InterNations Featured Blog
Naomi: Last Train Home
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the Philippines, etc.
I am a single thirty-something woman from upstate NY, who was looking for a job in teaching, tutoring, or instructional design. I had just relocated to my mother’s house for the summer to commence my job hunt after finishing my MA coursework, and to help her renovate the house. I came across the job I’m in now by posting my resume on a job site, ironically the company is headquartered in my hometown, but I was hired directly by the Philippines to come here. I’ve been here for 1 year and 9 months now, working as an English Language and Culture trainer and curriculum developer for a call center.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Before I came here I used the web to search for blogs about living and working here in the Philippines. All the blogs I could find were written by older men (usually retirement age), and they were either too personal (new baby!) or too technical (how to deal with tax issues from your offshore ex wife). So I decided to blog about the experience and tell people all the things I wish had been told to me/ all the things I’m discovering.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- Land of Pine
- Is The Rocky Horror Picture Show the answer to International Relations?
- I can see clearly now, the wallet is empty
- This. Is. Boxing!
Tell us about the ways your new life in the Philippines differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Well, it’s hard to condense into just one paragraph, but it’s both vastly more comfortable and much lonelier. I am now in the “1%” of the population - I can buy almost anything within reason and can travel pretty much at whim, and I’m working at a steady job that I like in my field. In the US as a student who was perennially underemployed, I am loving it.
However, I have no female friends (outside of some casual work mates) and dating is all but impossible. So, socially it’s been hard. (One of the reasons I was so excited to join InterNations).
I think I experience culture shock every day! Today, on the work shuttle from Manila to Clark, my paper shopping bag slipped off the seat and everything fell out of it. From the reaction of the other girls in the car, you would have thought a gun went off! “Ei!!! Paper bag! It falls!” they “helpfully” called out. This was both amusing and irritating. People in the US would feel it’s rude to call attention to someone else’s misfortune, but my guess is that Filipinos somehow feel they are “sharing” your misfortune by loudly narrating it and commenting on it.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the Philippines? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think I could ever be fully prepared, and to be honest, the fact I went in with few preconceived notions actually helped me- I wasn’t ‘let down’ by my early experiences. But I would have loaded up on Execedrin, Tampax, sleeping pills, Bezol Perioxide, Pepto Bismal, bandaids, shaving cream for women, cortisone cream, Uri-Stat (otc medicine), Alka- Seltzer cold medicine, and cotton underwear.
I would have actually brought less clothing (I only brought one suitcase as it was) since I have now discarded most of it at this point for more appropriate stuff.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My house was burglarized recently and my wallet and cell phone were taken. Everything else was okay, and the total value of things taken was about 4000P, so I wasn’t badly touched, just shaken up and feeling “violated” as all robbery victims do, since I had been upstairs sleeping at the time it was committed. I told my Filipino roommate about it as soon as he got home from work and I was going on and on about my emotions and how upset I was, and all that. He was gazing into space thoughtfully during all this, and then suddenly sprang to his feet, fixated on a spot above my head. “The WALL CALANDER!” he shrieked. “It hasn’t been changed! It’s still on January!” I could really tell he cared!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Philippines?
- Be prepared to double or triple your time estimate to getting things done, and be prepared to stretch your patience like it’s never been stretched. People will seem very incompetent at first (and probably for a long time, quite frankly).
- Guidebooks are wrong in two major areas: “Filipinos speak English”—most Filipinos outside Manila area only know a handful of phrases and can’t understand rapidly spoken American English comfortably. You will find yourself struggling in this area in the provinces. “Filipinos are friendly.” FEMALE Filipinos are “friendly” to American males, and small beggar children are “friendly” to tourists, as well as middle- aged men who should know better to young female American tourists. But there is a BIG difference between “polite”, “hitting on you”, “begging you for money/ trying to get a sale”, and “friendly”. There is a definite emotional “wall” that you as an American will most likely not penetrate until you have lived there for many years or marry into the culture.
- Your greatest luxury is not money or anything money can buy, it is now privacy and silence, which you will most likely not experience for more than 3 seconds at a time (even in the CR) until you leave the islands.
How is the expat community in the Philippines? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It’s…at the risk of sounding harsh…very limited. I had an EXTREMELY hard time finding other expats (until a chance meeting with an Indian work colleague led me to Internations). Most expats are much older men married to very young local girls. I have little, if anything in common with those types. The other problem is that the ‘other’ type of expat- (i.e., not retired) is usually here on short term assignment, whereas I’m here open-ended. So the few friends I’ve had have been “redeployed” after 6-9 months.
There also, if I may speak freely, seems to be a bit of an issue with “odd” types here - most of the men who relocated here seem to be very socially awkward - for example, I had one 50- something ex-Marine type stare at me hatefully, really burning a hole in my head, because I was exiting a doorway he wanted to come into just before he got there - I was shaken up badly (generally in the US men hold the door for women or allow her to exit first out of courtesy) and I genuinely thought he, a 6”5’ man, was going to strike a much smaller woman out of anger. I’ve never had something like this happen in the US. I’ve also seen and heard other more disturbing things (mistreatment and even abuse of GROs, assaults and breaking the law, bribing of police officers, etc.) laughed off as “bad behavior” by this “Old Boys’ Club” — the men here of a certain type seem to think that no laws apply to them and it’s upsetting and disappointing for me to see.
I have also seen men that I would characterize as “unstable” in general - oddly or inappropriately dressed (short shorts and a revealing tank top in the mall, for example), very poor hygiene, uneven gait, odd look in their eyes, staring into space or mumbling, or just very “mean” looking. To be honest, this is more the rule than the exception, at least here in Clark.
Some men have approached me to chat at a bar or restaurant, only to tell me very personal stories (usually about how their Filipina wife or GF is mistreating them) or to numb my brain with a torrent of extremely technical talk about their industry - because they only talk with other men or Filipina waitresses who hardly say anything, many have really lost touch with the art of conversation as give and take. They are boors and bores.
So the expat scene needs a serious shot in the arm from some classy and educated professional types! Or I need to meet those types! J
How would you summarize your expat life in the Philippines in a single, catchy sentence?
“Sometimes it’s a view of heaven from a seat in hell, sometimes it’s a view of hell from a seat in heaven.”
Other (humorous): “Safety last! The Philippine motto.”