Cultural Adjustment

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.

Bob and Bebe Metillo
Bob and Bebe Metillo

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.

Post Author: MindanaoBob (1354 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.

Live in the Philippines Consulting


  1. says

    Since Bisaya is the language spoken by majority in Davao, it makes sense that you chose it. In the case of my son, he has a choice between Tagalog and Ilonggo( my dialect), but since he seldom visit Iloilo and Tagalog is spoken by more Filipinos ( as well as some of his coworkers here in Sacramento)and Tagalog is the dialect in Marinduque, it made sense for him to study Tagalog.

    Bob, by the way, are you getting rid of your American accent when you speak in Bisaya?

    My son's tagalog is sometimes "too americanized" in accent, we have to ask him to repeat what he is trying to communicate in Tagalog. I am very proud that out of my four kids, David E is the only one making an extra effort to learn the language of his heritage.

  2. Bob New York says

    Nice article Bob, and yes it is the differences in the way things are done is one of the primary things that have always interested me about a place that is foriegn to me. The reasons behind the differences many times can be quite fascinating. I had read in a travel guide long before my first visit that people in The Philippines appreciate it when a visitor at least tries to learn some of the local language as it shows interest. I bought a book about Tagalog, didn't get very far with that. When I came across " The Jollibee Song " on Youtube, I knew if I listened to it over and over again ( almost like listening to the same song many times on Top 40 Radio years ago LOL ) I could learn to " mimic " the words. I then almost word by word or phrase by phrase got definitions and was able to at least speak something that would be complete and make sense. Sound silly ? Well maybe although my Filipino friends did seem quite impressed that I could do that. The highlight of learning this was when I actually met the Jollibee Mascott in SM Mall Cagayan De Oro , sang to him in Tagalog and the Mascott danced to my singing. I always wondered what the crowd that gathered thought of a Kano singing in Tagalog to Jollibee ! The language lessons right here on this website are better than I have seen in any of the language books I purchased and my thanks to Bebe and you for having them here.

  3. Jody says

    Bob you are to be commended for trying to learn the language. I guess language is everything and I am acutely conscious of my failure to learn the language.

    I have only met a few westeners who seem to be truly at ease with the language (Fr Shay Cullen is one of them). Ironically he also has a column in a newspaper (Inquirer )

    Do you think formal one on one tutoring is the way to go?



  4. Phil R. says

    good going Bob ..yes you are right t5hings are done differently here and it is hard for me to cope with it but I am doing a good job of – just letting it go ..I'm in the Philippines now right…I need to learn Bisaya too ..Phil n Jess

  5. Jack says

    Hi Bob,

    I hope I can start to learn Bisaya before I make the move to the Leyte in 10 years and I am wondering if you have any suggestions. I have a printout of the Tom Marking "Cebuano Study Note" and I have been working on vocabulary while I am on the treadmill at the gym. I have also starting listening to Bebe lessons on your website. Juramie is great and I have learn important stuff like "gutom ko" but I would like to find someone local in Maryland to give me lessons or find someone who would teach by Skype. I would appreciate any suggestions. Salamat, Jack

  6. Jay McDowall says

    It is harder to find resources for languages other than Tagalog, esp in the states. For me learning Tagalog is enough for now, with some key Ilocano vocabulary. Most Ilocanos here are thrilled when I can speak a little to them. I do feel that the best way to learn the culture is to learn the language, esp if you live in a different country.

  7. says

    Hi David – Thanks for your comment, it's good to know that your son is continuing in his efforts to learn Tagalog.

    I don't think I really have an American accent in speaking Bisaya. My teacher requires me to learn how to pronounce the words properly.

  8. says

    Hi Bob – Ha ha… I think you are Jollibee's #1 Ambassador from the West! That was a good strategy though, in learning from the song! I know that as you keep on visiting, you will pick up more and more of the language!

  9. says

    Hi Jody – Thank you. I am not fully at ease with the language yet, but I can hold my own now. 😉

    Yes, one on one tutoring is very important. The most important part of that is getting a good teacher, not somebody like a friend or your wife or whatever, you really need somebody who knows how to teach a language. It's not just a bunch of memorizing…

  10. says

    Hi Jay – You are correct without a doubt when it comes to learning resources. Tagalog is developing a number of such resources. Other Philippine languages have only sparse resources available.

  11. says

    Hi Jack – I will be seeing Bebe on Wednesday and will talk to her then about your lessons. You can also e-mail her by using our Contact Form. Up at the top of the site there is a link that says "Contact Us" – if you click on that and send a message, I will make sure it gets to Bebe.

    Good luck with the lessons! I am sure you will do well!

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