Today I am interviewing Kevin Sanders. Though I have not met Kevin in person, we have been friends on Facebook for some time.
Let’s see what Kevin has to tell us about his life in the Philippines.
What is your name, and can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Kevin Sanders. I’m a follower of Jesus, husband, missionary, and author. I am 41 years old and have been married for fourteen amazing months. I’m originally from Alabama, USA.
Nice to know more about you, Kevin.
How long have you lived in the Philippines?
This week I’ve just hit my 11-year mark in the Philippines—about ¼ of my life. My time here has really flown by!
Time does fly, no doubt on that! I didn’t realize that you had been living here that long!
What do you like or dislike about living in the Philippines?
I always like to hear bad news first, so I’ll start off with a few things I dislike. I guess the two things foreigners like me always struggle with are the heat and traffic. One thing I have missed is having four seasons—a yearly variation in the weather. And driving/traffic just doesn’t work the same way it does back home. The infrastructure just isn’t designed for the volume of vehicles in most places.
I find that for the most part, I have adjusted to the heat. I hate the traffic, and have started riding public transportation a lot more than I used to, primarily Jeepneys. I find it kind of fun, and less hassle than driving.
Like other expats, I’ve also gotten frustrated with the inefficiency of things, especially if a government agency is involved.
One of the most difficult aspects of living here right now (for US expats, at least) is the exchange rate. A dollar bought over 50 pesos when I first moved here (2002). The dollar has been a lot weaker the past few years, which has made it tougher for Americans.
No doubt about that. Since you have been here a long time, I know you remember the good old days… 56 sure was nice!
The main thing I love about the Philippines is the people—they are humble, warm, friendly, and generally a joy to be around. Maybe I’m biased (especially now that I’m married to a Filipina), but I think Filipinos are very easy to love.
I’ve also really enjoyed studying the language and culture here—it’s such a unique mixture of Asian and Latin elements.
Learning the local language is great and really improves your life!
There are practical advantages to living here as well. The dollar is weak, but there are still some things that are a lot more affordable here than in the States. Dental/medical care is reasonably priced, and I’ve had very good experiences with Filipino doctors and dentists. Something like going to a movie or getting a massage is considerably cheaper than the States. The overall cost of living is still less than what it would be back home.
Same here! I have had very good medical care here, at least on par with US care, and at a fraction of the cost.
Speaking of practical things, there’s something else I’ve noticed: there are a lot more products and services available now compared to when I first moved here. I resorted to using prepaid dial-up internet cards during the early years because high speed internet just wasn’t widely available. Now you can get DSL, cable, or wireless internet connections in most cities.
You are right on the mark, Kevin. Internet and many other things are much more available than back when I moved here.
What made you decide to move to the Philippines?
I started seriously thinking about going overseas after I finished my theological studies in the States. I was interested in cross-cultural missions and college ministry so I decided to join a team of evangelists (Filipino and Americans) in Manila. My original plan was to spend one year in the Philippines, but I loved it and decided to stay much longer.
I can understand why you decided to make it long term. I’ve been here 13 years, and still love living here.
Did you encounter anything unexpected when you moved here? What was your biggest surprise?
I was a bit naive when I first arrived because I had never been outside of the States. There were a few big surprises.
I had done a fair amount of foreign travel before coming here, but I still had to work through my naivety about living here. It takes time!
Pinoys are very good in English and tend to be very good linguists in general (my wife speaks four languages). But they tend to speak their own language or dialect amongst themselves, and some are not comfortable communicating in English. In other words, I didn’t realize how out of place I would feel knowing zero Tagalog. I eventually learned the language and it really helped.
It also took me a while to get used to being the center of attention. Westerners were kind of rare in the area where I used to live, so I got stared at a lot. It wasn’t really a bad thing because it helped me overcome some of my shyness. But it took some getting used to.
Yep! I hear you on that, Kevin. For a westerner living here, it’s like you’re a rock star! You gotta be careful or that will go to your head!
One more thing (here comes the traffic issue again): I remember going to Baguio my first Christmas here. I anticipated leaving the heavy traffic of Manila and speeding down an American style interstate to our destination. Instead I got a taste of provincial driving—going down small, two lane national “highways” and trying to get around jeepneys, pedicabs, motorcycles with sidecars (called tricycles) and other random obstacles. I believe we came back to Manila on a Saturday, so I got stuck behind several funeral processions. I enjoyed the time in Baguio, but the trip to and from there was nothing like what I had imagined.
There are always new things to learn and new experiences in the Philippines!
Where do you live in the Philippines?
I used to live in the “university belt” area of Manila (2002 until 2011).
I decided it was time for a change and I moved here to Angeles City back in November of 2011. I met my wife soon after moving here and we married in March of 2012. We live in the Diamond Subdivision of Balibago.
Are you happy there?
Definitely. I don’t regret the time I invested in student ministry in Manila—lots of great memories there. But it can be a tough place to live.
I have always said that I could not live in Manila. I suppose I could if I had to, but it would not be my dream destination. I’m glad that you have enjoyed it.
Angeles City seems to have all of Manila’s amenities with much less hassle. Rent is also very reasonable here. You can find a nice, secure apartment in the $250/month range.
This city seems to be a friendly environment for expats and is home to several different nationalities. People assume all Westerners are just here in Angeles for the “entertainment,” but I’ve met a lot of businessmen and retired military guys who aren’t into the bar scene. Many have Filipina wives and have chosen to settle down here with their families.
My wife and I have enjoyed life and ministry here in Angeles City. We have been helping with a new church called Hope Angeles.
But we are actually planning to move back to the States very soon. I want her to become a US citizen and we plan to start a family once we are established there.
Do you have any regrets that you can share with us?
I’m sure there are plenty of times I’ve missed the proverbial mark as far as being culturally appropriate. Here’s an example: people here tend to smile, even in the midst of a disagreement or frustrating situation. There are times I’ve gotten irritated and stopped smiling, which could be considered intimidating or ill-tempered behavior.
I think we have all been there and done that kind of thing. I know I have. Thankfully, I am like that a lot less now than I used to be!
Is there anything else you want to tell us about your move to the Philippines?
Living here has been a great experience and would highly recommend it. Here are a few tips to consider if you are thinking about moving here:
- Try to do some research ahead of time and learn a little about the culture, visa issues, etc. You may want to consider Bob’s e-books or other similar resources. The more you know in advance the more prepared you will be.
- Make connections with other well-adjusted or experienced expats. I had great mentors when I first came here and that made a big difference. It’s very helpful if you can find some friends to help you navigate life as an expat.
- Remember you are moving to a different country, so don’t expect it to be like America (or Australia, or the UK, or wherever you are from). You’ll have a great experience if you are willing to embrace a different culture. But you’ll be miserable if you complain about everything that is unlike your place of origin.
Kevin, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview! I wish you the best of luck in your pending move back to the States, and hope you make it back to the Philippines sometime!