My new passion project: Out and Abroad

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After mulling about this for the longest time, I FINALLY started my passion project – a blog collective called “Out and Abroad” for all those like me who are already living and working abroad or thinking about making that big move.

Ever since I moved to Singapore I’ve noticed the lack of blogs or articles that chronicle real stories of real people (especially Asians) about this topic. Culture shock. Intercultural relationships. Work permits. Landlords. But so many people, both friends and strangers, have always approached or emailed me asking for advice. My vision for Out and Abroad is to be a blog collective and a platform to broadcast stories for like minded individuals. 

The reality is that more people are becoming ‘global citizens’ but no one is really talking about what that means on a personal level. The struggle is real. Haha.

Don’t worry. I’ll still be using ForeignFilipina as my personal blog (it will never go away!) My sister has asked me what’s the difference. My reply is that Out and Abroad is not about me. It’s about the community I want to build.

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Anyway, I hope you guys can help me out in two ways.

1) Like our Facebook page

2)  I’m looking for contributors, particularly Asian women. Please let me know if you know someone who might be interested or write to us at outandabroad@gmail.com.

Thanks :)

The boundaries of free speech as a foreigner

Photo from the internet

Photo from the internet

My thoughts on the Edz Ello controversy and the boundaries of free speech as a foreigner. I’ve changed the headline from what was originally posted on Rappler. I’m using OFWs as an example but I think it’s a common concern for anyone living abroad regardless of their nationality.

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Filipinos are no strangers to making the headlines in Singapore.

Last June 2014 a Philippine Independence Day celebration in Singapore was the subject of xenophobic heckling and harassment online, causing the organizers to cancel the event.

(READ: Pinoy group in Singapore drops Independence Day event plan)

A few days ago the couple behind The Real Singapore, a popular alternative news site, was charged with sedition. The cause? They allegedly claimed that a Filipino family caused an incident during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community.

Online forums are regularly flooded with comments referring to Filipinos as “foreign trash” or “cockroaches,” making Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) feel angry, ashamed or even apathetic. These derogatory comments are nothing new. The question is whether OFWs should feel obligated to defend theirkababayantooth and nail in a nationalistic effort to change the narrative about Filipinos abroad.

But the controversy sparked by Edz Ello, a Filipino nurse working in a government hospital in Singapore recently charged with sedition and lying to the police for posting hateful comments about Singaporeans online, paints a different picture.

Instead of defending a fellow Filipino, the OFW community too condemned his actions, to the extent of saying that he deserved the strict consequences that followed.

RACIST COMMENT? Filipino Nurse Edz Ello, an OFW in Singapore is fired from his job for allegedly making these racist comments on Facebook. Screenshot from Facebook

RACIST COMMENT? Filipino Nurse Edz Ello, an OFW in Singapore is fired from his job for allegedly making these racist comments on Facebook. Screenshot from Facebook

The unspoken rule: don’t bite the hand that feeds

Most OFWs believe that it’s a privilege to be working overseas, especially in Singapore, where the earning capacity tends to be much higher than back in the Philippines.

Regardless of your nationality or income, the bottom line is that every expatriate and migrant worker is a guest in a foreign country. It’s an implicit agreement – that locals expect respect and sensitivity from those who would share their home.

In the case of Edz Ello, both Singaporean and Filipino netizens alike felt that the hateful comments he posted reflected the exact opposite. They said, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds,” an unspoken rule about not offending your benefactor that OFWs are all too familiar with.

Boundaries of free speech

While OFWs are used to a culture of freedom of speech back home, once we venture beyond our borders the boundaries become gray. Living abroad makes us more self-aware of our actions, especially online, not merely out of fear of being deported or arrested, but also out of respect to our host country.

Singapore, on the other hand, is known for its strict laws about voicing opinions publicly.

The priority of the government is to preserve harmony in a multicultural society, where race is a major social identifier for locals. As mentioned by Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, “You have full freedom of speech [in Singapore] but it doesn’t extend to offending somebody else.”

So similar to how religion is a popular yet sensitive topic in the Philippines, such inflammatory comments along national and racial lines can elicit controversy in Singapore. This is increasingly relevant amidst growing concerns about the influx of foreigners in recent years, with an almost 40% foreign population.

Goodwill ambassadors

172,700 Filipinos work in Singapore, according to the latest publicly available Philippine government data. As part of the foreigner population in Singapore, the responsibility of OFWs is to become goodwill ambassadors for the Philippines.

