02 December 2016

A Cultural Out-of-Body Experience (or a Case of Reverse Culture Shock)

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend an event hosted by the Filipino community here in Berlin, together with the Philippine Embassy and a Catholic Church (who hosts services in Filipino). It was an event which was a joint art exhibit and concert: the point was to showcase talent within the Filipino community here in Berlin, so there was time allotted to view some artwork, and there was also a concert where local members of the community sang and performed. I wasn't really interested in the talent, but since several of my friends were there, and since I haven't seen them in a while, I thought this would be a good venue to see them collectively. I typically don't like group meetings, and would prefer seeing friends in smaller groups, but since I haven't seen them for a long time, I figured it was not a bad idea to see them this time. Little did I know that I would have an out of body experience.

See, I arrived around 18:55, five minutes before the event was supposed to begin. I figured that Filipinos are typically late, so they won't start on time. Anyway, during the 5 minutes between my arrival and the atypical punctual beginning of the event, I already saw and said hello to most of my friends.

And then it began. They began with a prayer. And here I was, experiencing discomfort, thinking to myself, why is it that a secular event such as a concert and art exhibit, why does it need to begin with a prayer? There was a priest, who had a microphone, and he started uttering "In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit..." and I decided to step out of the hall and into the corridor. I started putting my coat on, and seriously, I decided to walk outside and head home.

In my head, I thought, what the heck was I doing there? I felt so out of place. I was walking at the sidewalk, when I accidentally bumped into another friend of mine, who I didn't recognize because of her hat. She called "Jeruen?" It took me about 10 seconds to recognize her, after which I just said "Hello" and proceeded to give her a hug.

It was so weird. She asked what I was doing going in the other direction, and when I tried explaining how I felt, she just grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back into the church. By the time I entered it a second time, the prayer was finished, and the Philippine National Anthem (what the heck, they need to sing that too?!) was also concluding.

There were many other instances during that event that made me realize how un-Filipino I was. It was reverse culture shock at its finest. I felt very much the outsider, but looking back, and remembering what I know about Filipino society, I should not have been surprised.

I am grateful, however, that my friend bumped into me at the sidewalk and pulled me back in. There were things that I appreciated. After the event, they served nilagang baka (Filipino-stye boiled beef soup) and ginataan, and these dishes I must say were tastes that I haven't had in a while. And after that, a few of my friends and I went out to go drinking, which was a welcome change, as I haven't been out at night for quite a while I must say. And food aside, I nevertheless appreciate the Filipino culture: for most of the attendees, events such as these are integral to their personal well-being, as for the most part, they have been born and raised in the Philippines, and since they are migrants to a foreign country, the ties they have to their homeland are strong, and this is a way of preserving that. For me, however, I have a very international background, and I don't necessarily have the longing they experience to the Philippines. It is nevertheless an interesting perspective to see such events, and be a part of it.

So yes, being a Third Culture Kid is interesting, but unique, in every sense of the word.


  1. I can only imagine how it feels. I do feel a disconnect sometimes with super traditional French, especially with people who never traveled (outside of, maybe, a popular holiday spot). Then I try to connect on whatever we have in common but certainly not French culture because "my" France isn't necessarily theirs.

    1. Zhu,

      This isn't the first time I experienced this. When I was still living in Buffalo, I sometimes met up with Filipino students, and the experience was the same. They were typically in a foreign country for the first time, and so they always try to replicate the home experience, which is a big deal for them, but not necessarily for me.