Breaking Through the Expat Bubble

“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.

My most vivid experiences have come from moments where I dove right into my surroundings, whether it was a grand backpacking trip, or a simple conversation with a neighborhood hero.

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?

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25 responses to “Breaking Through the Expat Bubble

  1. Love it! Everything you said makes me feel not so bad about being paranoid while traveling alone (haha) glad you’re having fun! you EX-plorer you! :)

    • Honestly, I’ve never traveled on my own before. I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun and you meet tons of people. Hmmm – maybe something for my bucket list?

      • I read and watching your video, its a wonderful trip. Continuous making good to others and God will guide everything. God bless you.

      • Hi Mr. Sumalinog – thanks for checking out my blog and for your kind words of encouragement. You are very well familiar with living outside of your home country. It’s a challenge but definitely worth it. Thanks again!

  2. Love it! My husband and I (with our kids) might try it out with a Taal hike. Thanks for the name of the group – looks like a great experience. I was just talking with a woman I teach with and she said she had been doing a lot of hiking with an expat hiking group, I think this is it. I actually think she is in one of your pictures above – she just went on the Mt. Maculot hike in Batangas recently. Breaking out of the bubble is so important, and yet hard to do sometimes. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Oh yeah, I think I know who you’re taking about. Yep, that’s us. You should come out sometime. It’s really a great group. :) And yes – breaking out of our expat bubble can be hard. I think I have it easier than a lot of people because I live with my husband and his family, who are all Filipino. I don’t know how brave I’d be if I was on my own! Anyway, enjoy your trip to Taal. I haven’t been there yet. Hopefully someday soon. :)

  3. Awww, reading this and watching the video made my day….possibly my week :). Thanks so much for taking the time to write and share this. We need to find another great hike for next month. The waterfalls circuit would be hard to beat!

    • Hi, thanks Debbie! That means a lot. Writing and photography, and, now, making videos is my therapy and escape from the crazy week, haha. Yes, let’s plan another one soon! The hikes keep getting better and better. :)

  4. Wow. I’d like to do all that, but my wife can’t do things like that. I could but it would be difficult because I’m not in the best of shape. It’s nice to read about and I’m sure there are things I or we can do that would still be considered “getting out there”.
    EX-cellent article.

    • Yes, well there are many low-impact ways to explore :-) Restaurants, bus tours, beaches historical sites, etc. There’s so much to see – I just never seem to have enough time!

  5. Love the article and also the video! I am so impressed with your ability to capture our day in the video. Now I understand why you wanted to shoot the centipede. A great way to remember that day. I just wish you would have got video footage of the couple who never got dirty!

    • Hahah – I know, sometimes I’d get funny looks when I’d just be standing there, super still and holding the camera in front of me for 10 seconds!

      That’s right! The couple with an invisible bubble around them, haha – that’s a good super power to have when hiking in the mud. ;-)

  6. Great video! You have a very positive attitude to life, I like that. I have recently started following another blog from a person who was an expat for many years. She wants to help other expats by sharing her experiences. I don’t know if anything she has to say will be applicable to you but here is her web link if you want to check it out. http://iwasanexpatwife.com/

    • Hi Mrs. P – thanks – lately I’ve found that keeping a positive outlook makes life much more simple. Thanks for the link to that blog – I’ve actually been following it for a couple months already. I think she was featured on Freshly Pressed recently too!

  7. Great writing Liana! You can write a book, maybe a travel book. I admire your passion for adventure & photography. Your writing & photography skills are really very good. I know a great subject for your photos. How about century old houses or colonial houses? They are scattered all over the country but the Taal Heritage Town in Batangas and Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan are really exceptional. Aren’t you fascinated with old things? I guess I am more of an old soul. Ha-ha! It’s actually interesting when you learn of these old houses’ history and the people that actually lived there. More than the structure, the stories of these century old houses give them more character. It’s really nice if someone can capture that in pictures. Please check these out http://www.lascasasfilipinas.com/ http://taal.ph/

  8. Great work! I loved the article and your video is really well made :-D Seeing Philippines through your eyes makes me appreciate my birth country more and makes me long for it – something I haven’t felt in ages! So thanks for your awesome talents, keep it up
    ;-)

  9. Recently found your blog after living in Manila for two years as a fellow expat, and wanted to mention how refreshing I find your blog! Your words are so elequently written and your videos capture the Philippines raw beauty, that can be so easily forgotten among the hussle and bussle of city life. Please reach out to me via email if there are any future expat adventures, I’d love to bring a friend and tag along! I’ve only got 8 weeks until I move back to the US, but I’d love to make the most of it! Thank you again for reminding me of the natural beauty found in the PI!

    • Hi Michelle – so sorry for my late reply. Have you returned to the States already? And yes, it can be easy to look past the poverty, bad traffic, hot weather, etc, when you can see the real beauty the Philippines has to offer – from the people, the culture, and especially the beaches! :)

  10. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after looking at some of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m certainly delighted I stumbled upon it and I’ll
    be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

  11. Reblogged this on Xpatia and commented:
    Breaking through the 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.
    My most vivid experiences have come from moments where I dove right into my surroundings, whether it was a grand backpacking trip, or a simple conversation with a neighborhood hero…”

    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. http://trailadventours.com/

  12. This is a really great read! I’ve been an expat all my life. I really believe the lifestyle allows you to be more open-minded, it’s enriching and exciting, especially being exposed to so many cultures. I couldnt imagine life any other way! Lovely blog :)

    • Yep, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve only been an expat for a year and a half….and already the idea of moving back “home” is unthinkable. Love this new life too much! Thanks for passing by and reading Mango Mornings!

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