Study Abroad In the Philippines: A comprehensive guide for American students interested in spending some time abroad in a Filipino university
So you’re looking to study abroad in the Philippines? Congrats! Studying abroad in a remote Southeast Asian country may seem like a daunting task, but the experience will leave you with memories to last a lifetime, and not to mention an incredible amount of personal growth. The Philippines is rich in culture and has strong American ties that have captured the attention of many students looking to spend some time abroad. Here are somethings that you’ll need to know before embarking on your study abroad journey!html anchor list re-watch vid 6 after content is created
- Filipino Culture
- Staying Safe
- English is Widely Spoken
- Filipino Time
- Visas and I-cards
- Rules are Suggestions
The Philippines has a unique blend of Spanish, American, and southeast Asian culture- making it truly a diverse country. Filipino people are incredibly kind and hospitable, and they highly value traditions. Christmas, in particular, is a huge deal in the Philippines! Filipinos are very respectful of their elders and family plays a huge role in their everyday lives. The only way to really understand Filipino culture is to fully immerse yourself in it!
Unfortunately, the Philippines has some areas that are not 100% safe for Americans to visit. Before you leave, you need to make sure all your vaccinations are up to date. In addition, there are special vaccines you will need such as typhoid, and many people choose to get malaria medication as well.
In order to prevent running into any trouble while you’re studying abroad in the Philippines, you should check the US embassy website to monitor any issues like recent kidnapping cases before traveling. One thing you’ll notice in the major cities is the amount of security and overwhelming police presence. Every other store has a security guard standing by the door, often with a machine gun in hand. While this may be unsettling at first, you’ll quickly get used to it and may even find comfort in their presence. Another thing to remember is that it’s always best practice to travel in groups, don’t walk in areas that are not well lit, and always have bug spray when you leave the city!
English is Widely Spoken
One of the major benefits of studying abroad in the Philippines as an American student is the heavy presence of English speakers. The most prominent language in the Philippines is Tagalog which has a romantic tinge to it seeing that a lot of the words were derived from Spanish. It is rare, however, to run into someone that does not speak English. As long as you are in a major city like Manila or Cebu, you should not have any trouble communicating with locals. As you move higher north into the province and more mountainous regions, however, you might come across people with broken English- but still English nonetheless.
Traffic in Manila is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. While it may be frustrating, you can’t avoid taking the streets unless you’re within walking distance of your destination. I recommend catching a ride on a trike whenever possible; it’s like a motorcycle side-car that will take you a couple miles or so for 75 cents. If you have to go a little further, I would use the ride sharing app Grab. It’s just as reliable Uber or Lyft, and you can apply for a 20% student discount! Studying abroad is expensive so you should save when you can!
When you’re studying abroad in the Philippines it can be easy to fall into the trap of only eating fried chicken and rice, but Filipino food is highly underrated. If you ask local people what their favorite dish is, most people are quick to say chicken adobo, but the Philippines has so many unique food options. Definitely make sure to try ube, pancit canton, and turon- and you definitely can’t forget about Jollibee. There’s a strong presence of American fast food chains like pizza hut and KFC, but the Philippines is the only country in the world where a local fast food chain has McDonalds beat! If you’re looking for a meal to share with friends, a boodle fight is a unique Filipino experience that can’t be missed!
One thing that might catch you off guard is what local people refer to as “Filipino time.” Much like many Mediterranean of Caribbean countries, Filipino people love to take their time. It feels as though no one is in a rush for anything and Filipinos are typically late. People generally tend to blame this on the terrible traffic situation, but Filipino time is also present in situations like food service, for example, or checking out in the grocery store. As an American from the east coast, this was very different from the regular, fast-paced lifestyle that I’m used to. It may not be out of the ordinary for a professor to be twenty minutes late to class and not think anything of it. It’s best to try to not get frustrated!
Visas and I-Cards
When you’re studying abroad in the Philippines it’s super important to make sure that your visas are up to date! If you have a multiple entry visa, you can renew your extension by leaving the country and returning within your first 60 days. A single entry visa, however, is a little more complicated.
To renew your visa, you may have to take a trip to the embassy in Intramuros. Your school may also help you in this process, but it’s important to stay on top of it nonetheless. When you renew your visa, you have to temporarily surrender your passport. During this time, you can use your Filipino Alien card as identification to travel, go to the bank, etc. You can also, in many cases, get away with using your student ID- which may even be better in terms of getting discounts!
Rules are Suggestions
In the US, we’re pretty good about following rules. For example, when you come to a red light, you stop. When you buy a textbook, you assume it’s not copyrighted plagiarized. This is not necessarily the case in the Philippines. I am still blown away by the street rules in Manila. Cars and motorcycles drive on the sidewalk and women pushing baby strollers walk in the streets. It almost feels like anything is fair game! Driving is the most prominent example of this, but it also comes about in school. Due dates are typically not taken very seriously and Filipino people are generally just very laid back.
The typhoons in the Philippines can be compared to thunderstorms in Florida, but on a larger scale. It is absolutely crucial to have proper rain gear in the wet season! Umbrellas, rain ponchos, and rubber boots may help you to avoid being miserably wet. Flooding is a prominent issue in the Philippines and often leads to issues on the roads. Class is often cancelled during typhoons due to travel constraints, similar to blizzards in New York. It is also important to avoid puddles and flooding when you can in order to stay healthy and avoid water borne illness!
One thing that I did not expect was the amount of attention that I got for being American. Filipino people look up to the US as a parent country and people were intrigued by my “obviously American” look. Be prepared to be stopped on the street for a lot of questions regarding the statue of liberty and food portion sizes! The attention is not negative in any way, but may take a while to get used to.
I recommend getting your school calendar as soon as possible so you can start planning some trips around the country! One of the benefits of studying abroad in the Philippines is that it is easy to travel in an archipelago, and it’s also pretty cheap! The cities in the Philippines are rich with culture and the landscape is beyond gorgeous. You will definitely not want to miss out on swimming with whale sharks or hiking in the Banaue rice terraces! It is also very easy to get to other nearby countries in southeast Asia if you’re looking for a longer trip!