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My first Tagalog word, which means “welcome”

Lukas, Philippinen, 2009,

Finally! 16th of July, I waited so long for this day to come. Overfilled with joy, me and my family prepared at home for my departure. This was a very emotional time, now I really realize that I will leave all my friends, my belongings, my family, my everything behind! But the more I kept thinking of it the more I realized how fortunate I am to get this opportunity to experience something I only ever dreamt of and now its actually really happening!

The trip from Frankfurt to Bangkok airport would take 16 hours so during that time me and the other exchange students had the opportunity to catch up with each others experiences and thoughts about the whole concept. This really helped a lot, just knowing you’re not the only one feeling these mixed emotions and so I could place it in a more acceptable status. Arriving in Bangkok we had to wait for our next flight And at last, we are ready for boarding, lets go to Manila! In the plain we had our first encounter with some inhabitants from the Philippines and there we made our first impression, that the people are unbelievably kind, friendly and curious about other cultures. We land in Manila, get our bags, hearts pumping like the bass of a music festival, this was it! We went out of the airport and there we saw a volunteer of AFS who picked us up. MABUHAY! My first Tagalog word, which means “welcome”. While we were driving there we came across our first encounter with third world poverty, the slums at the side of the road, street people everywhere walking pointlessly the whole day long in the tropical heat just for the hope of getting a peso here and there from the pedestrians.

The climate was a cultural shock

The climate in Manila was one of the biggest culture shocks. Because of the whole environmental-awareness concept that’s been going on for a few years now, its like they never heard of it here. And of course the traffic! My god, just imagine yourself sitting in one of the popular public transportation here in the Philippines the “jeepney” squashed together with more then twenty people all in on, tropical weather and no air fan in it. And due to all the traffic jams you cant get a catch of some (polluted) wind. Finaly the big moment came, me and the other exchange students would get our file that contains all the necessary information of our new life. I opened it and found out that I would be hosted in Cagayan de Oro with the Mabelin family, a big family of 4 daughters, the oldest one was married and has 2 children and they also live in the house. The file contained a picture and they really looked happy together. I was so ready for it, the only thing I wanted to do now was jump on the plane to Cagayan! And so we found out with witch other host students we would be in the same city and so the companionship was made: Fang from Thailand, France, Herbert and Iris from Belgium.

Arriving at the airport of Cagayan, I recognized my family from the picture, I walked up to them and my god they are so small! And of course they said the opposite. We greeted each other and went to the car. We drove to the center of Cagayan for a “ welcome party”.

Filipinos, compared to my generation in Germany are unbelievably religious, this will be one of those “big adjustments” we talked about during our preparation weekends in Germany.

The first day at school

I will be honest with you, we arrived and I saw the house and I was in a way disappointed because it was nothing like I was used to in Germany. Small house, no wallpaper, no aircon, no hot water, no shower, no toilet paper and a quite small bedroom. And of course you don’t want to be rude to the family and say “yes, very nice house. But there was so much going on the first days, enrolling at Xavier high school together with Fang from Thailand, fitting our uniforms, meeting our classmates and so on and on. Believe me when I say that the first day of school was the most hassled and weird day of my life. We go thru the entrance gate and bam! All eyes on me and when I say “all” I really mean all thousand and a half students! My god all the girls are going crazy, all giggling and following us and pointing at us as if we are monkeys in the zoo ha! So we went to our class and no one was really talking to us only staring full of unbelief and curiosity. The teacher asked us for introductions, as if we weren’t the center of attention already! The teacher said to us that we would have to cut our hair due to the school policy and also no earrings for boys! Again all the culture shocks! So many that I would be able to write a whole book about!

My parents work in a place called Medina, around 3 hours from Cagayan. They come home every two weeks. So we live in the house alone with the siblings and the two children and the husband of my oldest sister. And not to forget my two Yayas (house helpers) Ann Ann and Lang Lang. It is part of Philippine culture that even the middleclass are able to hire helpers who are mostly student girls trying to earn some money on the side to afford they’re studies. After a while the AFS students in Cagayan hang out more and more together and this was really an important time of my year because as time passed we really became really close to each other. We could go to each others house and watch movies together or whatever! We are really one big family and that was such a motivation and an outlet if you felt down. School is really one of the biggest sacrifices I have to make here, forcing myself everyday waking up around 6 a.m., putting on your uniform and taking the jeepney to school.

Its Christmastime! This year no Glühwein and snow but palm trees and rice cake! Also the time where you miss your family and friends the most but thanks to the invention of social networking as Skype and Facebook it becomes more bearable but still its not the same as the actual face to face conversation but still better then nothing.

Eating Balut

I even eat the Filipino delicacy that most western people would consider as something inhuman to eat: the infamous Balut, it is a chickens egg of mostly 12 days with the embryo inside. You can see the chick including feathers! Of course the food here is always with rice, three times a day. We eat with spoon and fork, not with knife.

People here, even if they have nothing they will still laugh and smile and offer you a drink or some food in their house. That is really something that our capitalistic, materialistic western society has to look up to. As for my last 3 months here, I will be graduating next month, really looking forward to that. After that we have two months time to travel around a bit and were already making arrangements together with all the students to come back to the Philippines! Also now we have made so many new friends all around the world, we have the opportunity to go to their country and get emerged in their culture.

Once again I would like to thank Evonik for supporting the financial part of the story, otherwise I would not have been able to have been emerged in a Asian culture that already now changed my perspective on life, society and people, thank you a million times!!