Is it just a cliché talking about Bringing Up Bébé in the Philippines? or is it a renowned global myth that French kids eat everything? I really wonder about this.How about trading hiking the Swiss Alps for the beaches in Bantayan Island in Cebu?
Well,I am going to tell you that one French Expat- Mama juggles on pursuit of zen, balance & rumbling through the whole foods section in the supermarket and at same time raising her Blonde Third Culture Kids in South east Asian culture. How on earth she’s doing it?
On our next feature for Expat Mama around the World series, we go to far away South Pacific where Estelea,an ex-Red Cross workaholic femme, enjoys the tropical sun and hopping the tricycle mania in their island life. She and her Swiss husband, Marcel, are currently based and living the not-so-ordinary Expat life in Bantayan island in Cebu, Philippines. Together they trot this place upside down with their 2 adorable kids, the Attilas; (aka Maëlle 5 y.o and Léandre 4 y.o.).
With a bubbly spirit, a pocket full of wisdom, she shares her big heart to her host country, the Philippines through her meaningful writing such as “All we need for Christmas is a roof over our heads” . Aside from her Blog, she tell us how to handle the fanatic Filipino craze on Karaoke, the not-so friendly-typhoons and the hustle of being tagged as Parisian-stage-mama to her kids at school . Here’s her very own Expat -Mama Story: Raising my Blonde Kids in the Philippines
Estelea is the woman behind Estelea’s Blog, a French Mama of 2, A yoga enthusiast and a budding teacher,a dreamer, a beach lover and a humble humanitarian rolled into one. Stephanie is a minimalist by nature ,Vegetarian by choice, and makes it a point to have & enjoy a good kind of laugh.Everyday. Living almost 3 years in the Philippines, she still can’t believe that it’s for real that she’s living a life in the shores of the pristine beaches.
Estelea is a good friend of mine..from a far. Thanks to technology that we became modern-Penpals. When the Attilas gives her a break-time from being their super-mama, she wrote a whole lot of inspiring, funny, and down-to-earth posts about motherhood,Expat Life, and family oriented adventures.
Tell us About your Background
I am French, originally from Fontainebleau, a beautiful historical town by the forest, about 60km from Paris. My job from the years BC (Before Children) definitely took me to places, from Eastern and Western Africa to South East Asia, when I was working for the International Red Cross. We are now based in the Philippines and for the first time in decades, I am not working. I mean, technically…I mean, for a paycheck.
On Life as a Full time & Stay-at-Home Expat Mom
I am actually working full-time every single day of the week, no day off, as a Stay at Home Mum. My very very significant other got a job on the little island of Bantayan and the kids and I are living some 6h away, on Cebu island.
For visa reasons, I can not work in the Philippines, and it has been pretty challenging to adjust to this new kind of lifestyle. A door closed but another open as I had no excuse to finally dwell into more significant yoga practice. And here I am, just completed a 200hours yoga teacher training, and I gave my first class just 2 days ago . My kids’s teachers are very interested in teaching yoga to their little students too, so aside from my adult classes, I am so excited to work on classes for children.
How Yoga changed your life
Yoga is about exploring and discovering who you are (peeling the layers of the onions, as our teacher would say). Being kind to yourself so you can be kind to others too. Be sincere, be healthy without pushing you to your limits.Yoga to me is such a powerful vehicle of change. Through the toning of my body and my mind, I build strength and I start to believe in my own potential. My whole experience of change through Yoga is written Here.
Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects of life.
On Philippines as a Child-Friendly country
If you were to choose the most child friendly country in the world, Philippines would definitely be in the top 5. I never ever heard anyone complaining because my kids are loud or “slightly” active. And it is not because my little Attilas are incredibly behaving, the real reason is that people love children. Kids are everywhere, there are playgrounds in each and every mall, and they are genuinely welcome by all the staff of the resto and hotels. It’s pretty unique I must say!
On emphasis on Family and splurging on Kid’s birthday parties
Filipinos are very family oriented, they go out on weekends all together, and I can’t recall the numbers of times we have been invited to share food just because we happened to be around. One has to attend a kids’ Birthday party to get my point loud and clear. Their Birthday parties look like our kind of engagement or even wedding party back home. It’s grand compared to the way Europeans do. They take it incredibly seriously, there are so many clowns, presents, games and they invite the whole neighborhood along with the whole clan. There is no way you would leave the party without a big bag of food and give away presents. It is very heartwarming for expats like us, so far from home.
On Motherhood starts at a young age
Philippines has a a very high (TFR) Fertility rate, ( as per 2016 World Factbook CIA report) ranking at # 53 ( 3.09) compared to France # 110 (2.08) or Switzerland, # 188 (1.55). Of course there are lots of differences, most of the women have their kids in their 20s and many young couples drag their progeniture everywhere, day and night. My kids’ friends have watched so many scary movies my children won’t watch before they turn teenagers!
