WHEN the school administrator asked me where I wanted to study abroad for a year, I said, “the Philippines.”
Why the Philippines?
Some things just can’t be explained. At that moment, I wasn’t even sure of my choice. I was just a French guy who hadn’t been to Asia. But seeing stories, photos and articles about the Philippines got me thinking, “Why not?”
Now, after two months of living here, I can finally say, without a doubt, why I made the right choice. It’s got everything to do with the people I meet and the things I discover while traveling around the country, or even in Marikina where I reside.
Even if I already feel like a real resident, my being a foreigner (or tourist) is quite obvious. Still, it’s my features that introduce me to Filipino kindness, a quality I notice almost immediately in the people I meet. Wherever I am, especially in the provinces, the locals talk to me with ease. I’m not saying people wouldn’t be as nice if I wasn’t white (I hope not!), but it definitely makes them more curious and talkative, which is great.
I can feel they’re really interested to know where I’m from, what I’m doing in the Philippines, and if I like it here. These simple conversations often lead us to know more about each other and even build real friendships.
During my third week here, I decided to go to Zambales with some friends. At the beach, I saw a group of Filipinos in their 20s playing this game where you basically run and catch the others.
When they saw me watching them, they asked, “Hey man, wanna join us?” Of course I said yes. After a few games, they invited me and my friends to eat kamayan-style (with our hands). After the delicious meal, they asked us to have some beer. We all got drunk on that great night. I still keep in touch with them and now we are planning a trip together. If you guys are reading this, thanks again, you are a perfect example of Filipino hospitality.
When you travel, you meet people. But you also discover the country, its landscapes, colors, uniqueness and diversity—the things that make the Philippines stand out. Traveling here has been such a rich experience, and I’ve already been to many places by bus and motorcycle. I’ve hiked to the top of a mountain and surfed and snorkeled in beautiful seas.
I have to admit, though, that sometimes I feel frustrated seeing damaged corals or polluted areas. It’s a worldwide problem and I’m glad to learn that projects, like the Coral Triangle Initiative, are being developed to protect the environment.
Besides discovering the natural beauty of the land and sea, I also learned about two things you will never see in Europe—jeepneys and tricycles. They are such cool modes of transportation! It may seem weird to people who have been riding them all their lives, but I really mean what I say.
Meanwhile, Manila’s nightlife led me to the best clubs and bars in Cubao Expo and reggae parties every Sunday at the B-Side in The Collective, Makati, where good music, good food and drinks and good people meld into a memorable experience.
But even the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman is a wonderful place to just walk, run or chill.
Now if someone were to ask me, “Should I do the same?” I would tell him this: If you’re ready to talk to people you just met and discover something new every day, don’t even hesitate.