We are guardians of the Filipino name for the world at large, whose only points of reference about the Philippines are sweeping generalizations and often negative stereotypes. That’s why the OFW community did not speak up on behalf of Edz Ello. They agree that his actions unfairly represented Filipinos. Even some locals echo the same sentiment – don’t let the actions of one Filipino paint the wrong picture of an entire race.

The Ello controversy reminds us that nationalism goes beyond our bloodline, heritage, language and the color of our skin. It’s about knowing that we can be better Filipinos, while holding our fellow kababayansaccountable to that very standard.

As an OFW, that means doing our utmost best in protecting our name abroad. Then perhaps, we’ll be making headlines for all the right reasons.

A ‘glocal’ Thanksgiving

A holiday tradition is rooted in culture, heritage and religion. Catholics and Christmas. Muslims and Ramadan. Americans and Thanksgiving. Back then these traditions used to be celebrated in silos, compartmentalised by upbringing, limited to the country of birth and the generation who passed down the practice.

Now enter the age of the internet and social media, mobility, cheap and interconnected flights and the burgeoning desire to experience the world. Tradition is no longer preserved through lineage, from the past to the present, grandfather to daughter. It’s perpetuated laterally through the networks of foreigners and locals who are interacting. More people are getting exposed and the result is a new generation celebrating glocal (global + local) tradition. These are rituals adopted and experienced while living abroad and traveling.

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I am a Filipino, but since moving to Singapore I have celebrated holidays I would otherwise not have been able to do before. Last February I got a red packet for Chinese New Year. Last month I flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand to take part in the buddhist Yi Peng Festival or Festival of Lights. This weekend I will have Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, despite a majority of us growing up as catholic Filipinos/ buddhist Singaporeans who don’t usually celebrate Turkey Day.

Yi Peng Festival, Thailand

Yi Peng Festival, Thailand

Thanksgiving might be a Western holiday, but gratitude is a universal value for many cultures. Since I normally write my list of gratitude for my year end review, here are 4 things I’m thankful for about living abroad instead. What are you thankful for?

Expanding vocabulary 

Every country has their local vernacular. There are nuances in language and behaviour that you can only pick up by living somewhere for a long period of time. Words not only have a definition but a context. Aside from learning bits of broken Singlish, I realised that two people speaking in English might not necessarily understand each other.

Ex. ‘Take away’ and ‘take out’ both mean to have your food packed, but are mutually exclusive. Each phrase only has meaning in Singapore (take away) and the Philippines (take out).

What I’m thankful for: Learning how to understand, adapt and communicate with people in various contexts. 

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House warming’s and potluck

For me this has replaced clubbing and going out on the weekends. Going over to a friend’s house is nothing new, but the vibe feels more personal when someone has their own crib. The helper is not preparing the food. Someone is cooking and everyone contributes drinks and food. This is a new experience for Asians who don’t typically move out until they get married.

What I’m thankful for: The friendships that grew stronger from playing Cards Against Humanity at someone’s house. 

Accountability

It’s harder to slack off and take your job for granted when your salary pays the bills. You become more accountable to your life, the roof on your head, the food on the table and ultimately the good or bad decisions you make.

What I’m thankful for: Professional and personal growth because of how much living abroad challenges who you are and tests who you want to be.

Tioman, Malaysia

Tioman, Malaysia

Travel

When you live in Singapore South East Asia becomes your playground. It’s easier to take weekend trips to neighbouring countries where the flight is cheap and the cost of living is lower. If the regional air pass from Air Asia pushes through, and I can fly to 10 different locations in S.E.A. in one month, I’ll never be in Singapore on the weekends anymore.

What I’m thankful for: Being able to travel around the region effortlessly (thank you Changi!) 

Discernment 

The stakes are higher when you live abroad because you’re on your own. So you learn how to trust your gut and filter through your real friends.

What I’m thankful for:  Family who are always there for me. Old friends who will always keep me grounded. And new like-minded spirits who make Singapore feel less lonely.

The different phases of Ikea

"I didn't know I needed all this stuff until I went to Ikea."

Buying furniture is the first step in making your apartment feel like a home, but it’s practiced in various phases of an expat’s life.

Bare basics:  “I need to stop eating my dinner from the floor.”

Storage: “How can I store all my crap?!”

Settling: “I might be in x country longer than I thought I would be.”

Nesting: “I need to make a home away from home.”

Ikea noob: “I didn’t know I needed all this stuff until I went to Ikea!”

