"It's more fun in the Philippines" - My expat experience
Today is exactly a year since my return to Australia from living & working in the Philippines so I thought it would be great time to reflect upon the experience, share some photos and my adventures with everyone!
Last July I was presented with the opportunity to work overseas for 5 months to train staff in our Manila office - up until this point I hadn't travelled overseas very much - I'd been to Singapore when I was 7 years old and then to Italy & France for 2 weeks during Christmas in 2015.
As I was trying to gain distance from a toxic relationship, thought this would be a great career opportunity and a chance to help the staff I would be training so I jumped at the opportunity straight away.
However I wasn't truly mentally or emotionally prepared for what such a large move would really be like... In early August 2016 I landed in Manila leaving Winter-time in Australia and as I walked out of the airport the humidity hit me like a ton of bricks; it felt hard to breathe and for the first time ever in my life I felt like I was truly alone and had absolutely no one to rely on.
The first month was without a doubt the hardest as I working until 11pm on weeknights and also on the weekends - my work colleagues back home had said I'd have such an amazing time and that it would be "like a holiday" but actually I was working 2 full time roles at the same time whilst trying to come to terms with the fact I'd be living here for half a year. I was also keenly aware of the fact that I stood out, I looked different, didn't speak the language, even walking down the street people would stare at me and I felt incredibly self-conscious.
But I had my team from Manila to help me out and help out they did! This is where it gets better because the people that I was training and working with crowded around to welcome me, making sure I was looked after and organising outings on the weekends. Shopping, eating out, visiting the Enchanted Kingdom fun park as well as organising a birthday celebration for me in September.
Manila may be incredibly crowded but the islands in the Philippines are exquisitely beautiful! I was able to visit Bohol over one weekend and Boracay for a 5 day break. Boracay was without a doubt the best part of my time in this country!
Growing up in Australia I've always spent a lot of time at the beach ever since I was little and in Boracay the sand was powdery white, blue-green water in real life just like the tourism photos and plenty of restaurants & bars to relax in! We do have amazing beaches in Australia but I think the ones in the Philippines are awesome.
I was lucky that one of my friends from Sydney travelled over to stay in Boracay and we were able to meet many other travellers from America & Europe who I can now call friends as well.
We stayed at the Fairways & Bluewater resort, which has its own private beach and golf course (and we noticed a few weddings at the resort as well) - everyday we rode tricycles to the other side of the island where the main "stations" are - if you are planning a trip to Boracay make sure you visit the Coco bar for the cocktails and Epic bar for the fajitas!
It was in October/November that I really started to become used to living in Manila and my life there. I had made great friends in a culture where no one gets left behind, there is always someone looking out for you & including you in the group and treating you as part of their family - this is very different to the culture in Sydney which is a lot more fast paced where everyone is focused on themselves.
Another new thing was living on my own for the first time ever - this was so great as if I needed quiet downtime I didn't have to worry about anyone else and it also forced me to be really independent. I had times where I would go to a bar or restaurant and actually eat a meal on my own rather than always having a friend or colleague by my side and this was a great thing as I would never have done that before without feeling self-conscious.
Also I fell in love with the Paul Bakery which was situated a block away from my apartment - this is a French Bakery in the Bonifacio Global city which has the best chocolate mousse cakes, French baguettes and croissants!
Reverse culture shock and leaving on a jet plane
Whilst I came back to Sydney for a week in November I didn't return home to Australia for good until December...saying goodbye to my friends in Manila was particularly difficult & bittersweet. Although I was there to do a job for my employer in hindsight the experience was really about the people & myself - assimilating into a completely new culture, picking up some of the language, and also discovering a real sense of self and independence.
One of my previous managers had advised me that when you travel overseas for work nothing much really changes at home, people still go to the same bars on the weekend, do the same activities they always do whilst you get to experience new things in a new country. This is true to an extent - I had found not much had changed with everyone else back home yet instead I had changed. The taxi ride home to my family in Sydney even felt different as the driver was sitting on the right side instead of the left!
But the biggest difference was my sense of independence and desire to travel more - to even work overseas again. Travelling on a holiday to another country is great but it's not until you live overseas that you truly realise how small you are in this world, how many truly generous & kind people there are to meet, how many beautiful cultures & places yet to discover. I'd like to say my Europe 2015 visit started my addiction to travel but honestly, I think it was the Philippines that deserves that title!
So my top 5 favourite things I loved in the Philippines:
5. Friendly locals - their customer service is great
4. Riding tricycles
3. Partying in Boracay
2. Swimming in Bohol
1. Making amazing Filipino friends
If you have the opportunity to work overseas then I really recommend you take it, particularly if you are young and don't have a lot of commitments. It won't be easy, you'll probably have to work harder than ever before, there may be times you will feel like you have made a huge mistake, you may even feel depressed due to the culture shift but it really does bring intangible rewards which may not be apparent until later when the totality of the experience sinks in.
And if you're looking for a beautiful island holiday destination? Well as they saying goes:
It's more fun in the Philippines!