About the writer: Miss Valentine de Dreuille is a French volunteer from the Jesuit organization Iñigo which is similar to the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines. She has been with ERDA Tech since September 2014 and will be going back to France on August 19, 2015.
Nine months ago, my plane landed in Manila. Tired from a long trip from Paris, and discovering the warm and humid weather in the Philippines, I headed to ERDA Tech, wide-eyed to all these discoveries. A few months before, I had taken the decision to stop my studies for one year, and to spend it as a volunteer in ERDA Tech. Nearly done with my stint in the Philippines, I would like to share some of the things that I have learned from my experience.
Going beyond the barriers
Leaving everything I knew: my family, my friends, and my school was not something easy. Finding myself a foreigner in an unknown country leads to a lot of challenges, a lot of barriers to overcome.
Even if Filipinos are very good English speakers, the first barrier I encountered was the language, because for Filipinos and for me as well, English is not the easiest way to express our thoughts or feelings. Many times, I felt frustrated because of that language barrier, but I also discovered that communication and creation of links with people has outlets other than verbal or written language. A smile, a simple show of attention, or a gesture can express much more than words.
In a new environment, a new culture, a new country, I discovered also my personal barriers. I realized my limits, I realized my weaknesses, and I learned how to overcome them, or at least how to deal with them. A concrete example could be the patience. I like to be efficient, to do things quickly without losing time, and I had to experience the traffic in Manila, which surely taught me to be more patient and to anticipate more.
It is very interesting to learn more about another culture, and I am sure that it will make me more open to new horizons in my life. We are all the same human beings, but traditions and cultural environment shape people in different ways. For instance, in France, we eat a lot of very smelly cheeses, and I love it, but even after nine months, I still cannot bear the smell of the “bagoong” or shrimp/fish paste, without even mentioning its taste, especially at breakfast time.
Moreover, we sometimes have different ways to act or to think. For instance, the notion of authority is very different in the Philippines from what I know in France, and I had to learn how to adjust to it here. It requires first a lot of observation and a kind of empathy to try to act in order not to shock or hurt anyone. I am sure that I made many mistakes about it, maybe without even noticing it.
Another interesting aspect is the religion. I share the same Catholic faith with most of the Filipinos, and it has given me much comfort and reassurance. Nevertheless, I discovered that faith can be lived differently, and is shaped by traditions and cultures.
I will not say that it is always easy to deal with these differences, but overall, I am very grateful to have had the chance to experience these differences, because it broadens my horizons in life.
“For it is in giving that we receive”
This quote is from one of my favorite prayers: “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace”, from Saint Francis of Assisi, and I was able to experience what this particular sentence says. I came to the Philippines as a volunteer, choosing to give one year of my time to help in my own little way. I guess I was able to do so, in the computer classes for example, or in facilitating the Senior Scouts Club in ERDA Tech, but it is striking for me to realize that I received much more than I gave. From the very beginning, everyone has been so welcoming to me. The teachers and the staff of ERDA Tech helped me to adjust, to understand the way things work here, and made sure that I enjoyed my free time in discovering more places in the Philippines.
I also received a lot from the students, the ERDAnians. I am very grateful for their determination to learn and to progress in school, as well as for their commitment and motivation in other activities, such as campus ministry work. Most of all though, I will remember the precious time shared with them outside of the classrooms, and the conversations I have had with some students, in which I think we both learned a lot from each other.