For a simple country boy, who would have thought my first experience living alone would be in the Philippines? The country didn’t even register in my mind growing up, since we in the Bible Belt of America had hardly even heard of it.
I’d been tasked to return to the Philippines for work after having lived a year there with coworkers. Unfortunately, a falling out with one of my coworkers led to me to find my own place. The kicker? Trying to find my own place in Manila while spending Christmas break back home in Indiana.
The experience of finding a place to live remotely is a unique one, especially in a place as unique as the Philippines. Brokers literally just send you pictures taken on their cell phones and expect you to make a decision based off 2 or 3 snapshots. There’s no Zillow, no online galleries or fancy 3D walkthroughs. Trying to filter by amenities and the area’s cost of living? Forget about it. (Though pretty much all of Manila, short of BGC, is easily livable on an American’s middle class income.)
Fortunately I had one friend willing to do the legwork of visiting the places on my behalf and taking a few extra pics for me. When I’d finally settled on this place, the broker agreed to leave the key at the front desk of the building for when I arrived from the states. I still had never met the guy. Nor had I ever actually seen the place with my own eyes. But something about arriving to it at 2am after a 28 hour flight made me willing to accept just about anything.
Lucky for me, I didn’t have to undergo the real hassle of getting that first apartment. The condos made available to expats are all fully furnished. Sweet! No major furnishing expenses, and no worries about moving furniture around such a crowded city (or across an ocean).
But what about all my personal items? All the memories I’d tied to things growing up? Things like gifts and knick knacks given to me by friends and family throughout the years. Sadly, if it doesn’t fit in a suitcase or is too heavy, it can’t come along for the 8,000 mile ride. When you’re allowed 2 bags at 75lbs max each, most of which is taken up by clothing, you have to make tough choices: should I be able to clothe myself, or bring along this stuffed panda bear a loving friend gave me when I was feeling down?
That, to me, was always the hardest part of living abroad. Leaving behind the things that remind you of home, and avoiding buying things to build a new life knowing you probably can’t take it with you when you leave.
In a way, it felt as though I was living in someone else’s life. It wasn’t personalized to me, it wasn’t my stuff. And on top of that, it was an entirely different culture and way of life over there.
What ultimately got me through all of it were the building of relationships and the plethora of memories associated with them. It seems trivial, but the experience of living abroad made it forefront in my mind: life isn’t about material things, they will be lost or left behind. It’s about the experiences, the memories, and the relationships you build throughout.