When I first decided to move to Dumaguete in the Philippines, there were plenty of factors that swayed me towards the small city with the big village feel. It was easy enough to get to thanks to a local airport, the surrounding nature was fantastic, people were friendly, and it had a great community feel, and the cost of living was right. But just as compelling to me was the presence of Silliman University in Dumaguete.
I must confess that I love college towns. I grew up in a town right next door to Yale University, with ivy colored historical buildings spread amongst New Haven, Connecticut. So when I saw the venerable plantation style buildings of Silliman and its green, tree-lined campus right by the sea in Duma, I was sold.
Thanks so Silliman and the other institutions in Dumaguete, the town’s been called “the center of learning in the south.” Living there, it also hasn’t disappointed, with just enough influx of energy, culture, art, youthfulness, and undertones of intellectualism to separate Dumaguete from just another Philippines town.
I’ve also learned a lot about Silliman U, thanks to a new friend who’s a professor of the literature department who showed me around its campus one calm and sunny Sunday, regaling me to its layout, secret tales, and even ghost stories.
For instance, I learned that Silliman was established in 1901 by American Presbyterian missionaries, including a U.S. founder named Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, who established the oldest Amerian university in Asia. But while Hibbard did all of the legwork, the university was named after Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, who was the school’s principal donor who contributed its first $10,000.
These days, Silliman’s bucolic and picturesque campus adjacent to the ocean is a National Historic Landmark, earning a spot as one of the “50 Most Beautiful College and University Campuses in the World.”
While it’s tucked away in park-like surrounds just adjacent to the popular Boulevard area in Duma and downtown, Silliman is far bigger than it seems. In fact, the school takes up one-third of the total land area of downtown. It’s student population, too, is significant, with nearly 10,000 students from all over the Philippines and 30 other countries, adding up to about 8% of Dumaguete’s total population.
Highly lauded for its Accountancy, Physical Therapy, and Nursing programs (all ranked 1st in the Philippines), Silliman is considered the 4th best university in the country and also a proud member of the top 150 universities in Asia.
I am so appreciative that my professor friend gave me a tour since nearly all of Silliman’s campus operates under a look-but-don’t-come-in policy. In fact, they have small gates (so you can still see in and enjoy the view) around their entire campus, and security guards stationed at every portal.
But there are still plenty of events open to the public and intermingling with the citizens of Dumaguete, including their historic annual Founder’s Day celebrations, concerts, sporting events, spirited parades along the Boulevard, and even a festival of lights where they send off lit paper lanterns into the ocean – super cool!
I’m happy to live in the shadow of Silliman University and look forward to getting to know my scholarly neighbor better over the years. Who knows; maybe I’ll even get a chance to take – or teach – a class there someday!
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