Since it’s Friday, today I’m featuring my column from SunStar Davao Newspaper. While my LiP Web Magazine is targeted toward foreigner readers who have an interest in visiting or living in the Philippines, my newspaper column is targeted at Filipino readers and trying to foster more understanding toward foreigners who are here. Because of this, you may notice that this article comes across from a different angle than you are used to, but it might still make interesting reading for you. This column is appearing in today’s SunStar Davao, October 9, 2009.
I’ve been living in the Philippines for almost 10 years already, and many days I still learn new things about the place. When I first came to live here, everything was different for me. Today, nearly 10 years later, I am already accustomed to most things, but a few things still pop up that catch me off guard.
I am a believer that we are all people, despite our differences. While we have things about us that are different, we also have many things that we share in common. However, even though many, probably most things about different peoples are similar, or even the same, when you relocate to a different place, especially if it is halfway around the world, it is the things that are different that really stick out and are very noticeable to you.
What creates most such differences is culture. The culture is way that we do things, the normal way that the people around us have taught us that things should be done. We are a product of the culture in which we grew up. It is through the influence of others, and through observing how others do things that teach us how to do things, and we mimic, or copy how we see others doing things.
When we move to a new place, very far away from our home, we notice that people do things differently than we do the same things. It does not mean that the way the people do it is wrong, or that we are wrong, we just do it differently. It can be a difficult adjustment, though.
A little over 2 years ago, I decided that if I was going to live here permanently, I really should learn how to speak the language. Having decided that, it presented an entirely new problem… which language should I learn? Tagalog? Bisaya? Some other language like Ilonggo? I settled in on Bisaya, because my wife’s family is Bisaya. Living in Mindanao, there is a majority of Bisaya speakers too, so I decided that Bisaya was the right language for me to learn. I searched and was able to find a very good linguist to teach me how to speak Bisaya, Bebe Metillo. Bebe had, in the past, taught Missionaries living here, and I was her first non-Missionary student.
In learning to speak Bisaya, I found myself also learning a lot of cultural things about the Philippines too. Things that I didn’t understand well became clearer to me. In the past, when I saw something being done a certain way, I thought that the thing was being done “the wrong” way. As I learned from Bebe, I came to understand that the Filipino way of doing something was not “wrong,” but only different from the way I was used to. There were cultural reasons for things being done differently. If something works, it is not wrong, just different.
Over the past 2 years that I have been studying with Bebe, it has really opened up my mind and also helped me understand my new home in a better way, and also helped me adjust my attitude and acceptance of the Philippines. Frankly, it’s been a God-send for me, because it has made my life happier, more stress-free, and given me a better understanding of the Philippines, and of Filipinos too.
I often think back to my time before I was studying language and culture from Bebe. It was not as enjoyable a life. Learning the language (I’m not 100% fluent, but I can get by) has helped me a lot too, and made my life better. Being able to understand what is going on around you makes you feel better about living here too, and I am happy for that.
Next week, I’ll look at my decision of what language to learn, and I’ll let you know if I think I made the right choice by deciding to learn Bisaya.