Appreciating The Filipino Culture: A Day in the Life of Expats in the Philippines

I find it glorious whenever I see foreigners proud and appreciate the Filipino culture amidst the negativities we face everyday. This special feature was supposed to be published during the “Linggo ng Wika.” But, I realised appreciating the Filipino culture shouldn’t be segmented to how fluent foreigners or expats have become in speaking our language. Significantly, it must be applied to how fascinated they are in our food, the people, and famous tourist spots.

Searching for Expats

As defined by most online dictionaries, an expatriate or famously known as “expat” is “a person temporarily or permanently residing, as an immigrant, in a country other than that of their citizenship. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).” 

Having said that, it took me a while to find relevant expats to interview for my feature. I have always been curious how expats or foreigners live in sometimes, a “chaotic” environment. For example, the humidity isn’t as acceptable as it is in Australia or the US. Also, I’d be delighted to know how they cope with our current system or how we, Pinoys, prepare food, and more! Hence, the title: “A Day in the Life of Expats in the Philippines.”

As luck would have it, I met two wonderful women, who didn’t think twice to my invitation: Amber Folkman and Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely.

Expats in the Philippines So, without further ado, allow me to share with my Q&A with them. amber-folkman

I met Amber through a good friend, Michelle of She is the mom behind the blog, where she talks about her life as a mom, wife, and an expat in the Philippines. (Photo credit: Q&A

When In Manila Millie: Hi! How are you? I hope you are both well. Please tell us something about yourself.

Amber Folkman: Hello! I am Amber Folkman and I love The Philippines. I am a mom of three boys and love exploring all the metro and islands have to offer.

Amber Folkman expat

Grabbed from Instagram account @amommabroad

Aus. Ambassador Amanda Gorely: I am a first generation Australian.  My family migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom when I was a child.  Like many migrants to Australia, I am very proud to call Australia home.  I am married with two kids, aged 21 and 16.  They are both studying in Australia and visit us in the Philippines during their holidays.

When in Manila Millie: How long have you been here in the Philippines?

Amber: We have lived here twice. Our first move was in 2009 for one year and then we returned for round two in 2012. Total we have lived here for five years and hope to have many more. 🙂

expat interview with WIM

In fact, one of her kids knows how to use “tabo” or water scooper.

Amanda: I arrived in January 2016 at the start of the year in which we mark the 70th anniversary of the bilateral relationship between Australia and the Philippines.

When In Manila Millie: What was your first reaction when you learned you were gonna relocate?

Amber: We were both super stoked and ready for this adventure. We had lived in Hawaii for a few years previously and really did prepare us for living here. When we first arrived in 2009 it was exhilarating. It was a new adventure and my husband and I were stoked to be here. Our first morning we woke up at 5 am because of jet lag and walked around The Fort only to realize that nothing opens here until 10 am or noon.

expat interview

I still remember the smell of the city on that first morning. Whenever I am up very early and outside the nostalgia all comes rushing back.

Amanda: Surprise and excitement.  I had visited Manila a couple of times so I had some idea of what to expect.  I was  thrilled to be appointed to such an important role for Australia as my first Ambassadorial gig.

When In Manila Millie: Did you have a hard time speaking the language?

Amber: Our first year we had a Tagalog tutor and used the basic conversation skills to get around in a taxi. Derecho Lang po, kaliwa, kanan, metro lang.  It was soon apparent that most people in Manila all speak English to a varying degree and we hardly used our small vocabulary. Our second time around is different. Our oldest son has Filipino as part of his curriculum at school which is awesome. He has a pretty thick Filipino accent as well.  I finally have Filipino friends and attempt to understand and throw in a “diba” or “talaga” once in a while. Our two younger sons actually have learned Filipino words before English words, such as “pototoy” and “paa”. We had to teach them the English words later. Our helper Chanda is amazing and tries to speak to me as much as she can in Tagalog to teach me, she also teaches the boys.

I have our stairs labeled with the numbers in Filipino so we can learn and see them around our house.

When In Manila Millie: Do you speak Tagalog, Amanda? 🙂

Amanda: Strangely for a diplomat, I am not very good at languages.  Luckily most Filipinos I come across speak English, and a smile is the universal language we can all understand.

When In Manila Millie: What is your favorite Filipino food?

Amanda: I love the variety of cuisines available in the Philippines.  I have tried a lot of Filipino food and enjoy it.  I especially like the delicious fish and seafood.

Amber: My favorite Filipino food is a three way tie: mangoes, pandesal and suman.

expat interview

I am for sure an addict of all three. My favorite breakfast is Tapsilog. Sarap pa more! My favorite lunch is kare kare, it needs to be the next popular Asian dish. Come on Pilipinas, I know you can do it! And for dinner I don’t care how simple this answer is, I love Chanda’s Adobo and rice. For dessert, bibingka or palitaw please with tsokolate. Recently I tried sisig and I liked it. Also, pork belly is absolutely scrumptious.

When In Manila Millie: What do you hate most about the Philippines besides the traffic, LOL! 

