“Expat.” That word sometimes rings funny to me. It reminds me too much of Exterior. Excluded. Exit. An outsider. And with nearly 200,000 of us living in the Philippines, we expats are just as diverse and different as the as the big wide world from which we came.
From Russia, Singapore and Jordan, to France, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia, I’ve encountered more nationalities while living one year in Southeast Asia than I did my entire life in the United States.
And we’re all here for different reasons. We are corporate-types, consultants, and classroom teachers, all plucked out of our home countries to bring our talent overseas. We freelance our way across the globe, creating office spaces in beachfront bungalows or street cafes. We are entrepreneurs blazing our path to riches and retirees settling down to enjoy life in a tropical paradise.
Some have been on the road for so long, the years cannot be counted, while others are new to the game.
Yet we can all fall in the same trap: The Expat Bubble.
We live in protected company housing and work long hours. We don’t know who trust, if we can get sick by trying halo-halo from the street vendor, or if that shopping mall is safe for foreigners. We heard in the news last week that an American was shot in a convenience store. Wrong timing? Was he targeted? And there’s no way we’re going through rush hour without a driver.
Though perfectly valid reasons not to step outside, it’s those fears that keep us from truly experiencing our new home. And as much as I don’t want to get food poisoning or give my mother even more reasons to worry, I’m always looking for more things to explore.
And I’m not the only one who shares this sentiment. I found a pretty great group of international hikers. We’ve gravitated towards each other, rejecting the typical dining and drinking groups most foreigners flock towards, in favor of outdoor adventures.
On our most recent trip, we trekked through jungle terrain to two cascading waterfalls on Trail Adventours’ Mt. Buntot and Ambon Ambon Waterfall Circuit. We started the day at the ungodly hour of 4:30 AM in our Makati meeting spot. We piled into vans and headed for the Laguna province, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Metro Manila. Throughout the van ride and course of the day, we gabbed amongst ourselves….
“What are you doing out here?”
“When did you arrive?”
“Have you lived in other countries?”
Replies were cut short whenever we came around the bend to witness panoramic vistas, struggled to catch our breath, or slipped and slid through muddy trails. We splashed in the waterfalls and jumped off rocks into deep turquoise pools. At one point there were rumors of river leeches.
There were 19 of us hikers in all, representing 11 nationalities. At least three decades separated our oldest and youngest hikers. One had lived in the Philippines for six years. Another, six weeks. Yet through all of our differences, we shared a common thirst to connect – to connect to culture, nature, new faces, and new experiences.
We returned to Makati long after sunset – muddy and tired, but exchanging phone numbers and making plans for future meetups.
“Expat.” Excite. Examine. Expand.
Sure, it can be scary breaking through the expat bubble. But you don’t have to do it alone.
By the way, many thanks to our new friends at Trail Adventours. Led by a young bunch of outdoor enthusiasts, this dynamic group truly made our trip a memorable one. They guided us safely through some tough terrain, all while teaching us to hike responsibly and leave a light footprint behind us. Best of all, a percentage of their proceeds goes towards local arts, education, and conservation groups. How cool is that?