Let’s talk about what makes the difference between the expats who tolerate the Philippines and the expats who love it. It’s a simple thing, really, but a lot of people in the expat community here over look it. As a result, many seem to develop an attitude of mild-annoyance that doesn’t ever go away until they board the plane for the last time. This doesn’t help them or those around them or the greater expat community as a whole.
If you really want to enjoy your time here, stop hanging out with expats all the time.
First, when you just hang with fellow expats, you tend to end up only interacting with the local people working in the retail or service sectors, and maybe your employees. Depending on what industry you’re in, you may have very clever, interesting employees, but you still won’t be on a level playing field with them. They will either be too reserved around you or two familiar as they try to butter you up. Be kind at work, but don’t assume that your relationship with your employees is indicative of a normal friendship situation. Additionally, retail and service is not known to attract the sharpest tools in the shed. (No offense. I did my time in both retail and as a waitress.) To mitigate this, some employers have very strict rules and procedures for their employers that their staff is expected to adhere to religiously. You can tell when this is the case, because they employees may look and act like clones, and a simple, reasonable request throws them for a loop. If the only interaction you have with the native people of a country is with entry-level workers, you’re going to have a very skewed perspective about the people as a whole.
You’re going to hear me say this a lot on this blog, but people are people no matter where you are. There are silly, dimwitted, small-minded, sycophantic, and/or drone-like people here. But there are also very clever, witty, articulate, hard-working, entrepreneurial, caring people.
Do not limit your exposure to Filipinos to only those in starter-jobs.
The good news is that it’s really easy to get to know Filipinos, because the culture is generally very hospitable. Say hi to a neighbor and you’re liable to be invited to every family event they have for the rest of the time you’re here. Show interest in a shared hobby with a stranger and you’ll be invited to join in. Go scuba diving with a group your instructor puts together and you’ll have a boat full of 15 or 20 people to spend the day with. Join your local church, the Philippines Red Cross, the Rotary or the Lion’s Club. Check the paper or your community newsletter for workshops, try-outs, clubs and teams.
It’s not bad to have expat friends. They can be very helpful in supporting you and cheering you on the days when culture shock and frustration feel particularly heavy. But don’t fall into the trap of basing your expat friendships on complaining, and don’t make the expat community your sole source for friendship. Focusing on what is wrong with a place will make you miserable and skipping out on the opportunity to make friends just stunts your emotional growth no matter where you are. Reach out, be kind, have fun.