of life through your engagements. Which ones have been the most valuable in shaping your Wesleyan experience?
PB: My closest friends are on the sailing team. I live with two of my co-captains. I’d never sailed before coming to college and it was only something I picked up freshman year and stuck with it. I love the sport. I love the people in it too. But apart from the sailing team, I would say my time as a tour guide, and now as a senior interviewer, keeps on informing my time at Wesleyan. As a tour guide, I keep on presenting Wesleyan to prospective students, and it has given me a new set of eyes still by which I look at Wesleyan…. I always try to keep finding things that I love about Wes and also things that I want to improve about Wes, or things that I wish were different about Wesleyan all in a pursuit to communicate why I think Wes could be a good fit for someone. I would say Wesleyan is not a perfect school, but for some people, it is the perfect fit school, and I want to make sure that I’m able to communicate that to all prospective students who come here.
A: Speaking of college admissions and helping people find perfect-fit colleges, you also run an educational nonprofit!
PB: I co-founded CAUSE Philippines when I was a freshman here. I co-founded it with two other low-income Filipino students and we really built this with the idea that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. We wanted to equip fellow low-income Filipino students with the best college education they could receive so that one day they could come home and develop their communities for the better because we believe that low-income students most intimately know the problems that their communities are facing.
A: Could you explain what CAUSE does, specifically?
PB: We host a variety of programming events. We have a mentorship program, where we pair mentees (low-income high school students) with mentors, who are currently college students in the U.S., U.K., Singapore, and all over the world. We guide them step-by-step in the college application process from preparing for the SATs, writing their common app activities, essays, asking for teacher recommendations—the whole thing, because there’s no set infrastructure for these students to really work with, especially in terms of applying abroad.
Apart from that, we also host webinars that are more open to the public, and we do this on topics like how [to] get scholarships abroad, what scholarships are even available. We do these year-round events that we really try to gather talent, not just from the capital of Metro Manila, but also from distant provinces across the Philippines.
A: Beyond nonprofit work and academic work, you’re also an artist! What does music mean to you? You always joke about how you want Ryan Seacrest’s job, so tell me about “American Idol” and the role it’s played in your life.
PB: [Laughs] Music has always been an outlet for me. I grew up watching “American Idol,” Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood from the living room, even though I lived in Manila, Philippines, a 17-hour flight from New York. So growing up, I’ve always been drawn to singing competitions. I think that it’s just so fun watching people sing, but also on the competition aspect of it, strategizing and trying to win a singing competition. My interest in music really stemmed from growing up watching shows like American Idol, but also growing up in the Philippines, where everyone sings karaoke. So I sang a lot of karaoke growing up, and now music is still my biggest outlet. I rely on a number of songs for whatever mood that I’m in. If I can’t find the proper song for that moment, and if I have enough creative juices in me, I would write the song, and my approach to songwriting is typically I want to draw from my own experiences, but also wanting to generalize it, so that a number of other people will also be able to feel what I felt.
A: That’s really beautiful, right? The interaction between an audience and the artist and how it enhances meaning.
PB: Yeah, yeah.
A: Well Philippe, we’re kind of friends because of the pandemic.
PB: [Laughs] Yeah.
A: [Laughs] Well, we were stuck here [on campus] for a long time.
PB: [Laughs] For a very long time.
A: How do you think COVID-19 has impacted you and your time at Wesleyan?
PB: The pandemic has really made me value the importance of community, staying in touch with those who matter to you, regardless of the circumstances. Of course, abiding by safety and health measures. Over the pandemic, I realized that my friends in the Wesleyan community are so important to me and so important to my college experience and that they really add so much color to an otherwise mostly black and white college learning kind of thing. When we were all sent home sophomore year, I realized that, gosh, I’m still so lucky to have other Wesleyan students around me.
And when people were sent home, Nalu Tripician, my best friend on this campus, was so far from me, but we would still call from time to time, and that was one of the moments that I really realized that I want to stay in touch with a lot of the members of the Wesleyan community and friends that I got over the years. And now that we are all in person again, I’m really trying to cherish every moment that I have with my friends at Wesleyan.
A: What’s a piece of advice you would give your freshman self?
PB: I would say “breathe.” Breathe and recognize that it will all be fine. Just keep doing your best, but also live in the moment, and don’t always think of what’s coming ahead.
A: No way! [Laughs]
PB: I think that, as a senior now, I realize that college is really short. And these are the last four years (unless you go to grad school), the last four years of your life that are super structured, after that you’ll be released into the workforce and you’ll have 17 paid-time-off days. So to my freshman year self—breathe, have fun, and still keep doing your best, but rest assured, knowing that if you put in your best work, it will all work out too.
A: In that vein, how has Wesleyan shaped you?
PB: I think Wesleyan has made me more open-minded, in all senses of the word. I came in here coming from a rather conservative Asian family, I studied at a science high school and I grew up with the notion that you would only be successful if you study something in the sciences or something quantitative, but coming to Wesleyan, meeting so many open-minded people too, made me realize that there are so many different perspectives that I could learn from, that I could acknowledge and grow with. That’s something that I will strive to keep in my heart even as I leave Wesleyan. To be open to as many experiences as possible, to as many rightful perspectives as possible, and to not always have a set idea of what is right or wrong in my mind, and be open to changing my mind.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Magda Kisielinska can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.