My name is Sébastien Merel and I am a French Canadian from Quebec. For one month, I had the chance to be a member of the Lagar – a Filipino family in the island of Marinduque. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I was participating in an Exchange Program from AFS which is consisted of living with a different culture to grasp a better understanding of human beings. After all, borders and nations are labels and we share more as a global specie that first meet the eyes. Of course, the first thing you notice is the differences, not the resemblance.

As a Canadian, I immediately saw the differences in our ways of living. I took the opportunity to observe them. I thought the best way to look at these differences was to look at them without judgment. It is way easier said than done. It requires you to accept a multitude of small differences that accumulate and can create frustrations. You have to teach yourself to forget about yourself and learn anew. After, the differences become smaller with each passing day and the culture shock become fondness for the new culture. You also develop a sense of adaptation.

I cannot say what is best or worst between our cultures. Each culture is adapted to its environment and tends to thrive its way to happiness. I could feel that the Lagar are a happy family, and so I was living with them. I’d like to share some of these observations.

People of Marinduque have different interpersonal relationships than North American. They live as a community in their own family, but also as a neighborhood, as citizen of a region and so on. The belongingness is very important. In Canada, we are more individualists. The fact that Marinduque is an island and that it is not overpopulated may emphasize the sense of belongingness. I believe that the best of a human being comes out in such a setting.

The Lagar participates in a lot of festivities. Each occasion is festive and they share each of them. The second day I was there, I was invited at a wedding. You just go to the wedding without invitation, you are always welcomed. Of course, you are also invited to participate actively to the dances and activities. I could not hide my presence and stay in the shadow because as a new face and a foreigner you get noticed. The ice was broken very fast and I liked it because you get the best of the experience that way.

Also, you usually are welcome to join at lunch time at the office. They prepare food for everyone. In fact, it seems impolite to stay alone. In comparison with Canada, where people often eat at their desks in their offices. The dynamic of the dinner time was different in the family because there is a hierarchy. Especially when the sitting places are limited. There were a dozen persons living on the immediate family location. They look like a big family in the eye of a North American. More precisely, they look like a big family because they live close to each other. Parents, grands-parents, child’s, nephew, they all live in interconnected houses.

They are taking care of each other’s each day which is very different from North America where we live away from our parents. They took care of me too. At first, I felt ashamed, not worthy of such attention. But feeling that way was self-centered. I had to let go of that shame because it’s a custom in the Philippines to receive gifts and special treatments as a guest. You should accept all the love they can give you. Somehow it seems to make them happy. They feel “on track” doing this, and it felt good for me too. When you get used to it, you get the taste to pay it forward.

Living with the Lagar family was very interesting. The family volunteered to host me as part of their own cultural experience. The father is a fisherman and a motorcycle taxi driver. The mother is a cook. She prepares meals for big events. Of course, I ate plenty of delicious meals prepared by the her. The eldest son works in a hospital. Another son is a teacher in college and the daughter is a nurse. My stay with them was far from boring as they made me do a lot of activities and made me visit the island and the cities.

One weekend, we traveled to hot springs to bath in sulphuric pool. I also visited their workplaces and explored their huge garden of tropical plants. They made me gather tapioca roots and all kinds of local ingredients and show me how to prepare them. I went fishing with the father on it’s boat at night. I joined them in regular gatherings with their friends where we bonded, drinking local drinks and eating snacks. This last activity is typical of a common Filipino day.

But the end of the month came too fast. I wanted to stay there longer but I had to leave. When you leave, you feel sad because even in a short month you made a lot of friends and you feel you are already part of their community. You also feel happy that you met so many good persons and shared a bit of their lives.

I strongly recommend to anyone of any age to experience exchanging and sharing cultures. You will even learn more about yourself and your own culture. I want to try that again someday. I will never forget The Lagar of Marinduque. They are now in my heart forever!