Moving away and keeping the Filipino in me
At the height of the pandemic, I recall being asked “Why don’t you just leave?” way more than I can count. After all, having a blue passport gave me an easy way out.
While I’ve always entertained the thought of going abroad for extended periods of time — be it a long vacation, an exchange semester, or maybe even further studies — I never really considered uprooting my entire life to move elsewhere for good.
Blame it on my hesitation to leave the familiar behind or maybe my fear of losing sight of who I am, but something always draws me to stay in or come back to Manila.
As the feeling lives in me rent-free, I think about my friends who have lived their lives abroad, those who have packed up and gone, and even the ones who shuttled back and forth between here, there, and everywhere. And I wonder: what brings them back home or to where they are now? How do they cope? And most importantly, despite where they’ve been and where they are now, what keeps their Filipino spirit alive?
Life in seven cities
Born in the Philippines, Hannah Bacani has lived in a total of seven cities here and abroad before settling in Manila.
“We moved to the States for my dad’s work when I was nine. We were the only Filipino family in school, and I was confused because of the different cultural and behavioral norms,” she shares. Moving to the Netherlands when she was 12 was no different — the language barrier alienated her, and she had to yet again immerse herself in a new culture. When she moved to Hong Kong for high school, her saving grace was performing, which ultimately helped her find a sense of belongingness wherever she went.
She moved to Manila in 2012, just in time for university. While she spent her very early years in the Philippines, moving to the metro felt like another new place for her to live. She didn’t have any friends and didn’t know her way around. “I didn’t sound like everyone else and didn’t get pop cultural references. I felt like a foreigner in my own country,” she said.
But thanks to her love for performing, she learned to meet as many people and form genuine connections. Becoming a student DJ at a local radio station while still in college didn’t just help build her network here; it launched her career as a host and fitness instructor, too.
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After she left for Germany, South Africa and Thailand to pursue a postgraduate degree, she ultimately decided to move back to Manila because “it’s where I most related to the culture and found a sense of belonging.”
When asked what her key takeaways from living abroad and coming back to Manila are, Hannah shares: “Moving around helped me develop the grit I needed to thrive in my situation. Through all the different cultures I experienced and all the people I was surrounded by, I formed a strong sense of self, a knack for connecting with others, and comfortability with change.”
She also adds that while she’s still not entirely sure what being a Filipino means to her, “I know what my morals are, live out the values my parents instilled in me, and always remember where I came from.”
No matter where I end up in the world, these things are certain: family will always come first, and the Philippines will always and forever be home.
Always family first
“If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that family comes first,” says Lou Ferrer. While it has always been her dream to move to the States, where all her siblings already reside, making her big move didn’t come until the middle of the pandemic.
“We relied on phone and video calls to keep in touch, but nothing beats physically being with your loved ones,” she shares. She also adds that her career growth was another factor that made it an easy choice for her to move. Her first eight months so far have been “a crash course in adulting,” from being away from home, starting a new life, setting up bank accounts, building a good credit score, learning about mortgages and car loans, and holding on to relationships that matter, despite time and distance.
While she’s living her long-time dream, being away from her parents and friends might just be her biggest struggle. She shares that “Friday nights and weekends are the hardest for someone like me, who’s always down to go out. I always wish the Philippines was just a few miles away.” For now, constant communication is what helps her and her Philippines-based loved ones get by. And, “despite it not being the same as real-life hangouts, until I get the chance to visit home, it’ll do for now,” she adds.
When asked what she’s most proud of in terms of her decision to move, Lou happily says, “I think it strengthened my being family-oriented even more. No matter where I end up in the world, these things are certain: family will always come first, and the Philippines will always and forever be home.”
A little bit American, a little bit Filipina
Having moved from California to Manila to New York, and now back in California again, Pammy Moran is all about learning, seizing opportunities, and finding where she really belongs.
“After university in Manila, I moved to New York to experience working in a big city. Fortunately, I did well there, and I wanted to use what I learned to help with our family business back home,” she shares. Now that she’s gained enough work experience, she’s back in LA for postgraduate studies.
Because she moved back and forth throughout her life, she’s developed a steadfast resilience and realized that she’s mentally stronger than she gives herself credit for. Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any hardships: “homesickness and forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone were things I struggled with.”
While it was always easier to move back to the familiar life that is Manila, finding a core group of friends and visiting relatives in other states for the holidays gave her a slice of home while abroad. “I really clung to my friends this time, because with them, I felt I could most be myself — the one that’s a little bit American and Filipina,” she adds.
She fondly shares how she still religiously goes to Sunday Mass while in the States because “I like having that Sunday reset and feeling like I’m safe and home.” Despite her love for New York and LA, “Home is where my loved ones are, and that’s in Manila.”
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So maybe it’s just as the saying goes: you can take the person out of the Philippines, but you can’t take the Filipino out of the person. Wherever we’ve come from and wherever we may end up, our morals, our values, and our sense of self will always be within us; and the places we’ve lived in and the ones that feel safest and most familiar will always be home.