Amber: That’s a tough question because I try not to focus on what I don’t like. I did that for our first year or two and it didn’t make life as enjoyable as it is now.

Amanda: I hate that there are still so many Filipino people living in poverty.  That is why I am very committed to ensuring Australia’s development program is focused on assisting the Philippines Government to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.

When In Manila Millie: Describe the quality of life in the Philippines.

Amber: My quality of life is great in The Philippines. It is a really good life. It is why we choose to live here indefinitely.

"I am always blown away by the big beautiful cathedrals here. Last Saturday we popped into Our Lady or Peace and Good Voyage at the start of our #TayoNaSaAntipolo Tour 2016. What a great way to begin our exploration."

“I am always blown away by the big beautiful cathedrals here. Last Saturday we popped into Our Lady or Peace and Good Voyage at the start of our #TayoNaSaAntipolo Tour 2016. What a great way to begin our exploration.”

I love the warm culture and the adventure we have even in daily tasks.

Amanda: My quality of life is very high with everything I need available here.  I am always encouraging friends and family to visit to experience what the Philippines has to offer. The thing I really miss about Australia is living in a very natural environment.

Canberra is the bush capital and I can be in nature within a minute of leaving my front door. It takes a bit longer to get to the beautiful natural areas of the Philippines from Manila, but it is certainly with the effort when you get there!

When In Manila Millie: What’s your favourite merienda?

Amanda: I try to stay healthy with fresh fruits and nuts but can’t resist chocolate on occasion.  Chocolate covered mangoes contain fruit and chocolate, so they are healthy right?


When In Manila Millie: Give one Filipino trait you appreciate the most.

Amanda: Filipinos are very welcoming to newcomers and I have greatly appreciated this.

I have also been amazed at the resilience and generosity of people who are living in quite difficult conditions, for example those I met in Tacloban.

When In Manila Millie: What is your favourite place in the Philippines?

Amanda: It’s hard to pick one place as I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve been.  I was particularly impressed with Iloilo City because of the beautiful, clean river and promenade and the preserved historic buildings.

Amber: Oh goodness, this is one of the hardest questions for me. My favorite place in Manila is probably Pasig RAVE or Pinto Art Museum. I love nature and open spaces for my kids to run. We just recently went to San Juan La Union and it was the best family trip we have had in The Philippines. The most beautiful place I have ever been to is Batanes, no contest. Goodness this country is full of gems. We are so lucky to live here.

When In Manila Millie: What does your typical day look like?

Amanda: There is not really a typical day but every day is very busy and varied.  I try to get out and about to meet with people to discuss issues of common interest.  I am focused on meeting as many members of the new Administration as possible.  We have a lot of official visitors from Australia who I accompany on calls.  I host many functions at the Residence each week and attend events and meetings hosted by others.  There is always something happening and I am traveling a lot at the moment to various parts of this country.  I try to stay healthy and to squeeze in some exercise a couple of days a week.  If I have a spare evening my husband and I can usually be found relaxing in front of the TV.

Amber:  Wake up with my kids, make them breakfast. Chanda graciously cleans up. I drive my oldest to school and drop him off. If I bring the baby and the toddler the teachers and students love on them for a few minutes. Then we  sit in traffic or walk home if I took an Uber. When we get home I play with my younger sons. Since I started blogging last year I often have events 1-2 times a week. I will Uber there and listen to a podcast on the way or get carsick from being on Instragram in trapik. After my event I race home to play a little bit more with my sons and then pick up my oldest from school. Sit in traffic. Stop by the grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends. Chanda thankfully goes to the palengke midweek and does the big shopping. After we return home we play and eat dinner. I usually go to Muay Thai training or Electric Studio a few nights a week while my husband puts the boys to bed. If I have an open day I will try and squeeze in a new market, park or shop I have had my eye on. On the weekend I try to explore as much as I can. I have a constant list of places I want to go to. The summer was great because I would just wake up, throw the kids in the car and go.

When In Manila Millie: Do you have any advice for new expat arrivals?

Amber: You will always find what you are looking for. You may have to look really hard but seek and ye shall find. (I have helped with the searching and brought adventures to you on my blog so you don’t have to look so hard. 🙂 ) If you wanna hate it you will hate it. If you wanna love it, you will love it. It is a choice you have to make.

Amanda: Expect that it will take a while to settle in, especially if you have come from somewhere like Australia.  There are things you will miss about home but there are other things here to make up for it.

When In Manila Millie: Lastly, please complete the sentence: “When In Manila, ….” 

Amber: When In Manila you must smile.

expat interview

Amanda: When in Manila ….Be adventurous and explore old Manila – get out of Makati.

There are some great things to experience but you have to be a bit more intrepid here than in other cities.

When in Manila, there are heaps of reasons to love our Nation. I’ve experienced living abroad but nothing compares to Pinoy’s resilience and lifestyle. Chill, chill lang! 🙂

How about you: how much do you love the Philippines? Tell us your thoughts in the comments! 


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