This month’s World Urbanista has been living abroad for only five years, yet she has been an expat at an esteemed company, finished her Masters, got married, and built a home in France, while teaching in a business school and taking PhD in a French city. Her free time is spent on relaxing, travelling and spending time with family (her husband and their beagle) or getting in touch with family and friends in the Philippines.
“I was sent to Bangkok on a regional assignment,” says Tin, who just turned 30, “I was to work in a regional office in the Asia Pacific region for a year, with the objective of sharing expertise, as the HQ was just erected at that time.” Afterwards, opportunity allowed her to stay for half a year longer.
As if the universe has conspired to give her a good life that she deserved for all hard work since college, she met the love of her life in Nagoya, Japan, two years before she went to Bangkok. This would change everything forever.
It was in a conference hosted by the company headquarters when she crossed paths with Jean-Nicolas Verleene, who was with the Quality Department in France that time. Like in movies, they exchanged stories, mandatory business cards, then a few emails. Gradually these two strangers from different sides of the world, brought together by serendipity, were drawn closer to each other.
Nico, no doubt love-struck, visited Tin when she went to Bangkok. “We had an amazing time during our vacation, and when he went back to France, we decided to be a couple despite the distance! We spent the following Christmas together in the Philippines (2009), then I had my first trip to France in 2010,” she says, then wedding bells in 2012.
“The decision to move to France was both a professional and personal decision,” she said. She knew that staying in the company could have opened more opportunities for growth but she had always wanted to take post-graduate studies and seek change in her life.
“I found a well-regarded business school that offered me partial scholarship for a Master in International Business degree, and the fact that Nico would be there for me made the decision much easier,” she says. “I felt that the stars have rightly aligned, so I made the big move.”
Was living in France a cultural shock to the young bride?
“Oh, definitely!” she replies, “The language was particularly challenging.” Tin, originally from Calamba, Laguna, graduated magna cum laude at the University of the Philippines Los Baños with a degree in Communication Arts, and speaking out her thoughts has been her most-prized skill. “Words are extensions of who I am, and for a few months, when I was barely speaking French, it was like losing myself, as it was difficult to express my thoughts and feelings all the time.”
She shares, meals often found her quiet and sleepy, especially with what she calls “long French conversations about the economy and politics and anything under the sun” with their friends or Nico’s family. “Eventually, my French got a lot better, so now I’m able to be more expressive, and even make jokes during family meals.”
Located north of France, Lille is an international hub that has the charm of big European cities. It is the fourth largest metropolis in the country after Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Tin says cultural norms and habits are of course different from the Philippines’. “People tend to be more individualistic here than back home—but I believe I’m culturally mature enough to deal with these differences.”
“Also, Lille is a lot ‘friendlier’ than other French cities. It is a student city—the city hosts many exchange students every year, so seeing foreigners is a norm.”
And since Lille is closer to Belgium than Paris, they would spend every Saturday of her first ‘French’ year in a Belgian town if they’re not visiting other places in France.
“Unlike most travelers who try to squeeze in as many cities as possible in their week-long trips, we prefer to spend time and soak up the culture in the places we visit; well, as much as our vacation leaves permit,” she says, recounting that they stayed in the Netherlands for a week, then two weeks in three cities in Italy.
In 2012 they also went to Sagada, Boracay, and of course, around Laguna during their trip to the Philippines.
While Tin loves to observe people, see interesting places, and savor the local cuisine, Nico is more into high-octane activities, such as land or water sports. “So, we always make it a point to have both,” says Tin.
Early 2013, Tin and Nico bought a 2-storey house with 3 bedrooms, a garage, and a garden in the city, to have more space than the 1-bedroom apartment they had rented. They’re still renovating their abode previously owned by an old couple, but dreams never end for the couple as they hope to find a parcel of land in say, 5 years, to build their dream house.
“For now,” says Tin, “we are putting our own touches in our home through the furniture and décor, and that’s pretty exciting.”
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Written by: Ai Macalintal. Ai couldn’t stay in one place for too long, so she’s always walking, traveling or changing address. She’s been an editor in Singapore and has written for Aussie magazines, but penning stories about the Philippines delights her most.