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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Manila, Philippines

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

I am retired, in my 80's, but I'm a good student and bought books, maps, and asked questions of every filipino/a I met before the move and have continued that study in the year since. I subscribe to a daily newspaper so I now have a better understanding of the culture/history/geography and daily goings-on of our new country than my family who moved with us does. I find it all fascinating and write it up in a monthly journal which I email to the US.

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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?

I am a student of European languages but Tagalog is so different in structure and vocabulary that I have given up trying to learn it. However, much of Tagalog is from the Spanish which I know and so many, many English words and whole phrases are thrown into conversations that I can usually grasp what the subject is at least. Also filipinos are emotive and watching them while they talk helps too.

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

The Philippines is the only English speaking, Christine country in Asia and was occupied by Spanish (it reminds me of Mexico) for 350 years, then by Americans for 50 years and is so Americanized! The daily paper is very familiar in layout and columnists and it prints world and US news.

That said, this culture is different and I need to be aware that I am the foreigner and a guest here and adapt myself thereto. I also reminded myself of the saying that if the neighbors in my old neighborhood were friendly, they will be in my new area. And they are.

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

Because I moved with my filipina daughter-in-law and my son who has been here many times, my husband and I are well protected and advised. But my studying the culture has helped a lot.

I strongly recommend anyone thinking of moving abroad (and it's a good time to be getting out of USA) should get really good advice and help both before the move and in getting settled. VISA requirements, getting a bank account, knowing where to live and how to shop, where to get medical and dental care, etc., is all so important. Blogs like this help but one should be willing to pay for the help. Search the internet to find the help.

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?

Of course, but so much is done for us I don't have much problem here. But for someone coming alone I think it could be a real problem. It's taken us a year to settle in and to begin to be accepted and welcomed by the locals.

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.

I miss family, my kids and grandkids, and friends.

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

The filipinos are such a happy, family-oriented culture and I cannot believe how friendly our neighbors are. I have never experienced anything like this friendship in my 80 years living in USA. Americans are too busy and self-centered to even notice a newcomer until they really get to know him.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

We're a long way from home and all the family and friends we left thousands of miles away. Our family has just had a death in California and all I can do is send a compassionate e-mail. And we are dependent on our loved ones coming here to see us which is expensive and difficult for them to do. I've had to realize I may not see many of them ever again. But immigrants have been leaving home permanently for many centuries. And we have email and Skype phone calls and FaceBook for photos.

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

It took a great of courage and faith for me to accept this move. Having made the decision, then I vowed to truly enjoy the differences I might encounter and delight in every day with it's new adventures.

I have been writing an "Adventure Journal" of the culture here and emailing it to about two dozen family/friends who expressed an interest. I get enthusiastic feedback. My family is now talking about making my monthly journals into a book.

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Comments about this Report

Apr 13, 2011 19:56

April 13 2011. Wow, I loved what you said. I'm an American male, 70 years old. My wife is Filipina, 42 years old. She's my second Filipina wife. I do a lot of seminars/consulting in Manila and Kuala much that we now have a house in Metro Manila (Quezon City). I would like for you to put me on your e-mail list. I've written 6 books and because of that I have connections in the publishing industry. Maybe we can collaborate on a book together. I'll send you my bio-sketch. In the meantime, here's my e-mail address: If expat exchange does not post my e-mail address here, please go to, which I set up to publicize my latest book, 365 POWERFUL WAYS TO INFLUENCE. You can contact me that way. I share your love for the Philippines. My first visit there was in 1974 (a seminar-giving trip, naturally). I retired from full-time university teaching in 2002 and now I'm like Elvis--whenever I think I need money, I make a tour--but always overseas--36 nations on 6 continents. Take care, and let me hear from you soon, please. Best wishes, Donald W. Hendon, Ph.D., whose US address is Mesquite, Nevada (80 miles from Vegas)

Apr 22, 2011 00:09

80+ years of age and writing like a person in their 30's. You are one spunky person...good for you. Your husband is a very lucky man. Quote: "I strongly recommend anyone thinking of moving abroad (and it's a good time to be getting out of USA") How right you are... examples are the Gulf Coast Oil Spill debacle and radiation coming in from Japan with no forewarning or important pertinent information from our government. Hope you are far enough South to avoid the radiation.

Dec 24, 2011 13:48

Thanks for the information. Have you posted your experiences online? I'd be interested in reading them. Ingat Palagi (Take care always), Rick

Apr 11, 2012 07:22

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and astute comments about culture shock. I quickly noticed that you stated that "It's a good time to be getting out of the USA." I love the US (I was a Peace Corps volunteer, a Marine officer stationed overseas, a health administrator, and then retired as a university teacher.), but I knew it was time for me to leave years ago. It is my opinion that the United States continues to truly struggle economically, socially, politically, culturally, and globally. I am particularly sad for the *millions* of well educated, young, unemployed, underemployment, health-uninsured youth of our nation. It's hard to sustain the belief that the US is a superpower any more. For me.... I've been living in east Africa for a few years now. About language: It helped me a great deal to learn the language where I reside and, as I will be re-retiring to the Philippines soon, I wish to learn Filipino. Learning the language is "country respect" issue for me; connects me with people; and helps me really learn the culture. Anyway, thanks for your comments. Well written.

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