Moving, 2012

Moving, 2012

Last weekend my sister and I made a trip down to Ikea to buy new furniture for our home. It was somewhere between settling and nesting. We’ve been to Ikea a few times in the last two years, but this time was kind of a big deal. When you live abroad the concept of home is always temporary. How much time, money and effort you put into furnishing a home shows how long you envision to stay. The less you invest, the easier it is to move on, both mentally and physically. Buying a table is not only about buying a table. It represents roots, having something to leave behind or bring along depending on the next venture in life. Traveling teaches us to pack light for the transient ride but migrating makes it necessary to unpack the boxes even if you’ll eventually end up leaving again.

Settled in, 2014

Settled in, 2014

Buying furniture makes you think about how serious you are with where you are. It’s not something we take seriously within the first year because we’re still experimenting and having fun. But I guess after you pass the 2 year mark it’s only natural to start deliberating, planning and in this case, start decorating.

FOREIGN FILIPINA: A MANIFESTO

394171_10150628743865309_2063282302_nTo move abroad is to open yourself to a new way of seeing with foreign eyes and local heart. It’s to become a citizen of the world. Someone who finds home in the people they meet in places they come to love, by understanding their different way of living. Why stay in the same place when you can live and work beyond the border? That’s how I found myself here. On this blog. Scribbling from Singapore. How about you?

The new chapter begins

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One month ago I was unemployed, and packing my bags for my solo trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Now I’m back in Singapore and a few weeks into my new job in a creative agency.

My team is great, and I really see a lot of hidden gems in the next 6 months. A lot of people thought that I was crazy because I wanted to leave the client side, but the grass is always greener where you water it. Anyway, I prefer to plant a field where creativity can blossom. As I said before, it’s about the culture you buy into. 

I feel like I finally have my bearings. Singapore feels like home. Friends, family, boyfriend. Work is stimulating. I joined the gym (I really need to get back into shape!!!) I can start saving again.I’ve let go of the past in order to embrace the future.

There are vacations to plan. Blogs and articles to write. Dreams to realize.

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Speaking of blogs, I was overwhelmed by the response of my Lessons From A Corporate Life which Rappler published on their site. 5k shares! I’m happy and thankful there are people who could relate to the corporate question mark.

I’ll be sharing more about my trip in the next couple of blog posts, including the one I wrote this weekend for We Are Sole Sisters, and when does a foreign country feel like home.

Happy Sunday night everyone. Have a good week ahead. xx

The realities of job hunting and working abroad

Pic from internet

Pic from internet

Unlike traveling leisurely, working abroad typically requires a contractual commitment. Overseas professionals don’t measure their stay in a country in terms of long-weekends or vacation leaves, but by the length of their work permit. It conditions us to think ahead, to constantly re-think our priorities and consider several factors.

The “What’s next?” is not that simple when you’re working overseas. It can refer to the next job, the next country you want to live in, or whether it’s time to go back home.

I’ve been living in Singapore for 2 years, with more than 1 employer under my belt. So I’ve picked up a couple of things about the paper work and discernment process involved when transitioning in-between jobs or job-hunting overseas. This is what I learned:

Your right to live in a foreign country is tied to your work permit.

It’s like a race against time, whether you decide to continue working in the country and need to find a new job, or to pack up your belongings and go.

Once your employee contract is terminated, so is your work permit. If you’re in Singapore this gives you 30 days to legally stay in the country or else you have to do a ‘visa run’ by crossing the border and re-entering as a tourist.

Save to sustain your life overseas

When we’re young our instinct is to spend now and save later for when we’re older. But working overseas forces us to change that mindset. We need to save to sustain our life abroad; especially with a volatile job market or when we’re in-between jobs with no idea where the next pay check will come from.

Expats and foreign workers don’t live with their parents so rent becomes the biggest leech, especially in Singapore, which was recently dubbed the most expensive city in the world. You should also save so that you can travel guiltlessly before you start your next venture.

Where is the pension?

As a twenty-something, a pension fund is the last thing on my mind. It’s another piece of paper work in a government system that I don’t fully understand. While Singaporeans have CPF my dad recently pointed out to me that working abroad doesn’t automatically add to my SSS or Social Security System retirement fund. So it’s worth trying to understand the legal jargon that we might have taken for granted if we stayed at home.

Pic from internet

Pic from internet

What’s next?

Perhaps the most difficult part of working abroad is discerning whether to stay, when to leave or to go back home. I have faced this crossroads more than once in the last 2 years. My choice was always to work abroad for the opportunity to be shaped by the world. There is no right or wrong, only trial and error in discovering what’s next.

Blissful Bintan – An unexpected CNY vacation for two

Expats in Singapore take Chinese New Year seriously. CNY weekend that is. It’s the long anticipated extended Christmas holiday in January.

I come from the Philippines where long weekends are common and abundant. Singapore, on the other hand, is more stringent.

