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Expat Life and being an American: What does it mean?

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By the very nature of the term, expats are caught between two worlds: The old and the new. When you choose, and it is a choice, to live in a country other than that of your birth, you are leaving the old behind, and this includes your beliefs, mores and values with which that you may have grown up. Eventually, if you live in a place long enough, you begin to lose that which makes you different. The connections with the old become weaker. The relevance in daily life of your old ways changes. You begin to assimilate. This applies to all expats everywhere, whether in the Philippines or Timbuktu. This also applies to each and every OFW who leaves the Philippines. You adapt and you survive.

I find that the United States has changed, and that distance grows greater each and every day. Well, not really changed. I am the one who has changed. This doesn’t reflect a lack of patriotism or pride over where I was born. Indeed, the longer that I am away from US shores, the less I care about certain things:

  1. I could not care less who the President is, or whether he is Democrat, Republican, Baptist, Muslim, or Jehovah’s Witness.
  2. I don’t care what the unemployment rate in Hicksville, Ohio is.
  3. I don’t care how “bad” the economy is.
  4. I don’t care how much health insurance costs in California.
  5. I don’t worry about how competitive America is on the world stage.
  6. I don’t care about Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, LeBron James, David Letterman, Tiger Woods, et. al.
  7. I don’t care about gay marriage, prayer in schools, “Buy American”, “Just Say No”, or any of the other highly emotional political distractions.

So, am I a traitor for thinking this way? Have I turned my back on the USA? No… but many Americans may disagree. Some, vehemently.

You see, many, many Americans are raised from birth to believe that the USA is number one, waving the flag, wrapped up in the Bill of Rights, screaming “USA, USA” at a basketball game. To disagree, you are speaking something tantamount to treason. I reject all of that. I also reject the idea that the USA “should” be number one, by some mystical, God-given power or right. The laws of economics and the laws of physics still apply to the US. If I said the above to certain American friends or colleagues, their reaction would be something along the lines of “Good riddance!” or “Don’t come back!”.

The world has changed, and America is facing new rivals for supremacy. I’m not talking about China here. I’m talking more on a global scale. America has become a land of distractions, starting with the youth and education. Whereas Americans used to have a “can do” spirit, they have become a land of professional victims. Someone is always to blame for anything that occurs.

Kids aren’t learning? It MUST be the fault of the teachers. In the Philippines, teachers are still respected. Kids WANT to go to school.

Kids are obese? Then it MUST be the fault of junk food in schools. Kids in the Philippines typically bring their own lunches.

Bring back prayer to the classroom and teach creation! Schools here focus on the basics. Reading, writing, and maths.

My kid has ADHD! My kid is allergic to peanuts! There are no “diseases of the month” here. Every kid is not a “genius”.

Bob has written many times about the quality of education that his kids receive here in the Philippines. I don’t dispute that for a second. Rather than focusing on educating engineers and scientists, schools in the US have become political arenas and political pulpits. The result? You can guess where this is headed. I taught undergrad marketing for a couple of years. I read dozens of resumes per year. It literally amazes me how few people can write a coherent sentence in English, in a country where English is the official language. I’m not talking about the Oxford dictionary level of language, but rather, simple, coherent sentences not written in slang, Leet, or IM.

The USA, despite the political cliches, is a land where conformity is prized and treasured. Don’t believe me? Walk into the halls of any high school in America and look at those who are popular and those who are not. Look at the differences between the “haves” and the “have nots”. If you are different, or don’t conform, do you truly believe that you will be a “have”? Look at the xenophobia over immigration and “stealing our jobs” in a land that was built on immigration.

Expats, by their very nature, are different. They leave the country of their birth for a reason, whether job, marriage, thirst for adventure, or a myriad of other reasons. They go to someplace different. Foreign. This doesn’t mean that they are traitors. Far from it. It means that they simply want to do things differently. Leaving because of a job? No one forces you to move. Leaving for love? There are approximately 100 million marriageable women in the USA… without leaving. Thirst for adventure? I can think of few places as boring as Omaha or Columbus.

When you leave the United States, none of the above matters. YOU have made the decision to leave it all behind. YOU are now the immigrant. YOU are now the one “stealing a job”. YOU are now the minority. YOU are now the one who becomes suspect. YOU are now the one who must adapt. YOU are the one who gave up certain “rights” when you left American shores. By choice. Either you adapt or perish. Simple, really.

