This Filipino Finished 20 Ivy League Courses While in Quarantine

Paula Mendoza was laid off from work because of COVID-19.
IMAGE Paula Dahlia Mendoza

Everyone’s quarantine scene looks different. You have the emerging YouTube-educated chefs, the non-stop Netflix binge-watchers, the workout buffs, and my personal favorite, the pro serial nappers. Whether you’re using this troubling time of mandatory house arrest to stay productive with your passion projects, or you’d rather recover three months worth of sleep, there’s no wrong or right way to wait out a global pandemic in your home.

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28-year-old Paula Dahlia Mendoza, however, took the road less travelled. Instead of the common cabin fever coping mechanisms mentioned above, she buckled down in front of her makeshift study table, a.k.a. her mom’s ironing board, and finished a whopping 20 online college courses in just over a month. And from various Ivy League and international universities, no less.


In the genuine pursuit to inspire others who’ve been demotivated during the lockdown, Mendoza posted her achievements on her Facebook page writing, “Encouraging everyone kasi super nakakaadik mag gain ng new knowledge and skills. Ang dami mo talagang matututunang effective strategies and techniques. Panglaban sa adulting period at para handa sa better opportunities.”


(I'm encouraging everyone because it's really addictive to gain new knowledge and skills. You will really learn plenty of strategies and techniques. It is your edge in adulting period and prepares you for better opportunities.)

Among the colleges she took on include the University of Pennsylvania, University of Colorado, National University of Singapore, HEC Paris, and the University of California, where she narrowed down her goals towards courses in leadership, marketing, strategic management and personal development.

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A local wayfarer herself—she’d previously traversed the Philippines on a solo backpacking adventure for three months—Mendoza's well aware that no great successful journey promises smooth sailing, even amidst a homebound lifestyle. After all, when weeks of isolation drag on to months, one can’t avoid but feel trapped in an unusual state of limbo.

Having been laid off from work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mendoza found herself with too much time on her hands. The fact that it had been brought upon by unfortunate circumstances couldn’t have helped either.

“At first, Netflix was my best friend,” she admitted, marathoning every single movie and K-Drama that she could find. Once she’d had enough to binge-watch, she then turned to gardening, which hadn’t occupied her long either.

“It was all over and I realized to do something else again. Making myself more productive during the quarantine season, I browsed online to look for online courses…the main goal is to acquire new strategies and techniques that would be beneficial for me that I can use for my next job,” she explains.

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“It’s like I was getting ready for another war and these courses were all my guns.” 

Photo by Paula Mendoza.

Eventually Paula stumbled upon online learning platform Coursera, which offered a thousand available courses both free and paid. She then found classes of interest that would benefit her at the same time, and got down to business. Determined to arm herself with credentials in order to bounce back after the pandemic, the 28-year-old found herself toiling every day, pouring over virtual lectures, exams, case studies, and peer assignments from the afternoon to the early morning.

Though everyone employs a different strategy while learning, working tirelessly seemed to best fit her personality. “Parang di ako nakakatulog maigi pag di ko nafufullfill yung course and gusto ko talaga, hangga't maaari natatapos ko na agad,” she says.

(I couldn't sleep unless I was able to fulfill the course that I really wanted. As much as possible, I tried to finish quickly.)


Paula cites a course from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as her favorite among the 20 she completed. Titled Achieving Personal and Professional Success, she recalls the lesson that stuck with her the most. One that asks the question: Does Success Equal Happiness? 

“The obvious successes most think about are wealth and status. After this course I now understand that success is an all-around sense of well-being and passion for what it is that you are doing.”

This story originally appeared on Preview.phMinor edits have been made by the editors.

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