2022 marks the fifth year after I left the Philippines.
Five years is a blip in life, but considering that I spent two years of it in a pandemic, those five years both feel like a lot and nothing at the same time. I took time to think about things that I know now.
Kindred souls are everywhere
When I left the Philippines for Vietnam, I never thought that I might be lonely because I knew no one there. I was more reserved as a kid, but I was never afraid of doing things alone or striking conversations with strangers. I found the idea of being alone in a new country more exciting than scary.
In HCMC, the easy part is going out and meeting people. It's finding and keeping your tribe that is the hardest. It finally clicked when I realized that not everyone would be a tier 1 friend. In hindsight, I realized that this analogy of levels of friendships was already the same while in my home country, but because I have the safety net of my close friends, starting new friendships as an adult wasn't much of an issue. If a friendship works, then that's great. If it doesn't, that's fine too. I have others.
Five years into this life, I accepted that it's okay to see people and hang out with them at a level we're both comfortable with. Not every friendship has to be a soul-baring friendship. But the most rewarding is when you find friends that end up being tier 1s, regardless of the years you have not seen each other and the distance!
Being independent is a fundamental life skill
I grew up not needing to do chores. There was always someone who would take care of maintaining our house. My main responsibilities were to study and get good grades. My parents provided all that I needed—a roof over my head, good education, and all the financial support until I finished university.
While I lived on my own since I was 16, I only barely learned how to cook when I started working in my 20s. I didn't have to cook because food is cheap in the Philippines and Vietnam. Then I moved to a western country, and now it's an entirely different story. Dining out every night in Amsterdam is not possible with the prices and frankly because of the food quality. So here I am in my 30s, trying not to overcook chicken and learning how to balance salt and acid.
What makes us human is universal
I was in Kuala Lumpur, hanging out with a previous colleague and talking about dreams of seeing more of the world. Somewhere in the conversation, I said, "It's interesting how we almost have the same thoughts even though we're of different races and religions."
I was in Brunei, talking to another guest at the hotel, and somehow we ended up talking about how they dealt with loneliness.
I was in a dinner, and someone I had just met there was in tears sharing a story about their recent breakup. They did it in English because I didn't speak the language. I realized how universal heartaches are. There's no Pinoy version. A heartbreak is a heartbreak.
These experiences remind me that we all yearn for the same things—freedom, belongingness, inclusion, the need to be loved. When people let themselves be vulnerable, I feel an immense understanding for us humans.
Leaving changes you
I've heard stories of people repatriating to their home countries and experiencing a reverse culture shock. They have trouble readjusting to the culture in their home countries. A reverse culture shock happens because leaving changes a person. It's the price to pay for gaining all those experiences.
On a bus in HCMC, a man asks me, "So how often do you see your Filipino friends here?". I say, "Unfortunately, I don't have Filipino friends here." At that time, I haven't made Filipino friends yet. He goes on to say, "My wife is Indonesian and has Indonesian friends. That's what minorities do. They hang out in groups."
One way to never have a reverse culture shock is to keep your circle to what's familiar—stay within a community of Filipinos. With this, you instantly belong in a group because of your race. Does this make the experience of leaving more meaningful? I'd say no. While I do have good Filipino friends that I met overseas, the point of me leaving was so I could experience more of the world. I think I would have wasted this opportunity to broaden my mind.
So if I went back in time to five years ago, would I still leave the Philippines? Yes, without a doubt! The things I learned and experienced in the last five years are all worth the effort of stepping beyond my comfort zone a thousand times. The last five years have been significant in formulating my values and how I think, and I'm sure the coming years will even have more impact.