[In Her Suitcase] Breaking Down Walls, Building A Startup, and Embracing Culture with Smarla Angtuaco


In Her Suitcase is an interview section on Pink My Ride that turns the spotlight on women who inspire me, who can inspire you, and who try to create their best lives by coloring their journeys in their own unique and remarkable ways.

Smarla Angtuaco 6

I first met Smarla Angtuaco when i joined Culture Shock Philippines’ art and cultural trip to Angono, Rizal last year.  She was our assigned guide at the time and is Culture Shock’s resident food connoisseur.  As an advocate of Philippine art, heritage, and culture myself, it’s just natural that I’ve chosen to interview her for this segment!

Smarla’s excitement in promoting Philippine culture and hertiage is truly one of a kind, but what’s more admirable, for me, is her being able to overcome tremendous obstacles (most of which aren’t covered in this interview) to get to where she is now — obstacles that I’m not sure if I, myself, can overcome.  She continues to fight and push herself to break all walls just so she can do what truly make her happy — promote Philippine culture, take breathtaking photographs, and eat good food.  :)

Read on as Smarla shares with us her fondness for Philippine culture, and how she was able to break all barriers in founding Culture Shock Philippines.


So, what’s keeping you busy lately?

I recently went full time already in Culture Shock PH and crafting plans, establishing key partnerships, and responding to inquiries have been keeping me busy.

Can you tell us a bit more about your journey?  What has brought you to where you are now?  

My cheesy food blog started it all for me. When my partners, Guido and Osep, wanted to create a tour group that focused on Philippines culture & heritage tours with lots of hands-on activities and local interaction, they talked to me because I was tagged as the food girl!

Smarla Angtuaco 5

It wasn’t a quick jump for me. It took a while for me to really fall in love with what we were doing. I think what really became the turning point was when I met the Talaandig Tribe of Bukidnon for our dry run for the Talaandig Cultural Immersion Tour. Prior to the trip, I had no clue the Talaandig tribe even existed! But when I was there, I just fell head over heels for their deep rooted artistic culture. They have such a grounded sense of who they are; hence they are able to open themselves to other cultures without losing their identity. I was seriously culture shocked in a positive way! I wanted to share this same feeling to other people. The Philippines has SO MUCH to offer if only we go beyond the usual touristy photo taking fest and go outside our comfort zone.

What was the biggest bump or struggle that you had to go through along the way?  How did you overcome it?

I think it was really the belief that what we were doing was relevant and to keep pushing forward. Building a startup is INCREDIBLY HARD, so you really need the heart to keep pursuing it and to keep breaking down walls. It can get really tiring,especially after a string of rejections and failures.

Angono Rizal

It helps to have the best partners in the world who keep pushing you to continue on. I’m quite of an impatient perfectionist, which is not exactly always helpful when you’re building a startup. The impatience helps with the eagerness to execute right away, but you need all the patience in the world to wait for the seeds that you planted to grow at the right time.

Also when we started meeting the right clientele who were outside our circle of friends, their enthusiasm for our tours and our personal discoveries fueled us and inspired us to keep exploring and then creating itineraries out of them to share them to the rest of the world.

Any amazing discoveries about yourself along the ride?

I’m a nerd and an introvert so it was such a revelation for me when I learned that I can actually guide a tour group. I thought only extroverts can put themselves in such a position!

Smarla Angtuaco 8

Also, I learned that my genuine curiosity & sassy and crass nature actually allow me to connect easily with people from the province. I’m not sure why but I guess they appreciate my sincerity and admiration for their art & culture.

Who or what inspires you to keep going?

The people we meet along the way: our partners, clients, fellow culture & heritage advocates, locals, etc. Their love for the country is just so infectious; we have been bitten by the bug quite badly. =P

What’s in store for the road ahead?

We want to make Philippine culture & heritage fresh, young, and hip, to make it more relevant and attainable to more people rather than just the “educated elite snobs” or the older crowd. We are expanding our tours to cater to those with less time to spare, so we are making shorter 3-6 hour tours and more workshops. We also plan to make more specialized tours like a Pampanga Culinary Tour where you actually get to cook 2-3 Kapampangan dishes with local cooks or an intensive Angono Art Workshop with the local artists.

We are also expanding to merchandise to reach more people like maps, shirts, accessories, mugs, and the like to feature different facets of our culture, especially regions and tribes that are less popular. There’s so much more to the Philippines that what our country is already marketing, we just need to keep exploring!

Smarla Angtuaco 4

We’re also building strategic partnerships to push our advocacy further at a faster pace. We need more like-minded people to team up with!

For me, Culture Shock PH is really my baby so bulk of my time will be spent traveling and creating itineraries, since I’m now in charge of tour development. So if you have any tour requests, let me know!

What does “coloring the journey” mean to you?

 I think coloring the journey is really living a full life, a discerned life. =) It’s not going about your day like a zombie and just going auto pilot. It’s really living a life of intent by exploring the world around you and in the process, discovering your unique self as well. It’s really making your life a product of your conscious choices to make it your own.

Smarla Angtuaco1

Life is a journey and in every trip or journey, we bring suitcases.  Inside our “life suitcases” are the lessons we have picked up along the journey that we take with us wherever we go.  What’s in your suitcase?

1. Live curious. Albert Einstein puts it perfectly, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, imagination embraces the entire world!”

2. Shake it off!  Make friends and ignore enemies!

3. Austin Kleon says, “Write the book that you want to read.” I think it’s the same thing when you think about your biography. “Write your own biography that you want to read.” It’s really about living a conscious & well discerned life. Life is too short to just coast through it, instead, go out there and LIVE!


Thanks again, Smarla, for your time, passion, and energy!  I know that this interview does not capture your entire story but one thing’s for sure — your personal story inspires me, and I know that a lot more people can draw strength from it.

Show Smarla some love by following her on the worldwide web:

Blog: http://www.everydaysweetnotes.com
Culture Shock PH Website: http://www.cultureshockph.com
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/smarlaang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *