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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Metro Manila, Philippines

Nov 07, 2016


Manila, Philippines

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.

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

Metro Manila

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

No not when I arrived on my own in the Philippines, 9 years ago. I was not prepared I started volunteering as a housemother, with 19 former street children in my house. I didn't understand a lot in the culture, what is accepted/normal and what is not.

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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 speak english, also widely spoken in Metro Manila. I learned tagalog after my 4th year in the Philippines.

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

I was not worried or concerned. I thought it would be a challenge.

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

I felt lost, and confused. Didn't know what was right or wrong, how to respond to people. And to show or not show my emotions to filipinos.

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?

Yes, I was mainly in the honeymoon state. I loved the Philippines, with the beautiful nature, the way people can make something out of nothing. Live in the now and trust.

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 felt overwhelmed, full of joy, happy, fearless in the honeymoon stage. I think it had to do with the culture shock.

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

I appreciate most the flexibility and spontaneous ways, in the Philippines a lot of things are just different than you think/than you have planned.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Most challenging, indirect way of communication of the filipino, traffic and high tolerance, the temperature and the way that privacy doesn't exist in filipino culture.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

I am very careful, I must have made blunders, but would not know, I might have laughed it off, like they do here. After a while you know what to say and how to say it, which jargon to use so a lot of filipinos will understand.

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

Be who you are and try to be open, adapt and always smile (in every culture) non-verbal behaviour is very important.

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