Zonia was born in and lived most of her life in Mindanao, in the southern part of the Philippines. She earned a Degree in Chemical Engineering after attending both MSU - Iligan Institute of Technology and Cebu Institute of Technology. After graduation, Zonia worked as a process engineer at an oleochemical refinery in northern Philippines. After 2 ½ years, Zonia moved to Thailand to begin work as a technology transfer person at Asia-Europe Environmental Technology Center (AEETC). She assessed technology in Europe to determine its transferability to Asia.
As the oldest of ten children born into financially challenging circumstances, Zonia naturally desired to obtain stability and financial security. In her words, she was “really driven to succeed in life”—not just for herself, but to help support her family back home and put her siblings through college. Eventually, she realized just how tired and worn out she felt from focusing on making a name for herself and from accumulating wealth. It was a defining moment in her life. She realized she had more joy in her life during the struggles of working her way through college. She made a bold decision to resign from her high-paying job and return to her roots to reflect on her life and determine what her next steps would be.
Back home in Cebu, life was far from easy, but it allowed her the time and freedom to reflect and reconnect with what was truly meaningful. She spent several years as a counselor on five different university campuses. She received valuable training and used these years to develop and grow personally. Zonia came into contact with businessman, James Kang, who brings a group of students from Singapore to the Philippines each summer for a cross-cultural educational experience. When Zonia expressed an interest in working cross-culturally, James gave her Brian Teel’s (REI-Vietnam Director) contact information. After a phone interview with Brian, Zonia made a two-year commitment to live and work in Vietnam.
After earning Cambridge University’s Certificate in English Teaching to Adults (CELTA) in Hanoi, she started teaching conversational English speaking classes for both students and faculty at the University of Labor and Social Affairs (ULSA). She assisted the English Clubs on campus and taught English for the newly created Masters in Social Work in English Instruction, as well as English for Business. Having to teach social work and business terminology to Master’s program candidates was a challenge since her background was in Engineering. Zonia sought the help of Michael Ong, REI-Vietnam Social Worker, and she read related articles and designed her lessons based on what she was learning. During this time, she also taught English speaking classes to scholars going abroad.
Several of Zonia’s friends and colleagues regularly sought her assistance in regards to English teaching methodology. Though she tried to be resourceful for them, she still felt inadequate. Zonia pondered what she might do to better serve her friends. In 2011, Ginny Teel, Coordinator of Staff Care Services, learned of a program at Wheaton College that would be appropriate for Zonia and asked her to consider it. Zonia had quickly dismissed that idea, because she had no desire for further schooling. (Zonia jokes that she is too lazy, but those who know her would heartily disagree!) Upon further reflection, Zonia decided to apply. In February 2012, Zonia was accepted into the Masters in Intercultural Studies and TESOL program at Wheaton College in Chicago, IL. That March, she was awarded a prestigious scholarship that opened the door for her to continue her education in the fall.
Zonia thoroughly enjoyed her time at Wheaton. She “loved all the professors” and found them to be not only highly competent academically, but also of great character. She graduated in December of 2013, and will soon head back to Vietnam, where her colleagues at ULSA eagerly await her return to teaching. Zonia will also explore the possibility of teaching E.S.P (English for Special Purposes), which would combine her teaching skills with her background in engineering. Whatever she decides to pursue, Zonia will do so with an open heart, a willing mind, and a love for the people she serves.