Are You Lonely Tonight?
The Filipino culture is what we would call “collectivist.” This means that we depend much on people who are close to us, like family and friends.
Switching from a highly collectivist culture to its opposite, individualistic cultures, is one of the biggest culture shocks for many Filipinos. We strongly believe that no man is an island, thus we Filipinos do our best to fit in. But certain values within individualistic cultures – a characteristic of European countries – can push Filipinos to feel lonely and homesick.
What is it in individualistic cultures that make Filipinos want to jump into the next plane and rush home?
Individualistic cultures give value to self-reliance and independence from others. Often, people who are part of this culture see emotional distance as a positive characteristic. When the social Filipino settles in communities with self-sufficient individuals, they will feel isolated, separate and lonely.
Here are just some other behaviours found in Western culture that differ greatly from the Filipino’s:
1. Nuclear families consist of parents and a few children. Once the child becomes an adult, they have no apprehensions leaving the house, and the parents are enthusiastic – and some even glad – on the day their child leaves the home. Moreover, relatives are important but they do not form a crucial part of the decision-making process of families.
In the Philippines, it is not rare to see families of relatives up to the second degree living under one roof. It is also not rare to have adults still living with their parents, even if they have married and have families of their own. This means that Filipinos are used to living so close to their loved ones. Being separated from them suddenly will lead to loneliness.
2. Privacy is essential in European households. In the Philippines, where houses are shared by a lot of people and where rooms need to be split between more than 2 people, privacy is almost impossible to have. The fact that a lot of Filipinos live in houses that share the same wall with a neighbours’ also means that the lines between neighbours are easily erased. Even strangers can talk with ease without the need to exchange names – in cabs, market stalls and carinderia or small eateries, stories are exchanged and lives are nitpicked, judged and even shared to others in the form of chismis or gossips.
But it’s not so much the gossip as it is the camaraderie of sharing stories that is missed while living abroad. However, this type of sharing may be deemed an intrusion into others people’s lives and is frowned upon in Western societies.
3. In the Philippines, anyone can drop by a friend’s home unannounced. But some households in Europe do not take this lightly. The type of hospitality that they have in Western cultures is different from what Filipinos are used to back home. Hospitality in the West means notifying the homeowners ahead of time, planning schedules and getting to houses on the dot. Keeping time is essential to Europeans, especially if they are expecting guests over. This is because most do not want to be caught unaware and unprepared to meet guests.
In the Philippines, however, a quick greeting to the head of the household is enough to obtain entry into a house. Household heads may also insist their guests to stay for lunch, merienda or light snacks and dinner, and do not hesitate to ask if the guest would like to stay over for the night.
4. Filipinos would beat around the bush to get their point across. However, in Western cultures, speaking directly to the point is valued. This frankness is uncommon among Filipinos, who would take the slightest criticism as a personal attack. Those who are not used to criticism may move away from others and become inward-looking, which only serves to increase the gap and feelings of loneliness.
These are just some of the factors that drive Filipinos to feel disconnected from people from other cultures. Fortunately, this sense of loneliness is often a phase that can be shrugged off in time. The following strategies are ways we can take to erase the sense of loneliness in our life abroad:
1. Stay connected. Technology allows us to bridge distances in a matter of minutes. Talking to family and friends back home eases the stress of living in a foreign land and reminds us why we migrated in the first place. This article on long distance relationships lists some ways to stay connected through various programmes.
2. Get busy. Focus on work and plan how to spend your weekends ahead of time. Take up a new hobby to spend your idle time productively. Whether through work or by getting a hobby, keeping ourselves busy will help take our minds off our family and friends.
3. Mementos from home. Items that remind us of our family and friends can help strengthen our resolve and confidence in the lowest times of our stay abroad. These items are physical extensions of loved ones, and touching them can bring comfort.
4. Start a diary. For those who feel like they don’t have friends to share their thoughts with, it helps to start a diary. Keeping a diary is like having a conversation with a good friend as it is a way to voice out long-held emotions. Writing down a day-to-day account of our life, thoughts and feelings is a way to relieve stress and loneliness.
5. Look for Filipino communities. The saying that Filipinos can be found anywhere in the world is true. Get in touch with the Embassy or Consulate and ask if there are any Philippine groups that are based in the country. Filipinos are always happy to see each other abroad, even if they are strangers at home.
6. Look for support groups. It’s not easy to make friends with people who are from a different culture. However, there are immigrant groups that cater to people from all walks of life. An alternative channel is to look for hobby or interest groups as it’s easier to relate to people who share the same interests as you.
7. Get out of the house. Staying cooped up inside the house can increase the sense of loneliness. In the Philippines, we are used to living in households full of family and friends. Not having anyone to share our apartment space is heartbreaking. To avoid this, go outside and explore the neighbourhood. Find cafes and shops where you can spend the afternoon reading or doing any of your hobbies.
Loneliness does not remain forever, but it can cut deeply if we do not take action. Integration is essential to conquer this. But this means understanding and finally accepting that there are things we cannot change in other cultures.
Migrating takes courage. Adjusting to the changes requires a tremendous amount of time and effort, but patience can help see us through this period.
How have you conquered loneliness while abroad? What did you do to keep your mind of family, friends and homesickness? Did you join support and interest groups to finally adjust to your new home? What advice can you give to those who might be reading this right now? Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!