Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adapting to diverse cultures for development

They say that when the gods created the island of the Philippines, they were so happy they made 1,106 more. So goes one of the folktales in our literature. True enough, this god-given gift gave life to a diversity which we now call Filipino culture. For the thousand and more islands in the land bore the richness of unique cultures each displaying the Filipino spirit, alive in every sense of the word. No matter where you go, great surprises await you. From Aparri to Jolo, you can never miss out on the distinctive Filipino-ness that separates us from other Asian countries. The pearl of the orient seas, as we are fondly called, continue to amaze foreigners as they see the defining characteristics of the Filipinos, resilient and optimistic.

Just this Saturday, Typhoon Ondong ravaged the land leaving hundreds of families homeless and some bereaved by the death of their relatives. Some say that this catastrophe was the worst in 50 years. Yet, we Filipinos continue to rise and move on. Interviews of people on TV show how people can flash their smiles on cam aware that their houses have already been under water. Our ability to laugh in horrible events like this may be odd to a stranger. He may wonder how in the world Filipinos can still laugh and make jokes out of his serious predicament. But the Filipinos have always been positive, hopeful that despite setbacks, there is a way out and that what really makes us different from the rest.

Frankly, I am here today not to talk about the Filipinos’ optimism. However, it is cultural traits like this that enables a Filipino to adapt to many challenges in life, and one of those emerging challenges is the influx of cultural exchange in and out of the country. Good morning everyone and welcome to this day’s event.

This morning, I am honored to share to you some thoughts on adapting to diverse culture for development.

Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps most of us who are gathered here have relatives working abroad. I for one have a brother working in Saudi Arabia as a hotel crew. He has been in the country for almost two years now; funny, because he has also worked as a driver in Hong Kong years before. Admittedly, life in another country is difficult. He would tell me stories about how peoples’ way of thinking in the countries he has been is totally different from the way we do. Sometimes, he has to be extra careful about his behavior as if walking on tight ropes just to survive. He had a choice- he could just come back and start anew here in our country. But because he is as much Filipino as we are, he was not disheartened by this difficulty but instead got inspired to prove to the rest of the world what Filipinos are made of.

And what indeed are we made of?

We are the products of a century old history that molded us into what we are today. Our roots come from the lines of heroes and we have worked extremely hard to prove that we are people deserving of respect and admiration. Thus, bowing down to challenges like adapting to diverse cultures is a mock to our name. For as they say, we Filipinos are the masters of adaptation. We are the nurses in London, engineers in the Middle East, entertainers in the USA, domestic helpers in Hong Kong, teachers in Korea. Call it the Filipino diaspora, nevertheless we are everywhere and we are not hampered by this diversity of cultures, in fact, we have used this diversity to our advantage and this is what makes our race truly inspiring.

This paved way to thousand of Filipinos benefit from greener pastures, support their families and in the process, support the economy of the country as dollar remittances add to the revolving fund of our country. As thousands more will continue to fly to other lands, their ability to adapt to diverse cultures will be their number one armor in the challenge posed by working in foreign lands.

Let us give ourselves some credit. Let’s give ourselves a round of applause.

Internally, the Philippines has also experienced an influx of cultures that continue to shape our own culture. That is, apart from the given richness of our culture which I have raised earlier, this culture continues to evolve and grow to accommodate changes, for our flexibility enables us to embrace the positive contribution of foreign cultures to us. It is in this process that we are able to mature.

Months ago, my son who has spent a year in Korea, brought home some Korean friends of his. Apart from the Korea novellas I see on television, my encounter with Koreans is non-existent. So I was clueless on how to deal with these visitors. But it is perhaps the Filipino trait in me that guided me to treat these foreign visitors the best way a good host can. And so I served them some Filipino food- nilaga, chopsuey, galunggong, and much to my surprise they liked it. I realized that it is not difficult to adapt to others, much to their culture. I realized that what is more important is that earnest desire to understand each other and to compromise. My son told me that his friends had a great time in our house.

Furthermore, the Filipino adaptability has been one crucial factor for the booming call center industry in our country. President Arroyo even mentioned in her last State of the Nation Address that this industry has grown to a bigger proportion. Foreign investors have realized the potential of the Filipinos to handle cultures totally different to us plus the ability to speak foreign languages easily- English, Chinese, French, name it and a Filipino can easily learn how to speak it with a twang a native speaker can hardly notice he’s speaking to a Filipino. This again shows how adapting to foreign cultures is but second nature to us.

Perhaps a day will come when more investors can come to our land. When that happens, the possibilities will be endless.

I know all of you have your own stories to tell about encounters with foreigners and it is these encounters that start cultural exchanges and this is how we learn how to adapt to various cultures that come our way.

The future is uncertain that I know, but because I am a Filipino, I am confident that no matter what happens, no matter what this life brings us, we will continue to thrive. For it is in our adaptability that can lead to future developments of this country.

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