Common Cultural Characteristics Across Southeast Asian Countries

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When planning to study abroad, a major factor that affects your destination decision is the proximity to home. Flights are cheaper, cultures aren’t too different, and chances are visas are easier to bag. So if you’re worried about culture shock but still want a taste of independence in a not-so-far-away land, then studying in Southeast Asia is your best bet!

And did you know that Edukasyon.ph has partner schools across Southeast Asia? Check out universities in Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam on our Study Abroad portal! 

As travel destinations, southeast Asian countries are pretty breathtaking, too. Not to mention you’ll be getting your money’s worth. In fact, Southeast Asian countries are known for their relatively low cost of living, the sense of community and hospitality, and don’t get us started on the food! Sounds a lot like the Philippines, no?

There are so many similarities among Southeast Asian countries, you might not even notice you’re away from home! Let’s go over a few of them before you set sail and call one of our friendly neighboring islands home.

Rain or shine type of weather

Much like it is here in the Philippines, our neighboring countries have two seasons: wet and dry. Or as the locals like to joke, “Hot and hotter.” It’s pretty predictable since we’re all located near the equator. So pack light—but, depending on your location, pack modest clothes! No need for fluffy coats here. Though you’ll definitely need a raincoat and boots. There’s no escape from monsoon and typhoon season. You can always bank on the balmy or blustery weather to start a conversation.

People are polite, friendly, and hospitable!

Don’t be afraid to ask for directions or to start making friends if you’re in a social environment. People in southeast Asia are known to place a high value on community and social harmony which manifests in their disposition. They’re mostly easy-going and non-confrontational. Much of it is based on strong values passed on from d high regard for tradition and religion, which brings us to our next section. 

Respect for religion, family, and elders.

As for social etiquette or behavior, most people in Southeast Asia have a strong sense of courtesy and respect. Especially for their elders. So if you’re taking public transport, it’s customary to offer your seat to the elderly—if the assigned seats haven’t all been taken up yet. You’ll find that public spaces and social events are very family-friendly.

Additionally, people tend to be very discreet and “conservative.” Whether it’s in the way they speak or dress. It’s mostly borne from the value system they learned through their elders and religion—be it Buddhism or Islam. 

Southeast Asia is a cultural and culinary melting pot

Don’t be surprised if you find similar dishes and delicacies to your Filipino faves. Food also becomes a social affair, a communal act. So you won’t be missing the feel of a homecooked meal or the song of street food around the corner! Connect with new friends through meals—food is a d experience.

The culinary parallels in the region are due to our d histories. Centuries ago, our peoples migrated together then traded with China and India. So bank on lots of rice and familiar cooking methods. Likely, you’ll measure up your fave halo-halo memory to ice kachang, your lumpiang shanghai to Vietnamese cha gio, the taho to tau huay, even an empanada to a curry puff. But why bother comparing when it’s our very diversities that make these dishes so delicious? 

Ready, jet set, and go lah! Check out more of our travel tips and international student guides on the Study Abroad section on the Edukasyon.ph blog!

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Tags: Malaysiasingaporesoutheast asiasoutheast asian countriesstudy abroadstudy in malaysiastudy in singaporestudy in southeast asiastudy in vietnamVietnam

About the author

Belle O. Mapa

As a child, Belle O. Mapa fell in love with books and fairytales. So she pursued a BFA in Creative Writing at the Ateneo de Manila University. Belle now lives out her passion: writing stories, hosting creative journaling workshops, and advocating for mental health awareness. You can find her chasing productivity tips on Edukasyon PH—or geeking out at your local craft store.

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