For me, arriving on the other side of the world was akin to falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. I was surprised to find myself completely disoriented in this new place. It was exciting, unnerving and thought-provoking. As I aimed to orient myself, I quickly got a feel for the social norms, unique foods and tropical weather the Philippines is famous for. When I learned that I would be writing my blog post after spending four months here, I expected to have it all figured out. But even today, I’m still finding my place within this beautiful collection of islands.

One of the goals of this six-month internship is to gain professional experience in my field, which I undoubtedly have. But I think my personal experiences in the Philippines have proven to be the most valuable part. Exploring a country so vastly different from anything I’ve experienced has been breathtaking and indescribable. I struggle to write my experiences in a way that encompasses the incredible highs and intermittent lows. Highlights of my adventures include rainforest mountain excursions, scuba diving, and small island hopping. The diversity of animals along with the contrasting environments constantly amazes me. But most importantly, I am especially grateful for friends who invited me into their homes and churches or to witness significant life events, each graciously providing me with a glimpse of their culture. (Pictured above I am making friends while scuba diving at Kalanggaman Island, north of Cebu.)

In awe of Bato Dungok after summiting Mt. Agua Colonia in Alimodian,
just a few hours outside of Iloilo City.
In the Philippines, it’s common to wear matching outfits for many events. For my supervisor’s wedding, women were asked to wear any shade of green and the men to wear the traditional Barong. Here we are posing for a “wacky” photo, a relatively new custom of the Philippines that’s accompanied the booming of social media. (Posted with permission).

Of course, differences between my home province of Nova Scotia in Canada and my host island of Pinay in the Philippines were to be expected. But as time passed, I was surprised by the commonalities I continued to draw between the two. Many of the winding coastal highways revived memories of road trips around Nova Scotia. Not only are the people of the Philippines famously friendly, Ilonggos are known as the friendliest of all, reigning from the City of Love, after all. This reminded me Nova Scotia’s reputation within Canada. Travel by ferry to the neighbouring island of Guimaras is also a frequent part of my life which came as a relief since I’m especially fond of the Halifax-Dartmouth ferry. And while bumping around Iloilo City, it’s not unusual to run into people you know. Interestingly, the list goes on. This was especially comforting during moments of homesickness.

In tandem with these enjoyable experiences and comforts have also been important challenges. I’ve found that living abroad puts you under a microscope of self-discovery. You’ll be forced to intensely examine many of your personal characteristics. For instance, when you’re pushed to the edge of your comfort zone, and then past it, how do you react? Or when you’re left to your own devices in a foreign place, what can you achieve? I constantly find myself admiring, and trying to adopt, my new friends’ remarkable patience, flexibility and inventiveness. This self-reflection was an unexpected, but appreciated by-product of my internship.

Ultimately, the past four months have certainly been difficult at times, but they’ve also been rewarding. I’m looking forward to going home knowing I’ll reflect upon these experiences for years to come. Salamat gid!

Abbie Martyn