Enter Indonesia: our backyard to quick and affordable travel. Usually Bintan is the default destination for Singapore expats who get cabin fever in the small city state.

With only a few weeks to go until CNY, this was my mantra as I did last minute planning:

“I will not waste another long weekend by not traveling.”

Booking an available resort that is not ridiculously over priced by CNY is the travel equivalent of finding a needle in a hay stack.

Luckily I found Loola Adventure resort. 3 days & 2 nights for under 300 SGD. Ferry and food included.

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It was a long weekend of blissful isolation. A quiet, more rustic escape. No air con. No distractions.Wake up between 7-8AM to a cool breeze and a meal that feels hearty and homecooked. And there were always fruits.

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Oranges for good luck? #CNY

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“I don’t think we’re the target group,” Ed said, referring to the big families that we shared our vacation with. Loola is the kind of place for team building or big group activities.

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While it was an unlikely couple destination, two can also be an adventure! Initially we stocked up on movies to watch during our stay, but Loola had other things in store:

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Pimp my bus! These buses took us to the sea.

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Boat’s eye view

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“Love the tree,” the instructor said. And love it we did!

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They call this boomjumping. You jump out of the boat into a net while it takes you around the sea. Or what I like to call: What a fish must feel like when it gets caught

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How did the flying fox land in the water?

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I’m a clutz with terrible balance but I tried the Sky Walk anyway.

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The water is beautiful, even in low tide.

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We walked all the way to the next island.

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And watched the sand patterns dance.

Even if it was an “adventure” resort, what I love is that we still left Loola feeling well rested.

Care free, hair free.

Care free, hair free.

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It was well worth the vacation for two.

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How to get there from Singapore:

– Take a 1.5hour ferry. We took the Sindo Ferry, which is part of the Berlian Ferries Pte Ltd. 55 SGD/ head for both ways. Loola will help coordinate the ferry, including the free transfer to and from the terminal. 

Dubai Day 1: Malls and the Mega City

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What is wealth: Family, friends and travel. With Mej @ Burj Khalifa

When I travel I look for patterns hidden within a city. From the gait of pedestrians strolling down a well manicured road to the efficiency of the MRT system, these are signs of the way of life.

In Dubai I could feel its extravagance everywhere, elegantly interlaced in gold, larger-than-life shopping malls (or palaces?), travellators from the MRT station to the mall, and the breeding of the local Emirati’s. Dubai was constructed to feel and appear grandeur, even if you were merely window shopping.

Both Singapore and Dubai are first world cities attractive to expats with cabs that are safe and accessible. They are global hubs with ambitious skylines, that of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and of the Burj Kalifa in Dubai. Consumerism is common place with pockets that run deep for both countries.

Yet I felt that wealth was perceived differently. Singaporeans work hard to shop hard while in Dubai many Emirati’s were born into families with rich backgrounds. Both nations are wealthy but they show it in different ways. I felt like Singapore was younger, stylishly modern while Dubai is older and wiser, with a past to build their city on.

Anyway.

I went to Dubai with Ed last May as an early birthday gift to myself. I visited Mej, who recently moved there for work, so we could celebrate our birthday together.

The trip wasn’t cheap, but my personal definition of wealth is friends, family and travel. Day 1 of my trip below. More pictures to come.

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Dubai MRT or space hub?

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Is this a mall or a palace? @ Dubai Mall

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Is this a mall or a palace? @ Dubai Mall

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People watching

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A glimpse of Dubai’s future: buildings, buildings, buildings

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Is Dubai built on a dream or a mirage?

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Am I in a James Bond movie chase scene?




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Delicious Turkish Delight

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Crazy for Kebabs

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Keeping it cool in Dubai ;)

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JBR. Man made beach in Dubai



PUBLISHED ON RAPPLER: On being Filipino abroad

Writing ‘Beyond Nosebleed‘ and ‘Waking up to being Filipino” last year for Rappler and Interaksyon really helped me embrace being a ‘Foreign Filipino.’ I found my voice not only as a Filipino but as a writer. It’s a niche that speaks so strongly to who I am and what I believe in, however, is not as defined as being a ‘sports,’ ‘news’ or ‘lifestyle’ writer. Whenever someone asked me what I want to write about, I was always unsure of my answer. It was such a grey area.

Now that I’ve moved to Singapore it makes more sense. This is the continuation to being a ‘Foreign Filipino,’ a story that also belongs to the thousands of expat Filipinos abroad. A large work force whose voice has yet to be really heard. This is what both my blog and Rappler’s new #BalikBayan section is about.

