As an expat in the Philippines I have noticed that I have gone through numerous attitude phases. When recently a friend of mine decided to throw in the towel (at least temporarily) and move back to the U.S. I realized that I am far from being alone. Adapting to a new country and its culture after a lifetime in our own, is a daunting task and should not be taken lightly when considering such a major change in ones life.
My first Attitude phase was I guess what would be termed “seeing the world through rose colored glasses”. Just off the plane, in love and with what looked like a world full of opportunities, the first few months I spent living in the Philippines may have been more from the perspective as a tourist. The people were friendly, the culture exciting and exotic, and the sun shone everyday. Such things as “Filipino Time” were shrugged off with amusement, and the people with their “hand out” were looked upon with compassion and usually given a kind donation. The ocean and beaches were always nearby, to be reveled in with abandon, followed by lazing in the sun then maybe a snack at local eatery, served up with a smile. My wife was “perfect”, waiting on me like I was a god and she my humble servant and always looking hot while doing so.
This lasted several months , then reality reared its ugly head to crash the party which I thought would go on forever. Filipinos being late was no longer “cute” and a source of amusement but something that was a constant cause of frustration. The beggars became ugly leeches of society that should be responsible for their own survival instead of trying to con me out of my money with made up stories of woe. The culture was intiguing no more, just naively foolish. The people were lazy, and unintelligent, and of course everything was so inefficient it was abysmal. In short, everything sucked. Buying a hamburger at MacDonalds was a frustrating task as was just about every experience I would have on any given day.
Ironically though, the world and the people around me had not changed one bit. What had changed is what I chose to see and my attitude towards what I was looking at. In Addiction recovery circles, we call this the geogriphical cure for what ails us, and it never works because what we bring with us when we move to a new location, is the big problem , not the location we chose to be in. That problem is us ourselves.
So what are the attitude phases next for expats?
Some choose to focus on the negative. They look at the bad in everything here and compare things here to what they remember it being like back home. Big problem with that though is they usually forget that back home was far from perfect as well. These guys, and we all run into them everyday, whine, complain and criticize everyone and everything. Personally, I wonder what the heck they are still doing here, and maybe the answer to that is they have limited options? I will touch on my own experiences with that a little later.
Others just can’t adapt, but refuse to accept living a life in which they are still not happy. They have come to the Philippines for what they thought was a better life, found out this was not it, and chose to try either something else, or go back to a life in their home country. Many guys that I have spoken to who have chosen this route, have found they have been able to return to their old life with a new and more positive perspective, that life really was not so bad after all.
Myself, I decided to try and remember why I came to the Philippines in the first place, and what it was like in the life and place I came from. I was not happy in Canada, and that was the case for many years. I had given up on any possibility of being in a relationship that satisfied me, and I was totally fed up with the whole winter thing. Life for me was a constant and lonely struggle to survive, with no hope of attaining a life that I dreamed of, and when I came to the Philippines, both those things changed. Here I have found a relationship that is better than I have ever known, and I do not ever have to cringe at the though of a biting winter, always just around the corner. That is the start of the attitude phases change. Then I find it important to accept Filipinos and their culture for exactly what it is. I need to understand that they are people, exactly like me, who have just had different experiences that have made them who they are. They are no better or worse than me, just different and doing their own best to get through life. I try and focus on the positives instead of the negatives. The good instead of the bad. Most of all I try and appreciate everything around me and everything I have been given. When I am able to see all that, my attitude is good, and I usually have a pretty good day.
I earlier touched on something which I would like to expand on, because I do feel that this was partially responsible for my own negative attitude phase. That is lack of options. I went through a stage where I had some serious financial instability. In my first 6 months in the Philippines I lost everything, both here and back in Canada. I did not have enough money to go back to Canada, and even if I could have scraped enough money together for the flight, I would have got off the plane flat broke, and in the street. No roof over my head and no idea where my next meal would come from. I HAD no other option than to stay in the Philippines and try to turn my finances around. Though most of the guys here are not in that bad a shape financially, I am sure there are plenty that are on a meagre pension that would not get them too far back in the west. Financially, they too are basically stuck here where cost of living is dirt cheap. I think that when any person is somewhere out of necessity, rather than by choice, there is a natural tendency to be negative.
In closing, if I had any words of advice to impart it would be simple. Quality of life for an expat in the Philippines will be in dependent on large part on attitude. Any and all expats will experience the different attitude phases, but we all can change are attitude if we try. It is also easier to have a better attitude if you are somewhere by choice, rather than need.