On overwhelming Exposure of Filipino kids to all kinds of media
The media exposure is so overwhelming here. They are exposed at a very young age to me, and they learn to perform on stage from 4 years old and the beauty pageants start very early. This is maybe because Filipino kids are exposed to realities of life at a young age. Little children are up-to-date watching all the tele-novelas and primetime shows in TV where they see all the hard realities of life,including the funny side.Ask any young children in the street about the current dance craze or the reigning Miss Universe and they will answer to you blatantly!
On borderline of personal privacy
Filipinos adore “Blonde”babies and kids they treat them like dolls! It could come as a compliment but also could come across as crossing the borderline of privacy. Don’t be surprised if people take pics of your children without asking, it is just because they find them “gwapo” (cute). Nobody is shocked but the expats actually,we in France are very veery yy protective of our privacy and that is quite a cultural shock. We don’t want foreigners to take pictures of our children, let alone selfies! But you can always get your point with a nice smile.
On the debilitating Karaoke culture of the Philippines
Nobody, nobody, sleeps when the karaoke is on!
It is very easy to live in the Philippines as a family. The only minus being the karaoke that is so loud, night and day. But tell you what, after a couple of years here, where singing is like breathing, the kids and I are very competing with taxi drivers when the radio plays a song we know. That’s another great thing with living in the Philippines, how easy it is to laugh for anything and everything. Very very different from Europe!
On food diversity
Foodwise …Philippines is very diversed and Filipinos are definitely meat eaters. And I am vegetarian. Voila! People really used to look at me as if I had just fell from the moon when I refused the legendary “lechon” (pork) or “lechon manok” (grilled chicken). They gave me the same look when I said my kids can’t eat pastas with condensed milk and sugar or sausages with marshmallows. When it comes to junk and sweet, you can tell that the American did not leave the best behind when the Philippines became independent . But things are – slowly changing, and there are now many vegan options that are very good! And thanks Pinterest for teaching us to make the best out of the vegetables and the fruits we can find on the market (try me on eggplants and bananas 😉 )
How is it being pregnant, giving birth and raising your child away from your home country? Or relocating with your kids to another country? What are the adjustments, struggles you’ve overcome?
My kids are 4 and 5 and it is super easy. They are little sponges, absorbing the cultures, the languages, and they don’t feel foreigners in spite of their blonde hair and their long eyelashes – that always impress Korean women!
Especially now that they can speak some of the local language. You should see them in the jeepney (local bus) talking with the driver in his language, they make every one laugh so hard!
My daughter was born in France so when I was expecting her brother we wondered for a little while if we should get back to Europe. But I am so glad we did not. All the beautiful prenatal yoga classes, the perfect attention of the medical staff of the Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok were beyond all my expectations. Plus Thai people really care for pregnant women, I felt like a super VIP all the time! Everything was cheaper and far better quality than back home.
It is been really easy and fun, I feel it would be much more challenging if we had to relocate to Europe – France or Switzerland. We have lost our mute button a long time ago, and the kids hate wearing socks ..
What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid? ( TCK means a third culture that your child is growing up with compared to the culture of your husband/spouse )
Are you happy that you are raising an Expat Kid?
I wrote on this topic https://frenchtouchincebu.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/what-does-home-means-for-multicultural-kids/ and to me, it is “so far so good”. There are endless benefits of raising children abroad, they become fast learners, they adapt very fast and don’t know the meaning of racism.
So far so good because I am not sure of the benefits of this lifestyle in the long run. We are going back to France and Switzerland once a year, and it is not enough to build the kind of memories I have built with my cousins and grand parents for instance. Bless Skype, Whatassap and Viber, for sure! But nothing can replace a real big hug. That’s the reason we are planning to relocate in a country closer to home, at least a few hours by plane (direct flight!). Cebu- Paris takes us about 20h, it is definitely too far. Can’t have it all !
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
We are legends! People think we have countless helpers, a driver available 24/7 and we spend our days in SPA… And most of them have no idea of where the Philippines are!
I don’t think I am making any impact actually. Some of my friends would definitely think I am living the easy life, simply because I don’t work. They google “Cebu” and see pristine beaches. I’d rather leave them with the illusions, not mentioning the rainy season, the insane Manila traffic, how small the expat circle is here. And that the nearer beach is some 5 hours away ..
Interestingly enough, the expat life made us reinforce our links with our family much more than with our friends – unless expats themselves.
Disclaimer : All photos are owned & of personal property of Estelea, special credit to her FB page and should you wish to use it, please mention the owner.Thanks!
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