It’s Time To Go home When…

Last century I was reading a post on one of the many yahoo groups that used to cater to expats living in the Philippines, or those married to Filipinas but living back in Oz, the UK or USA, Canada etc. I remember a post that kicked off a heated debate about when did you know it was time to go home? I still remember many of the various arguments to this day, nearly two decades hence. In fact, when my time came to choose between staying on or returning to Australia, many of them rattled around in my head for a few days of decision making.

unhappy expat

The Honeymoon

The first year is the honeymoon. You can’t get enough of the place. You love it and everyone and everything about living in the ‘Pinas. As your first year ticks over, leave. That way your memories will always be rose tinted, salad days type smiley ones. The first year can also be the toughest. Adjusting to a very different society is never easy, ask any migrant to Australia or the USA and they will tell you it can be lonely, frustrating and hard going.

I found that, despite being very happy and enjoying nearly every minute during my first twelve months, I also had moments of, well I guess home sickness. I would suddenly get a mental picture of a street corner or a couple of buildings from back home. They may not have been anywhere near where I lived, just a street scene from Sydney I had driven down at some stage. My wife says she gets similar flashbacks of scenes from Cebu now we live in Sydney. The first three months were during the rainy season and I can’t recall seeing the sun very often, or blue sky or stars at night. I recall very vividly the first time, very low on the southern horizon, I saw the Southern Cross peak over the curve of the earth. It was very moving to see that iconic Aussie image after so long not seeing much in the skies at all, but rain clouds.

The Second Year

In the second year you will either have already left or you will settle down and begin to feel at home. Where you live will be home, it will be ‘normal’, no longer exotic and unusual. Most things happen in any given year so you will have experienced at least once pretty much whatever the locale has to throw at you. Towards the end of the second year you will consider this very much your home and if, like I had to, you go back to whence you came for a few months to work; you will miss the Pinas/ On your return you will revel in the familiar sights, smells, chaos and traffic and really feel like you fit in.

The Third Year – Make Or Break

For many the second year becomes the third the fourth and the fifth and so on. Sadly, though, for many the third year becomes the make or break year. They spit the dummy and fight back against the incompetence, the corruption, the seemingly stupid, pointless way of doing everything the hardest, most inefficient way possible. You get impatient with having to have every little item you purchase ‘issued’, a chit written on a scrap of paper and this checked, double checked and triple checked by clerks who could be serving four other people in the time they take to handle your one item. If you have problems with internet, phone or utilities or you need to interact with a government department you go in ready for war because you know they will stuff you around.

You can’t handle the way people just walk into the traffic and don’t look, or drivers who insist on pushing in even further to gridlock the traffic so everyone sits there in the heat, horns blaring. You begin to use the word ‘Filipino’ as a swear word. It’s time to go. Never forget this is their country and if it was just like home you would never have moved here in the first place. It is not for everyone and if it isn’t your cup of tea then don’t fight it; just go home and come back on vacation. Short doses are the best for some of us. Just whatever you do, always remember this is their country, not yours. You adjust and adapt to their way, not the other way around. Ok, di ba?

Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis.

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