When I am asked “why” I moved to the Philippines, I normally give a rather simplistic answer: “Because it is my wife’s homeland and she wanted to help her family”. The real reason is far more complex. I didn’t move here from the USA, but from a different country. I could have worked anywhere in the world. This decision was made, inside, long ago. The destination undetermined. Anywhere but here. There was no defining moment of revelation. The desire to leave built up until the opportunity arose. In my case, the reason was a little of all of the above, but “Thirst for Adventure” was probably near the top of the list. From my earliest years, I had a curiosity about other places and different people. In high school, I hung out with two groups that didn’t normally associate with each other: The football players and the exchange students. I collected stamps, imagining other countries and exotic locales. When I learned to drive, I drove just for the fun of it, yearning to see where the next road leads or what was behind the next bend. Though, through my job, I have seen more of the world, in person, than most people ever will, that thirst for adventure is still there. It probably will always be there until I take my last breath, though fatherhood and job stress have mellowed it a bit.

Living in the Philippines, I focus on what is important here, and now. Making friends. Fitting in. But I never forget that I will always be the foregner. I will always be the outsider. I will always be the one who needs to adapt. If not, the choice is simple: Go somewhere else, return home, or change my ways.

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JohnM

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

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Paul Thompson
12 years ago

John; Most of the items you listed that you don’t care about as an expat, I didn’t care about during the short periods I lived in the US. The Navy took me away to strange and foreign lands for 21 years, and then I owned a bar in the Caribbean (albeit Puerto Rico is a US territory) but out of my 63 years on Earth, I’ve physically lived within the USA very few years (less than 8 ) after age 18. We who have ventured out to see the world, and actually know where countries are without having to Google… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

Paul: Thank you! Mariners are an entirely different breed of people. Around two weeks ago, on Clean Air at Sea, I posted an article about Tres Hombres Packet company out of Holland: They have designed a sail-powered container ship… The amount of response from that one article was impressive. The romantic notion of the wind in your sails is still very much alive in my industry!

Jade
Jade
12 years ago
Reply to  John Miele

John,
I found your article on the cleanairatsea website. Congratulations to you for posting this article and to Tres Hombres Packet Company for their already successful venture. I am particularly interested in this field as I have had my career in the marine industry as a marine electrical contractor for the past 33 years. The future holds many surprises and not necessarily all of them bad.
Regards,
Jade

Ken Lovell
Ken Lovell
12 years ago

Most enjoyable post John. I hinted at some of these things in a comment I made about Bob’s problems with neighbours who ‘hate foreigners’. Lots of expats whose thoughts I read on another group seem incapable of accepting that they are a small minority group in somebody else’s country. Which is their business of course, until they start acting the Exceptional American and lecturing Filipinos about how to run the place, which naturally causes resentment of all foreigners. Resentment can quickly turn into racism and discrimination. I’m constantly amazed at how little of them there seems to be here. It’s… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Ken Lovell

Ken: Humility is sorely lacking among those in the expat community. I hope this article causes people to reflect a bit.

Tom Martin
Tom Martin
12 years ago

I agree with SOME of what you said. It seems to me that you may have been disenchanted with the U.S.A. before you ever left. It is also obvious that you do not have investments in the U.S.A. that make it possible for you to survive. If you did I think you would be intelligent enough to care what the U.S. economy is doing. I do not take a Philippine job the opportunities I had in the U.S. make it possible for me not to need to. It is very true the U.S. is not utopia nor is any other… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Tom Martin

Tom: As a matter of fact, this is the fourth country in which I have lived, and I still have investments and financial ties in the States. I treat those ties no differently than my other ties. If the economy tanks in the States and my investments fall, I dump them. Simple. I reject the idea of borders: The economy is now global and old ways of thinking simply do not work. Economics is not a zero sum game: There are no winners and losers with regard to nations. If someone is not willing to buy that Chinese tennis shoe,… Read more »

Ken Lovell
Ken Lovell
12 years ago

BTW I should add that the general tone of posts here from you, Bob, Paul and others is a credit to the group. It reflects a realistic acceptance of the situation of expats living here without descending into either whining or denigration of our new country.

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Ken Lovell

Ken: Thank you!

Roberto
Roberto
12 years ago

Hi John: Great article, thoughtful and realistic, I am with you 100%.

Salamat:

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Roberto

Roberto: Thank you!

