A Fil-Am’s Guide To College Life In Manila

It seems like Filipino-Americans are opting for the college life in the motherland more and more these days. And why not?  Not only do you earn a college degree, you also get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover and reconnect with your roots. As a Fil-Am who lived in Quezon City for 4 years to attain my nursing degree, I can honestly say that studying in the Philippines was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. For lots of Filipino-Americans, though, Metro Manila can feel a little foreign and intimidating. That’s where I come in.

You can use this handy-dandy guide that I compiled based on my experiences to make the right adjustments and have a smooth transition into Metro Manila college life. Print it, put it in your syllabi, read it before you sleep, commit it to memory. Do whatever you want with it. This is your guide, newbie.





Whether you’re commuting in a jeepney or buying a C2 iced tea at 7-Eleven, no matter where you go, no one has change in the morning. So, if you decide to pay for your 24-peso orange Zesto with a whopping thousand peso bill, be prepared to be rejected. Learn to start putting aside smaller denominations of money and change (aka barya) for your mornings.


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Your Accent

Aside from paying with barya during morning commutes, also learn to control your regional American accent because “paruh po” is totally different from “para po”. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples out there who prey on unsuspecting Fil-Ams and an accent is like a big fat red blip on their radar.



Don’t expect a lot of people to follow the NFL or the NHL, but everyone loves basketball. The Philippines is NBA country and everyone is a Lakers fan. (Go, Brooklyn!)


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Ber Months

Any month that ends with “ber” is part of the Philippine Christmas season. Yep. September, October, November, December (and sometimes even up to January and February). Don’t ask me why, but it’s actually pretty damn awesome. And in December, you even get a full month off. Take that, American Winter Break.


Filipino Time

Some of us may have some experience with this with our family in the States, but be prepared for this to be a normal occurrence in the Philippines. Expect a 30-minute minimum delay of when something is supposed to start or happen.


Filipino Time


Armed Guards

Relax. There will be shotgun-toting security guards everywhere, even at your school campus. They’ll pat you down, tell you to open your backpacks for inspection and make you sign into their attendance notepads, but these guys are cool.


Noontime Television

During lunch, all televisions will be tuned to noontime programming such as Showtime or Eat Bulaga. It is an unwritten law. Changing the channel or asking what else is on will result to strange looks and head shakes of shame.


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You’re Not A Knight

Whether you’re picking up your laundry or getting your haircut, you will be addressed as Sir “_________”.  For the first several times I was called “Sir Paolo”, I felt like the Queen of England granted me knighthood.



Drinking sessions will involve one glass that will be passed around in an assigned order. Do not slow down the cycle by hesitating to take your shot of beer or hard liquor. Others will be impatiently waiting for their turn.


Refreshing, ice cold beer for everyone


Part-Time Jobs

You will see lots of job offers posted on establishment doors for Guest Relations Officers. Don’t try to apply for it. It’s not a government position. Trust me.


Street Food Appreciation

Kwek-kwek, isaw, adidas, balut, penoy. Try them all. You will find that it is also a quick way to hold off your hunger until a major meal like lunch or dinner.





Street food may arise to bouts of diarrhea. It is said that squeezing one of your fingers can help you hold on to your bowels until you’ve reached a rest room. Keeping folded toilet paper from a roll in your bag can prove also handy.


Street Parking

It is normal for friendly folks to guide your car into a parking space. They do so by tapping on your car with their hands. Light tapping means you have ample space and a loud final tap means you are properly parked in the allocated space. It is also customary to tip them a couple of pesos or so since they will also be guarding your car while you are away.





Getting a 5 out of 5 as a grade is a bad thing. The lower the number, the better your grade is. Aim for a perfect 1 or at least 1.25, my friend.


“For a while..”

 When someone says “for a while”, they’re telling you to wait for a minute. They are not preparing to confide to you their life struggles.



If you are speaking English and you notice that people around you are covering their nose, it means you are giving them epistaxis (aka nosebleed). This is caused by strain in the head from trying to understand what you are saying. Please refrain from speaking English momentarily and allow for the blood to return circulation to the rest of the body and down from the brain.


But seriously, my last advice to you? Enjoy the experience. Meet people, find out what they’re all about, exchange thoughts and ideas and immerse yourself in the culture. As you make your marks in your academic career in the Philippines, you will find that the Philippines will leave plenty of beautiful marks on you.  Allow those marks to change you because when you return to the States after everything is over, you will look back and realize you have become a better person. On top of everything, not only were you rewarded with your college degree, but a handful of precious memories. This concludes the guide and now go. Go make memories and study hard.