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Becoming an ambivert in Philippines 

By Mathew Annet Cecil

Manila: I first landed in the Philippines in the early hours of November 15, 2014. Being an introvert I was not so sure how I would survive in this Southeast Asian country where everything was new for me: culture, people and places.

What surprised me the most was the resemblance between the Philippines and Kerala, my native state in southern India. I found the people in the Philippines very friendly (I realized this after several months of interaction with the local people. The Philippines continues to fascinate me in many ways.

I was part of a group of seven Indian students and our college representative received us and brought to an Indian dormitory. The first thing that I noticed here is the use of American English. While filling my college application I had to first write my surname before my given name. Similarly the month came before the date. I was used to the British English.

I stayed in the dormitory for eight months. Then my friend and I decided to move into an independent apartment so that we could cook our own food and eat what we wanted and when we wanted. The dormitory allowed us to eat only at specific time, which we found hard. Another reason to move out was to eat spicy food lover. My friend, a Brahmin, could not survive on the food served at the dormitory.

After moving out, the initial three months were hard because I didn’t know how to cook. My friend cooked for both of us while I remained an onlooker who washed the dishes.

As months passed by, I evolved into a better cook and two of our other friends joined us. Our house became the best example of the secular India. A Malayalee Syrian Catholic and a Hindu Brahmin from Andhra live with a Protestant Christian from Telangana and an Urdu speaking Muslim. It is like a melting pot of our religions, cultures and languages.

Staying with all of them has helped me learn many things. But most importantly it made value friendship a little more. My housemates are my family in the Philippines, which is Asia’s largest Catholic country.

We celebrate all festivals together — be it Christmas, Easter, Ganesh Chaturthi or Eid. I attend Mass on Sundays and other days at a nearby Catholic church. A mosque and a Protestant church are also nearby. Manila also has a Hindu temple. These places of worship help us grow spiritually in a different country.

My first encounter with Filipinos was with a few elders from a Protestant church near our university. They are among the friendliest people I have ever met. A year ago, one of them took me to their houses in the province and treated me a family member. They never fail to say that I am their family member and I should stay with them during every holiday in the Philippines.

Another thing I have noticed is that Filipinos value families as we Indians do and the whole family comes together for Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays. This is something that has delighted me always. And I do hope that I would cherish it in the years to come.

I have finished my premedical course (Psychology), which is a prerequisite in the Philippines to join a medical school. Now I have enrolled at Jonelta Foundation School of Medicine to pursue MD (Doctor of Medicine) which is equivalent to MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, or in Latin: ‘Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae’) in India.

My first year went very smoothly and all our professors were very helpful and friendly. The second year has been a little hectic because of the number of subjects and examinations. Nevertheless subjects have become very interesting. I hope and pray that medical life will be easier for us and the stress will not pull us down.

I am thoroughly enjoying my roller coaster life in this beautiful country. The Philippines and the Filipinos have never failed to surprise me, sticking to their tagline “It’s more fun in the Philippines”. Did I mention I have become an ambivert now?

(Mathew Annet Cecil is a medical student at the Jonelta Foundation School of Medicine of University of Perpetual Help System Dalta, Manila, the Philippines.)

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