By Maggie Ke
For so many years, I have been a ‘tourist’ every time I went to a new place. In other words, I lived in hotels, had meals in restaurants and visited tourist attractions when traveling. However, this trip to the Philippines is significantly different, where I live with a host family, have meals together with the family members and visit local business stores every day. If offers me a precious chance to integrate into local culture.
Before I came here, I tried to learn more about the town which I would be staying in. By reading books and asking previous students of BUSI 2816, my idea about Jagna was formed. For instance, I expected that the lifestyle here would differ from that in Hong Kong and the relationship between people here was tighter and less complicated. Living in a concrete urban jungle, I looked forward to the brand-new life in Jagna.
Upon arrival, I received a warm welcome from my host family. Our Mama, Dulfa, is a very kind lady. I still remember the first night when I moved in, ‘I am your mother here, and I will care for you’, said Dulfa, with a warm smile on her face. Her English is not fluent, but from her words, I could tell how hard she tried. Inside the house, I met Dulfa’s husband, Dulfa’s daughter-in-law and Dulfa’s grandson, who is an eight-month-old boy named Mark. The cute little boy likes smiling, and from his pure eyes, I could see his happiness and curiosity. The atmosphere in the family was very enjoyable so that it was comfortable to stay with them. Hence, I decided to make every effort to get into their culture.
Having dinner with the host family
My first step to cultural comprehension was to listen to their stories. During our breakfast and dinner, we often had pleasant talks. The topics covered a wide range, from the visiting students last year to the recent events in Jagna. Mama always tried hard to speak English, and when she encountered difficulties expressing herself, her daughter-in-law would help to do the translation. What they said showed their piousness and conservativeness. Furthermore, I noticed an interesting phenomenon, when something happened in Tubod Mar, everyone in this community would know. The news spread so fast that I was shocked by the power of word of mouth. There seems to be an intangible line connecting all people together, which makes me a little bit nervous but also gives me a feeling of security.
Second, experiencing is also crucial. As the saying goes, ‘Do as the Romans do’, I started to live in a local way. Every day, I went to Jagna Business Center where there were numerous grocery stores selling articles of daily use. The local eateries there varied from high-end restaurants I usually saw in tourist sites because many local people dined there and the food prices were reasonable. In addition, I could hardly find poker faces here, because most people here are friendly and responsive, and they are always willing to help. Gradually, I found myself greet people more actively.
The efforts did pay off. I felt that I was closer to local people. The comprehension of local culture enabled me to adapt to the life here and to enjoy it.
Having experienced the life in Jagna for nearly two weeks, my sense of belonging has been stronger. Staying with the host family, I feel that I am also one of their family members, and it is my first time to have such feelings in an unfamiliar place.
What left me the deepest impression was the carefulness they showed when I had a stomachache. It was not a very serious one, but they were rather worried. Mama kept reminding me of drinking hot water and she offered me some herbal medicine. ‘Don’t eat watermelons or bananas now, they are bad for your stomach.’ said Mama. She tried not to miss any detail and from her words, I felt warm from the bottom of my heart.
Apart from my host family, other people in Tubod Mar are also hospitable. When I visited Irish’s home, her parents always prepared snacks for us. Sometimes they played music and danced to it, and the delight shone in their eyes often made me want to move as well. It is always comfortable to stay with them, especially after I understood the culture because whenever I met a new person, I thought we had already be acquainted with each other for a long time.
Various interesting activities
‘Is it a trip?’ sometimes I wondered because most of the time I felt that I was back home.
Reflecting on the past days, I think I have learned a lot. Why is everything in harmony? Is it because that people here smile more often? Maybe it is, but it can only be a part of the answer. What really contributes to it is that we all tried hard to understand each other’s culture. Although people here may not have chances to receive high education, they are tolerant and very willing to learn, and students are open-minded as well. Comprehension builds the bridge connecting both sides.
Therefore, do some cultural studies before coming to a new place. What you experience will be far more than you expect.
The scenery of the tranquil sea