Culture shock: A Tale of Two Worlds

“Culture shock is often felt sharply at the borders between countries, but sometimes it doesn’t fully hit until you’ve been in a place for a long time.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Poverty is a distinguished problem in the Philippines. At least a quarter of the Philippine population is engrossed in poverty. That is at least 26 million people affected. As such, Filipino’s would be desperate to find a living, and in order to sustain a certain lifestyle. Filipinos would take a variety of jobs, not shying away from any. Jobs such as healthcare workers, engineers, office workers, skilled workers (tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc.), drivers, domestic helpers were prominent for Filipinos. 

However, there is also another opportunity for the hard-working Filipino to take, and that is to leave the Philippines and find a decent job abroad. Thus, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) became abundant, and the world noticed as well.

And this is where my story begins.  It was during the Gulf War time in December 1990 when I saw the opportunity to go abroad and help my family financially. Along with my husband Peter, we ventured to a foreign country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). It was exciting, but with mixed emotions of sadness knowing, I will be away from my then,  three-year-old daughter whom I left with my sister-in-law to take care of. 

Here, OFW’s were more prominent due to the Arabian’s lifestyle. I was blessed to be considered and offered an office-based job. I started to work as a General Clerk in the Personnel Department of the Armed Forces’ Health Facilities. My husband, Peter worked as a Tradesman. We were separated at first, as I worked in Jeddah, which is in the Western part, while he worked in Khamis Musait, which lies in the Northern part of KSA. It was not as easy as it seemed for us, but we must keep our strength in holding on to achieve our aim for a better future. 

Being separated was one thing, however, what was most difficult was the culture shock that we experienced in the first few months. Going out of the accommodations was difficult, as we were only able to go out to certain places by scheduled transportation provided. And, the fact that I am a woman in the Middle East meant that I was limited in going venturing outside too much. This proved difficult because compared to the Philippines which was more liberated, this felt like we were stuck inside a house with nothing else to do than work, eat, watch tv, and sleep. 

Meeting with my husband also proved difficult, as around this time, the Gulf War was happening and thus hindered our ability to see each other. And even though we could, we were still required to have a translated and authenticated marriage contract. These were only a few of the things that shocked us when we first arrived in the KSA.

Eventually, my husband and I were able to live together once more and to work in the same place in Jeddah. And a few years after that, we had our second child, I went back home to give which again I have to leave and flew back to Jeddah. Shortly after we moved to Riyadh, we had our third and fourth child (2 boys) and managed to bring my two daughters and build our family abroad.  As well, we were able to experience traveling within KSA and other countries.

Overall, although it was quite difficult financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, we were able to overcome the hardships and built a foundation for our family. However, even though we’ve already spent so long living abroad, it still shocks us at times, of the difference in culture between our own and the world.

22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:22

Melchora L. Costes

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