French touch in Philippines

Kids on the boat: no, it is not so hard to get used to island life.
Kids on the boat: no, it is not so hard to get used to island life.

French Mum, humanitarian, restless explorer and doer on sabbatical in Cebu (Philippines): one Attila in each arm, I am exploring the “toddlers safe” corners of the region, while trying to keep some room for Me.

After a decade of humanitarian assignments, Estelea decided to enjoy with her family the exotic life in Cebu, Philippines. “I thought I had a very demanding job before I became a full time expat Mom and do the job of 10 for free! My Attilas are the reason I Wake up each morning, the reason I breathe and why my hair is turning grey, my house is a mess and I am in dire need of yoga”, she says. Restless explorers, French touch in Cebu invite us to think about motherhood, how to keep the kids busy and their expat life in South East Asia.

I am very interested about knowing the Philippines culture from the vision of an European family, with customs and way of life totally different. Could you tell us some details about life in Cebu, adaptation to the country and its people?

It is very easy to adapt to the Filipino life. It is very lay back and very welcoming. Plus Filipino’ s English is very good, making our life very easy.

What’s most striking about the Philippines is how child friendly the country is. Kids are super welcome anywhere and will find friends among the staff of every hotel, restaurant, café…


There has never been a day when I had to apologize for the behavior of my toddlers, they are always welcome anywhere. Not that they are so perfect, far from that. Just that people understand that kids will be kids, and they are giving a hand. Even shopping with kids become a fun experience. It is so incredibly relaxing, compared to Europe…

Baggies: just a glimpse of how children friendly the main supermarkets are.

Filipino are very direct and ask questions. There is no real sense of privacy, no taboo question. First ones are usually “where are you from and what is your religion?” then “how many children do you have?” Often followed by “How old are you?”. Beware, being 40 is already old here. You enter in the “granny” category, and they are always so surprised that we French can have children so late (in our 30s). It is all relative, Filipinos of the former generation used to have 10 children per family. Now it seems to go down to 4 on an average. And they have them young, in their early 20s.

The only major difference between our culture and theirs is the notion of time: when you are given an appointment time at 14h00, nobody will show off before 14h30 the earliest. It’s called “Filipino time”. Same for diner. Never show up on time, nobody will be ready. To make sure, just ask if we are talking “Filipino time” or “Occidental time”.

I imagine that for someone who has worked in the humanitarian sector, continuously in contact with other cultures, it must be easier but… How was the cultural shock for the little ones? What kind of education, social life and activities are they enjoying there?

Our Dream Team by the jeepney, the traditional Filipino bus.
Going for a ride on a motorcycad (motorbike turned into a sidecar).

My kids are 3 and 4, and at this age they adapt so easily. Plus the fact that they are blond and speak a bit of Cebuano is definitely helping. They are always the center of attention, people of all age always stop them for endless selfie sessions..

They is much more freedom here too. The kids are used to clap their hands to call the tricycad driver, and it’s much more fun to ride there than in a Parisian taxi (for a short distance though, if it’s not raining).

Any resto or café, the kids will for sure be playing with the waiters.
Any resto or café, the kids will for sure be playing with the waiters.

Education for their age range is very good. In CH, kids go to school from 7 yo. Here they can start nursery at 2 and they don’t only play, they learn. Both my kids are learning Mandarin and my 4 yo can already count and write and read. My 3 is a close follower.

There love all their extra curriculum activities, from cooking classes to ballet, hop hop, and even singing on stage (remember we are in the Philippines, where karaoke is an institution even for children).

Every mall has sections for kids (playgrounds). A bit too noisy for me, but lots of fun for them.

Could you tell us how this experience has affected you as a couple? Decision making, take the big step… Do you think this adventure has made you closer?

We are more than a fam, we are a team.

This is us! Our Dream Team by the jeepney, the traditional Filipino bus.
This is us! Our Dream Team by the jeepney, the traditional Filipino bus.

Our travels have definitely strenghthen our links. We discover together and I believe we are exchanging more than if we had stayed within our “comfort zone”.

The parents (Marcel and Estelea).
The parents (Marcel and Estelea).

There are times when we do feel the culture shock, when we are home sick and fed up, it feels so good to know we can stand by each other because we do understand where we are coming from. I feel we are not only learning together, we are also really growing together.

Now is time for a few less exciting questions but really useful for families who are considering a move abroad:

How were the administrative preparations (health insurance, embassies, visa, finding a home, a school…) before moving? 

My husband’s company only took care of the shipping. We got all the infos re: the health insurance on the website of our Embassy.

The rest was on us. I spent endless hours on the web screening expats blogs, trying to get a clear idea of where we were heading.. But even though Cebu is the second largest town in the Philippines I could not find much relevant information. So we simply rented a condo via Airbnb and took it from there: got  list of the schools and visited them all. A colleague sent us the contacts of an agent who helped us with finding our condo (pretty fast!).

I discovered some very useful expat groups on Facebook such as Cebu Foreigners and International Cebu Club.

My 2 cent tip: talk with the taxi drivers. They are a mine of info about the city, the distances, the schools, anything to do with the kids… And obviously the other kids’ mothers at school, ballet and music.

It took us a couple of months to really settle down. Furniture and yoga pass included 🙂


Could you give us some tips for those who would like to be a “minimalist family” as rich as yours and its benefits?

Being Minimalist is being more simple:  it s not about deprivation, but creating space for living.

We started by asking ourselves: which items would fit in our back pack? That we can’t find anywhere. 

Ms Attila and her best friend in their traditional Filipiniana attire.
Ms Attila and her best friend in their traditional Filipiniana attire.

Those enriching experiences, have they changed you as family and as individual? If you go back to Europe, do you think your life will be the same as it was before or what will change?

Oh yes! As a family, we are very close to each other.

I also want to believe that our kids are raised with an open heart and mind. We are the foreigners, the ones who are different – my children are so easy to spot, the only blond with curly hair, taller than all their classmates. So we make the effort to understand the culture and the ways of our host country. There is always so much to discuss about, especially because our kids are so curious. Last hot topics : why do Filipinos have such flat nose ?

What can my friend KimKim see exactly? Her eyes are so small, do you think I can see more than her?


Back to Europe..this is a very interesting question we’ve been asking ourselves in the last months. On one hand, I miss my family and friends very much, and I’d love my kids to make memories with their cousins and grand parents. I really miss the culture and the energy of the French capital where I grew up. And the food ..There is so much Skype and Vibercan substitute with…

On another hand, I wonder if we would feel as free: The kids learn so much in our travels, the more I read about Europe economy, the more depressed I become. Will we meet like minded people? How will we fit in? What will we do there? From abroad, my native country seems so close minded… We don’t know yet where our next assignment will be, the best option would be to make it with a short and direct flight to Europe though 🙂

Going back to Europe? Not so sure…
Going back to Europe? Not so sure…

If you want to know how the adventures of Estelea’s family continues: French touch in Cebu  !


If you’re starting your own adventure expat in Belgium, you need expert information or to meet people that are in your same situation, join the e-community of Settle & Connect !


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