It’s been three years (and five days, to be exact) since my family and I moved from Singapore and back to Manila, Philippines. It’s been quite an unexpected journey of repatriation, and has taken me longer than anticipated to adjust to being back home. I’ve learned the ups and downs of repatriating and discovered some things about myself.
Going back home doesn’t mean going back to how it all was.
My family and I lived in Singapore for almost seven years. We visited Manila every year at Christmas time. We spent time with relatives and friends while we were here on holiday. We went to new and old malls, ate in new and old restaurants, drove in the familiar Manila traffic.
Visiting my old home from abroad is one thing. It’s all fun and hectic with plans of going about, seeing friends and family and shopping for stuff to bring back. Settling into life here again after being settled in a life abroad isn’t simply slipping into the life I left behind. I was shocked to feel displaced in my own country, in the city where I grew up as a kid. Sure, there were familiar places and faces, but I felt quite disconnected from them. For my friends and relatives in Manila, life was going on as usual with their families, careers, households, hobbies, etc. For me, it was this feeling of being a stranger in my own country and of having to start a new life in an old place.
You can’t recreate your former life; you have to let go, be open and start anew.
I knew that I didn’t want to be that “ugly repatriate” who always compared her comfortable life in a First World country to her “more challenging” life in this Third World country. I couldn’t complain to my friends about how I hated driving in Manila traffic and would rather be taking the MRT in Singapore. I couldn’t talk about how wish I could just drop my bank check into a deposit box here, like how I did it in Singapore. I didn’t want to sound like a snob who was forced to move back to Manila from abroad. Together with my husband, I did make this choice. And I still believe it was made for good reasons.
During my first year of being back in Manila, I did cling to some old habits, like using QV Body Wash and drinking Dilmah English Breakfast Tea. Admittedly, until now, I still eat the same St. Dalfour Strawberry Preserve that I discovered in Singapore and still put the same NuZeaBee Pure New Zealand honey in my breakfast tea. And at home sometimes, I still hear myself playfully saying, “No lah.”
Slowly, I learned to let go of these little things, these little habits that reminded me of my life in Singapore. I made more and more conscious choices to embrace the good things around me here in Manila. Though I still enjoy my breakfast tea with milk and honey, I discovered the yummy goodness of Barako coffee from Batangas. I’ve stopped asking people to bring me back some QV Body Wash from Singapore, since there are several good, hypoallergenic, affordable brands available here. These were small changes, but for me, they were about making new daily routines.
Living abroad makes your world small and your heart restless.
I am eternally grateful that living abroad has given me the gifts of travel and adventure, and the blessing of dear friends around the world. Until I was in my 20s, I never imagined living outside the Philippines, let alone having close friends in places like Singapore, the UK, and Finland. Now, these places don’t feel that far nor exotic. And people of other races and cultures are not that distant nor different.
But living abroad and experiencing life in a home away from home has made me restless. I still dream of a next family adventure. I can’t say where I will be in five years. I don’t know where I want to grow old (maybe in the same continent as my children, but who knows?). When I just moved back to Manila, I remember how my friends asked me if I was back for good. I would answer, “For good, for now.”
It’s been three years since I repatriated to the Philippines. It wasn’t easy feeling displaced, disconnected and discontent. But now, I’m settled and content with my life here. My children are reconnecting and deepening relationships with family and friends. We are getting to know the country of our birth. Slowly, we are fulfilling our purpose for moving back.
Until the next adventure anyway.