Celia: "I wasn't expecting that Alexandria could be this ancient and still wonderfully existent"

Expat interviews
  • Celia in Alexandria
Published on 2013-09-04 at 02:00 by Expat.com team
Celia is from the Philippines. She moved to Alexandria, Egypt, in May 2012 where she was offered a job position for a UK company. She discovers the city and enjoys the Mediterranean sea while adapting to the country's customs.

Why did you decide to move to Alexandria?

When I accepted the offshore job about 4 years ago, the assignment was originally to be relocated to Egypt but due to visa and documentation issues, plan had been changed and moved me instead to China, so it wasn't my choice really. However, constant change in the market and the business needs triggered the company to do something to relocate me in Alexandria.

How was the moving process?

To familiarize the place, I was sent here initially for a 10-day visit. I liked the place near the seafront.

Have you ever lived abroad before?

I started travelling or working offshore since 2005 but it was a short stint then. 2009 was when I started living outside my country. I spent two years in China, then Bangladesh, short visit in Cambodia, then Egypt.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

Oh yes, it's been difficult during the first months. The language, customs, and way of life were a complete culture shock for me. Not all people speak English even in the hotel where I first stayed and the staff there openly asked for tips, would not leave until you give them any amount. Taxi drivers topped their prices when you're a foreigner. No traffic enforcers any-where so they drive anywhere and anyhow they want. Outside the hotel where carrying your luggage is a job requirement, men will not lift a finger to help you, though people I met in the workplace are friendly and warm. My second visit was a little better as the company I work with has arranged an accommodation for me. It was very near the workplace though farther from the seafront.

What formalities did you have to go through in order to be able to live and work in Alexandria?

None really, except that my line manager has given me few tips in advance on what to expect, what to wear, where to go, stuff like that. Before I embark to live in any country, I make sure I read something about its history and know a little background and its way of life.

How did you found your job: any tips to share with the other members?

I'm an Industrial Engineer but most of my experience is in quality, merchandising, purchasing, production and inventory control. I've been in the garment industry for over 20 years and focused mainly in Philippines, my home country. Working offshore was never in my plan, though I have always liked the adventure, being spontaneous, free spirited, active and exploring new things. When a colleague friend asked me if I would be interested to work in Egypt, I immediately gave her my work resume without hesitation nor asking her which company or what position. During that time, my marriage was in the verge of breaking down so I wasn't really thinking well. After a month, I got an email from a company thanking me for showing interest in the job position which I replied confusingly. It was the job that my colleague friend had asked me and I was instructed to appear for an interview in one of the 5 star hotels in Makati, Philippines by the company's HR director and Commercial director from UK. I didn't know the job was advertised in the newspaper as there were 80 applicants for only 3 positions. The job found me and I feel that this is my destiny, traveling and working offshore.
To other members of this group: follow your heart, go out of your comfort zone. There is al-ways a place for you, somewhere, especially made for you. The experience and the life itself outside will mould you, will help you become the person you want to be; to be the best that you can be.

What surprised you the most in Alexandria?

I wasn't expecting that Alexandria could be this ancient and still wonderfully existent.

Is it easy to meet new people in Alexandria?

Thru the expat blog, it helps me a lot. So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for meeting friends here.

Could you please share with us something you like about Alexandria and something you don't like?

I like the seafront, the Mediterranean sea. It's surprisingly amazing, the sunset and just sitting in the seawall is very relaxing. Waking up in the morning smelling the fresh breeze from the sea; the architectural structures and the historical places like Qaitbay Fortress, the Bibliotheca Library, the Lighthouse and other wonderful places I would never have imagined I could ever visit; that I could at the very least wear a sleeveless top at work haha. In any country, there will always be indifferences, good and bad quality and Alexandria is certainly no different. People at the factory I work with are very nice and helpful. I like that I live near the work place, just a walking distance to a plaza or mall where I buy home and personal stuffs. I don't like the fanatical Islamists whose ideologies are incomprehensible, at least for me. No sense of urgency. They have this habit of doing things 'tomorrow' and not moving from their seats no matter how urgent things could be. I still can't go out alone without the fear of being harassed by some locals. One time I was walking down the street for a grocery shopping when two young men just grabbed my butt.

Tell us more about your day-to-day life in Alexandria:

It's always been a challenge for a woman traveling alone in any country except when you are just touring around. As you are aware by now, the crisis in Egypt is not as encouraging as it was and therefore it's so much challenging. More caution and awareness has to be exerted. Can't go out at night nor on weekends anymore due to the state of emergency declared about 3 weeks ago and has to respect the curfew. Like in any other places I've visited, there are nice and rude people so I have to be ready for all those in my daily routine. Even if my apartment is just a walking distance from work, I had to ask security guards to walk me to and from home, for my safety.

How the crisis in Egypt has impacted your day-to-day life? How do you live it through the eyes of a "foreigner"?

Crisis in Egypt has made a lot of change in my daily routine. My coming home to Philippines on first week of September has been postponed as my colleague who will switch place with me was not given a visit visa. I also had to ask for a security escort going to and from work; can't go out anywhere except work and the store. After Ramadan or the Eid feast, I planned for a Nile cruise in the southern part of Egypt but it came to a halt.
Since I've lived in other countries prior here in Alexandria, I am aware of the limitations living in a foreign country. Just have to respect the people and their customs, traditions and try to adopt to their styles as far as you can allow yourself to.

What do you miss the most from the Philippines, your home country?

In the Philippines, we are used to walking around in shorts, at malls, streets, visiting friends or basically anywhere, anytime. I miss wearing dresses and skirts, too; the food, like Krispy Kreme donuts; my family especially my two children; going out at night, chilling, having fun with friends.

Which habits or customs of Alexandria did you adopt since living here?

I can speak a little Arabic now and I'm still learning.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to settle in Alexandria?

It will always be the same in any country other than from your origin so always expect the unexpected. Prepare yourself for every little challenge the moment you set foot at the airport. Be flexible and be patient.

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