Jade
Jade
12 years ago

JohnM, Thank you for this very personal and introspectively thought provoking article. I reflect upon my feelings similarly to you. The US does not have god granted rights to possess the yellow brick road. For the past 2 or more centuries our ideal geographic location and once thought unlimited resources enabled us to achieve a collective success and standard of living that was once a benchmark for the peoples of the world to hope to emulate. The situation now has evolved to a different paradigm where our previous assumptions have been inevitably altered and it needs to be reviewed. The… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Jade

Jade: You hit the nail on the head. In fact, the recession in the States is long overdue and not necessarily a “bad” thing. It may shake up attitudes just like the Great Depression did in the 1930’s after the excesses of the 1920’s. Then again, it may not….

Paul
Paul
12 years ago

Hi John – Well, I’d say the USA has changed over the past 50 years, and the primary reason for my moving to the Philippines is to rediscover that lifestyle of 50 years ago. Also, as PaulT said, being out of the country for a considerable part of one’s life immunizes the wanderer to any of the “issues of the moment” so loudly proclaimed and incessantly reported in the news. Long story short: I just don’t care for life in the USA as much as I do life in the Philippines. It’s like getting a “do-over” in life. This time,… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Paul: We agree… The focus here is far more on the things that are important in life. As to Paul’s comment, see my response above. Mariners are always different than those stuck on land.

JackF
JackF
12 years ago

I for one do not care what happens in the USA anymore. I’m tired of asking what I can do for my country because its never done anything for me or my family. So I stopped asking and started saying what can I do for me and my family and whats best for us. At this point I am selling my real estate in the US and I will end up with around half a million dollars when i pay all my taxes. I can find nothing to do with this much money here that will satisfy me for the… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  JackF

Jack: Thank you… There is a reason why I don’t watch international TV news… I read The Economist every week and watch the local news. The last thing I need is more drivel from Bill O’Reilly, Greta van Sustern, and their ilk.

John Reyes
12 years ago
Reply to  John Miele

Hey, John, you forgot Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and that Kraut Hammer! LOL

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  John Reyes

John: I considered them part of the ilk! 🙂

Sonny Esguerra
12 years ago
Reply to  JackF

Hey Jack. While reading through Bob Martin’s “Mindanao Bob” website I happened to wander here and read about your wanting to find a business where you can put your $500,000.00 that wouldn’t nail you down to a “shitty” restaurant job for the next 30 years. I talked to Bob Martin just this afternoon about selling my one hectare Inn business here in Gensan that makes conservatively the peso equivalent of $3,500 to $4,000 a month. It’s true! Of course, that wouldn’t be true after you decide to improve the place and add more rooms! You may check my page on… Read more »

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Sonny Esguerra

Sonny: I leave the age thing alone… It tends to just get people riled up. However, I think I may be unusual here in that my wife is actually a little older than I am.

Sonny Esguerra
12 years ago
Reply to  John Miele

Cmon, John. For confessed seasoned adventurers and intrepid expats in a strange country like ours, you wouldn’t think mention of age would be anything worthy of them (especially that horned Viking) to be riled up about. haha! Just the same, my apologies, pare ko!

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Sonny Esguerra

Sonny: No apologies necessary! 🙂

Sonny Esguerra
12 years ago
Reply to  John Miele

Thanks, John. Well since I’m here already, you guys might want to look at my page at Wayn under my name Sonny Esguerra and take a look at photos I took of Gensan, my Inn, my family, our people, our landscapes, and Lake Sebu; as well as the surrounding beaches so may have a glimpse of life in this part of the Philippines (if you haven’t been here yet). Nice getting drifted here, John. Thanks again and have a great life in the Philippines to you all! P.s. You guys sound so subdued! Nothing to do with age, I hope.… Read more »

Tony
Tony
12 years ago

I agree with most of your post but take exception with the “my country is best” part. I think children for the most part are always brought up to think their country, wherever that is, is “the best”. I have met plenty of pinoys who are just as patriotic as anyone else and think that their country is #1.

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  Tony

Tony: I bwrote the article from an American perspective… Most people are proud of their countries, and I’ve found that most Filipinos really show a lot of pride if you take an interest in their views and don’t try and lecture them.

don m
12 years ago

John I wish to move to the philippines for the change. I don’t love my own country any less but I just enjoy the change. When I was growing up I moved about every two years and now it is time to do it again. Life is richer with a lot of change. Now if they will just let my have my viking funeral in the end. Ha ha!!!!

John Miele
12 years ago
Reply to  don m

Don: You could always buy a banca and have the Pinoy version! You might look a little silly (Though really, really cool) wearing horns!

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