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Beyond The Islands

The Most Gracious Hosts – A Filipino Experience Abroad

 


If you told 10 year-old me that singing will get me places, I would never have believed it. However, here I am, 20 years later, coming back from another successful Europe tour with my choir.

Filipinos are known to be great singers, and the accolades that the top choirs in the country gather in choral competitions all over the world is a testament to that. It is a badge of honor for Filipino choristers to be part of a tour abroad. On top of representing the country on an international stage, choristers take with them a wealth of experiences that they will cherish forever.

Filipinos Abroad

I would say that one consistent thing that all choirs experience when they go on tour is that they will inevitably meet fellow Filipinos living abroad. It’s unavoidable, because we’re everywhere – from big capitals to small towns. 

Despite being surrounded by all the beauty and grandeur of these medieval churches and huge museums, one of the unforgettable moments on tour are those brief glimpses of Filipinos living lives away from the motherland. It is amusing, and sometimes even jarring, that despite being miles away from the Philippines, a single kababayan saying ‘Kamusta!‘ brings warm and familiar feelings of home. 

Bayanihan Beyond Borders

Most choir tours are possible because of the gracious support of host families. Not everyone can afford hotels for all members, so they ask for help from locals to see if they can house a singer or two during the duration of their stay in their country. This was the case for us.

It’s very likely that you will be housed in a Filipino household, even if your contact is not the local Filipino community. The spirit of Bayanihan is so strong that it extends beyond our borders. 

Sinigang in a Foreign Land

My Filipina host in one of our stops said that she volunteered when she heard we were coming. She’s been living in Europe for 15 years, together with her husband whom she met when he was working in the Philippines. 

She’s a nurse, and spoke the local language fluently, which she had to learn in order to communicate with her patients. They have three kids who spoke zero Filipino. However, the same enthusiasm was in their eyes when we were served sinigang and rice during our first evening in their house.

We talked about home – about the house they were building in her hometown in Bacolod, and about their recent trip to the Philippines early this year.  

Her husband loves the Philippines. They have traveled to more cities and provinces than me, and I told myself that I would travel more when I get back.

She showed us around, and introduced us to her friends. They were mostly locals, but one was another Filipina who moved there just last week. With confidence, she explained the local sites, explained what they would usually do at this time of the year. I smiled as she gave me glimpses of their life in this land that she now calls home. 

My Amazing Host Mother

In another stop, I had another Filipina host, who also volunteered to house us. She’s a kindergarten teacher, and has two kids with her husband whom she met there. During our whole stay in her house, she would make sure that we had all the food – and all the rice – we could ever need. 

She ran her household with a steadfastness that reminded me of my mom. Her schedule was full of meetings, activities for her kids, and school stuff that she had to attend to, and yet she still found the time to go to the supermarket and cook food for us and her family. 

What’s even more amazing to me is that she knows the local public transportation system seemingly by heart. During our free day, she suggested sites that we could visit. She told us which tram to take, which exit is the nearest to this monument or that museum, which transfers we needed to take in order to cut down on travel time. Alagang-alaga kami!

Live How the Locals Live

It’s great to see how migrants have integrated into this foreign land, and yet still keep traits that are unmistakably Filipino. These are things that you may not see if you’re on a European tour solely for leisure, where you only go to the tourist spots and stay in hotels. 

Living with host families means that you get to live how they live, and I am grateful that music is the reason why I get to experience this. 

What’s even more heartwarming is the way we feel overwhelming support from the random Filipinos living in the countries we visit. After the concerts, they would approach us to congratulate us, and they would ask if we have members who come from their hometowns. They would take pictures with us and invite us to their homes, with promises of Filipino food and introductions to other Filipinos.

The International Filipino

I dare say that the Filipino sense of community is very much intact, or perhaps even stronger, for Filipinos living abroad. I continue to be amazed by the Filipinos I meet, who talk to me in Filipino, and yet switch immediately to the local language when talking with other locals. It reminds me that Filipinos are everywhere, and they integrate well and adapt to the countries they find themselves in.

It’s comforting to know that on the other side of the world, I personally know fellow Filipinos who are proof that it is possible to live somewhere else and follow your dreams. This makes me think that I can go anywhere to pursue my dreams, without the need to completely cut myself off of what makes our country great – the warmth and compassion of the Filipino people.

This was post was written and submitted by Mikko, a chorister and avid reader of Flying Ketchup.

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