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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Manila, Philippines

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Manila

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No

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Expats living in Philippines interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get quotes our partner, International Citizens Insurance, a trusted expat health insurance broker. They will provide you with comparison quotes from some of the biggest expat health insurers: Cigna, Aetna and GeoBlue.

If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

In the Philippines, English is one of the official languages. The other is Tagalog (sometimes referred to as Filipino). There are also many regional dialects. It's well worth learning a little Tagalog not that it's necessary to use it all day every day, but, as always, it's polite to your hosts.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Yes, I've lived and worked in eight different countries. However well prepared and accustomed to moving and re-settling I think I am, culture shock still strikes.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Fairly significant, mostly because the Philippines seems so Western on the surface, but actually isn't when you dig a little deeper. The culture shock I experienced wasn't so much because of differences between Filipino and my own culture, but between Filipino and the cultures of other places in SE Asia where I'd lived. My expectations were all over the place!

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Absolutely, it's like the letter W. You start on a high, then hit a low somewhere between three to six months later. Then you decide to dig deeper and decide what life in the new place is really about, so you go on a high again as you work it out, becoming more involved and committed. Later, there are little lows as you encounter some specific frustration or something happens to family or friends in your own country that makes everything difficult.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

All of the above! However, just recognizing that it's not 'me', but culture shock that causes the weird behavior helped. Also, knowing that I might be in a low today, but I'll likely be better tomorrow (or next week) helped me through. For me writing about it is cathartic...as you can see!

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

This seems to be the most open culture that I've encountered in SE Asia. People are willing to open up to friendships beyond the superficial. The Filipino people embody stoicism in the face of hardship, cheerfulness, kindness, empathy: there are many, many positives.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Communication is somewhat indirect. It's so important to watch body language, in particular changes in body language (rather than overt gestures) that indicate 'something's up'.

Corruption, when encountered, is upsetting and frustrating.

The inefficiency of anything official from receipt giving to getting the driver's licence (though there are notable exceptions). The plus side is that inefficiency is almost always accompanied by a smile.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Getting connected is absolutely key. So often I have encountered people who've waited to get the house perfect before socializing and not taken an early opportunity to get out and meet others. This means that suddenly they are not 'newcomers' any more and those perfect opportunities for making new friends have drited by. It's pretty dispiriting sitting in that perfect house all alone and miserable!

Join everything, try everything you possibly can, then work out what really works for you and refine your involvement. Try something you've never done before - this could be a golden opportunity.

Be easy on yourself. In a new culture it takes much longer to achieve anything, particularly if there's a language barrier as well. You may have run a large department, taught classes of difficult teenagers, run your own business at home, managed a family of five kids under ten, but overseas, especially in the early days, you'll find yourself comparatively inefficient. Don't take this to mean you are not functioning, it's just cultural differences, process adjustments and misunderstandings getting in the way, slowing you down.

Talk about how you feel, to friends and to your spouse. They're likely feeling the same way too. However, try not to get into a 'moan-fest'. Have a whine, laugh about it and then move on to something more inspiring. Interact with positive people when you can.

This is hard to say, but...know that you can leave. There will be consequences (financial, career, relationship), but you can actually leave. Just knowing that makes you stay. It's like having an open door. You might not go through it, but you do have an escape route, even if you never use it.

Find a cultural bridge to guide you: someone who knows your culture, but who is from the culture to which you are adjusting. Invaluable!

Above all, watch and listen: observation skills are crucial to understanding the values and expectations of your hosts.

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Comments about this Report

shgetovrit
Dec 24, 2011 13:44

All I can say is WOW! Really insightful information. I am planning to move to Boracay next year. I will try to keep all of this in mind to adjust. Appreciate the report, Rick

robJ
Jun 5, 2012 20:48

all i can say is thanks!

Cigna Expat Health InsuranceExpatriate Health Insurance

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Philippines from our partner, Cigna Global Health.
Get a Quote

Guide to Living in ManilaGuide to Living in Manila

Expats in Manila have reported many of the same themes since the inception of Expat Exchange. Read some basic facts and tips about this Philippine city (and metro area) on the island of Luzon.

Healthcare in PhilippinesHealthcare in Philippines

Expats in the Philippines have a lot to say about the quality of medical care, hospitals, prescription medicine availability and health insurance in the Philippines.

Restaurants in ManilaRestaurants in Manila

Support your favorite restaurants in Manila as they recover from the pandemic. Submit a free listing for them on Expat Exchange to help spread the word about them to the expat community.

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An expat in Valensuela City, Philippines says to do your research and visit various areas before you commit to one location. Look for schools, medical and grocery store locations that are fairly close to where you live.

12 Tips for Living in Manila, Philippines12 Tips for Living in Manila, Philippines in Manila

An expat talks about living in Manila, Philippines. He explains that mainly move to Manila for the low cost of living, friendly people and warm climate.

Culture Shock in Metro Manila

A Dutch woman who moved to the Philippines 9 years ago. Initially, she worked as a housemother with 19 former street children in her care. She learned Tagalog. For her, the most challenging aspects of living in the Philippines are the heat, traffic and lack of privacy.

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Expats moving to the Philippines join others that have moved there for work or a lower cost of living during retirement. It's critical to understand what the realities of living there are, but those that successfully make the adjustment believe it is a good place to live.

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