January 5, 2020

Philippines English

ESL Schools Thrive When They Focus on Community and Cultural Empathy

On a warm Friday morning, I found myself weaving through Cebu traffic on the back of a motorbike, clutching my laptop bag firmly with one hand and holding onto the handle behind me with my other. Thirty minutes later, my driver dropped me off in front of 3D Academy, and after checking in with the security guard, I climbed a flight of stairs to the second floor to meet Namu, my guide for the day.


As an American expat traveling across Southeast Asia, I have become increasingly interested in the ESL (English as Second Language) / ELT (English Language Training) industry, both because of my perspective as a potential teacher, and because of the growing industry as a whole.

Image result for esl school cebu

In the Philippines, this industry is on the rise. According to the ICEF Monitor, “Asian students – especially those from Korea and Japan – are drawn by the country’s proximity and exceptional value relative to traditional ELT destinations, such as the US or the UK.” Furthermore, GCDA, a Taipei-based civil organization focused on global career potential, noted that “there has been a tremendous rise in the number of [Taiwanese] nationals going to the Philippines to study English in recent years, from 1,000 people in 2012 to 10,000 in 2017.” Reasons for this rise include lower costs and appealing methods of instruction. “The majority of English-language schools in the Philippines adopt a one-on-one teaching method with an English-only environment and long, intensive hours of teaching that range from 8 to 12 hours a day,” explained GCDA’s president Wang Hsing-wei in a 2017 interview with Taiwan News.


This was definitely my experience when visiting 3D Academy. I was impressed by the efficiency, scale, and teaching methods used at 3D. The academy, which is housed in a former hotel, has been remodeled to focus its space and curriculum on personalization and community. 3D has two large dormitory locations, as well as two hotel accommodation options. It also boasts an upscale cafeteria with a chef, several lounge areas, a basketball court and a prime location that is steps away from a grocery store, mall, and ATM bank. On the education side, it has over one hundred one-on-one instruction rooms and a wing of group classrooms. Walking around on my tour with Namu, I thought: I wouldn’t just want to teach here; I would want to live here.

3D Weekend Trips

And that is exactly what Namu did. He was a student at the academy, and then stayed on to join the staff as an intern and live on site. During our tour, Namu said hello or high-fived almost every student or teacher we passed, giving me little tidbits about them like where each person was from, if they were shy, or how long they had been at the academy. I could tell by these interactions and his stories about group yoga classes, beach trips, and volunteering opportunities that 3D Academy has fostered a very special community.


This is why in a digital world where online English classes are cost-effective and prevalent, places like 3D Academy still hold a vital place in the educational fabric. They provide a community of shared learning where students from across the world can come together, be surrounded by their peers, and yet also be in an immersive English experience. I saw this first hand while sitting in on several of the group classes and talking to Namu about his own story. Many times, when students first arrive, they are scared or embarrassed to speak English. But by being in a shared space with other students from their country who are at similar levels, they can encourage and learn from one another. Bolster that shared experience with one-on-one instruction and add community-building activities, and the result is a dynamic learning environment. This is especially true in Cebu — and in the Philippines in general — where students have high levels of exposure to English in daily life: reading it on street signs, hearing it on the radio, and speaking it in customer service situations.

Schools like 3D Academy are teaching more than just English, however. They are the “training wheels” and the “incubation stage” for language acquisition, but also for cross-cultural understanding. As students from all types of backgrounds live and study in one shared space with one shared goal, they are learning more than a language: they are learning empathy and world knowledge. In short, they are learning how to be global citizens, and that knowledge is priceless.

3D Logo


This is a guest blogpost contributed by Claire Moncla. Claire Moncla is a writer and designer from the United States. She is currently eating her way across Southeast Asia. Follow her on Medium or work with her on Upwork. Her personal website is clairemoncla.com

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