Thank you as always to the Rappler team (a shout out to Maria Ressa and Michael Josh) who asked me to write this piece. Personally, it was an opportune reminder of why I moved abroad in the first place.

Also check out our Google Hangout with Filipinos in every continent discussing what it means to be Filipino abroad. Great insights :)

AT HOME. The author discovers how much a Filipino she is in another country. All photos by Rica Facundo

AT HOME. The author discovers how much a Filipino she is in another country. All photos by Rica Facundo

SINGAPORE – Last year, I was bemused by how I felt more Filipino in Singapore than back in the Philippines.

Read: Beyond ‘nosebleed’

Given that I am a “foreign Filipina” born in Indonesia and attended an international high school, I was excited about Singapore. I knew it to be a cosmopolitan city of Chinese, Malays, Indians and foreigners that could teach me about other cultures.

After all, globalism is finding the common thread among different races. Moving abroad was the perfect opportunity to assimilate and localize a new way of living.

But for a while I was confused.

I didn’t expect moving abroad would first shed light about how Filipino I was before connecting the dots with other nationalities.

I didn’t have to speak Tagalog fluently or discuss Philippine politics or history to brand myself a Filipino. Understanding the issue of Filipino identity became more of a practical matter.

Rather than attempting to discover Filipino identity, which is what being Filipino meant when I still lived back home, living abroad actually brought out the Filipino in me without my even trying too hard.

MOVING. Rica documents the day she moved to Singapore

MOVING. Rica documents the day she moved to Singapore

‘Filipinoisms’

In Singapore where rules are strictly enforced, it’s the Filipino who thinks twice about crossing the street on a red light. Yet it’s the same Filipino who will most likely not practice it when back home.

In Singapore, where complaints about train delays are common, Filipinos will have the patience to smile about them. We are used to relentless traffic on EDSA as our resilience stems from surviving bigger struggles like poverty and natural disasters.

In Singapore, a global hub for professionals, Filipinos are in the habit of saying, “I’m sorry” a lot when they don’t have to.

In Singapore, a country with a strong and strict work ethic, I’ve learned that skills can be developed, but compassion can never be taught, which is what I’m thankful for about Filipino culture. Imagine the double-threat we can be if we can harness both traits.

In Singapore, or any other country we migrate to, our lifestyle changes.

The collectivist culture that characterizes most Asian countries breeds a brand of independence that’s rooted in our parents and helpers, and grows with interdependence.

Usually full independence isn’t granted until Filipinos are much older, so our lack of domestic skills — cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, on top of financial illiteracy, become more apparent when living abroad.

Newborn expats from the upper-middle class might Google “how to remove stains from color bleeding” and “how to declog your toilet or shower without yaya.” The Philippines may be a third world country but you can appreciate how home can spoil you when you don’t have to pay for rent.

Indeed I’ve realized that we need contrast to see the fine lines outlining who we are. The exposure abroad makes us hyper-aware of the strengths and weaknesses born out of Filipino culture—traits we can leverage and work on to become better Filipinos, to compete in the globalized economy, learnings we can take for those of us who pay it forward when we move back home.

The bigger picture

The exposure abroad also provides a larger common denominator among Filipinos of various backgrounds. By taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture, trivialities such as language, geography, skin, and socio-economic class become less important.

This Filipino connection became apparent when I attended the event of an NGO where I volunteer. I was listening to a domestic worker speak about the struggles of working in Singapore.

Despite the difference in our educational and economic background I could relate to the tentativeness of our work permit to the stereotypes we need to challenge. Plus, we both left Manila in pursuit of a promising future. Our suitcases are heavy with the stories that brought us to Singapore—chapters worth of family, friends, and dreams.

SMALL WORLD. In her new world, Rica still finds herself connecting to her Filipino roots

SMALL WORLD. In her new world, Rica still finds herself connecting to her Filipino roots

The modern day Filipino

Now that it’s easier to travel, work or study abroad, I’m excited about the exposure Filipinos will get at a younger age.

Unlike before when third culture kids (TCKs) were born from the circumstances of where their parents were based, the new generation will be globalized and localized as an offshoot of choosing to move abroad.

I believe it’s the overseas Filipino workers, expats and “foreign Filipinos” alike who will till the future of the Philippines, not only on remittances, but with a better understanding of who we are and can be as a country.

It’s been a year since I left Manila. Indeed I still feel more Filipino abroad than I do back home but I use that point of view to my advantage.

Here I’ve realized it is less about finding your Filipino identity but embracing how the underlying cultural DNA brought you up as one. It’s about appreciating the nuances and values that differentiate you from the rest of the world. – Rappler.com

See original article here