Today, we sat down and chatted with Ria’s own Search Marketing Manager, Sharon Vallar, to talk about her memories of growing up in the Philippines, her travels, and why she sends money with Ria.
Let’s start with the basics. What do you do at Ria?
I handle Ria’s search marketing campaigns, both paid and organic. To put it more simply, let’s say you go to Google and want to search “money transfer”. Google will list all these results but how does it decide the order that these results will appear? My job is to get Ria to show up at the very top of that list. It’s called “Search Engine Optimization”.
So, you’re a bit of a Google master then! That’s a great skill to have. Now, if I were to limit you to 5 or 6 words to describe yourself, what would you say?
I think I’m brave and fearless. I’m not afraid of taking risks. Believe it or not, I’m a little shy. I believe they call that being a social introvert. I’m adventurous too. I love to learn and am very curious.
As someone who describes themselves as fearless, what’s one of the craziest things you’ve ever done?
In 2008, I backpacked through Southeast Asia by myself. I quit my job, sold everything that I had and travelled through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for almost 2 months. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.
Talk about an amazing experience! And one that requires a certain level of independence. Now, I know you were born in Janiuay, Iloilo and have been in the US since 2009. What do you miss about living in the Philippines?
I miss the beaches and my family. And the culture. It’s very different. Not that it’s better or worse, it’s just different.
Different in what way?
One of the things that comes to mind, in terms of differences, is the independence of Americans. Here, when you turn 18, everyone wants to get out of their parents’ houses and live on their own, or even move to a different city.
In the Philippines, it’s different. Family is so interwoven into every second, every minute, of our daily lives. Which is why parents there want to keep their kids home for as long as possible.
That’s crazy! I know when I was 18 I couldn’t wait to move out of my parents’ house. Do most children abide by their parents’ request to stay home?
Yes, many adults live with their parents, even as they’re married. My sister lives between my parents’ or her husband’s parents’ home. She doesn’t have a home of her own, despite being a doctor. And this isn’t seen as a weakness or detriment to still live with your parents like it is here. It’s just the way it has always been. If there’s an extra room in the house, stay there! It’s just common sense.
Well it’s hard to argue common sense. Now, what’s something most people don’t know about the Philippines?
There are over 100 dialects there! I was born in the Western Philippines but spent most my childhood in the Southern Philippines which is why I can speak three of the major languages. I could go one island over and people could be talking about me but I would have no idea what they’re saying. The languages are that different in terms of intonation, accents, and even the words themselves. One story I like to tell is how the word “feet” is different in my hometown than it is if you head an hour north to the city.
Sounds like things could easily get lost in translation. What’s one of your favorite memories from your childhood?
I grew up in a village in Surigao del Sur that was essentially a giant rainforest. I mean, the sound of hornbills was something I heard daily. On the weekends, my friends and I would go to this park in our village where we would encounter tribes of monkeys. Of course, the little boys in our group would try to taunt the monkeys. The funny thing is the monkeys would taunt us right back, and throw fruits and seeds at us.
You previously mentioned that family is such an important component of Filipino culture. Has it been hard living apart from your family?
I’ve certainly encountered some challenges along the way living here without my family but it’s also forced me to get to know myself and helped me realize what I’m capable of. I stay in touch with them regularly and even send them money for holidays, birthdays, and to help when they’re struggling financially.
When it comes to sending money abroad, what matters most when you need to get money back to loved ones?
When I send, there are two things that matter most to me. One, reliability. That the money I’m sending will get where it needs to go, no matter what. And two, security. I worked hard to earn what I’m sending so knowing that my money is safe and will end up in the right hands gives me peace of mind.
I have sent money on numerous occasions with Ria, and it’s never failed me. I know I can count on the company that I work for to get my money where it needs to go. And that feels good.