In honor of turning 33, I made a self-reflection of my almost-a-decade-journey of being an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).
Disclaimer: This is purely from my own personal recount of events as well as meeting fellow OFWs on my travels and from my experiences in a foreign country. I meant no offense to anyone.
1. I have never fully understood the "hype" of Filipinos going abroad until I set foot on NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) for the very first time, on June 6, 2006 and saw hundreds & hundreds of us with luggage filled with hope for an unknown future.
2. And just like most OFW first-timers, I had zero clue of what my life would be in a new foreign land.
3. Leaving home was like re-living my first major break up! It was devastatingly painful.
4. I cried. And cried. And cried-- for days, without telling or showing anyone around me, how much I missed home and all the people inside it.
5. I was scared of losing my friends back home, and so I swear that I'll always keep in touch. But then slowly drifted because, just like any changes in life, you can't control people's lives from happening.
6. Surprisingly, I learned that I have a strong survival instinct, that came out naturally-- whenever I needed to tell myself that I have to make it.
7. Coming to a new foreign and gigantic country, for the very first time, like China, was both awkwardly familiar and an eye-opener to me, maybe because of our Asian demographic. I didn't do any research, so I thought they were still living on imperial times. I was sad to find out that they wear normal clothes. ;)
8. It fascinated me how our way of life as Filipinos, although very different from theirs, yet somehow there's an inkling of similarities. Like: They, too, are family-oriented. They spend time with their families. They eat rice. They love hanging out with their neighbors & friends. They play mahjong for good times sake!
9. As OFWs, I learned that we need to be surrounded by fellow Filipinos in order to cure, homesickness. Yes, a Filipino house party abroad is a MUST!
10. We need Filipino food in order to feel that we've never been away from home.
11. We need Filipino music (or if we're lucky, videoke) to entertain our blues away.
12. A big number of us, OFWs have deep and sad stories to tell, and as to why we left the country in the first place. They are all, pang-Maalaala-Mo-Kaya worthy! Dear Ate Charo lang ang peg! :)
13. But nothing beats my admiration to all Filipino mothers, who have selflessly sacrificed their own children's growing years in exchange for a stranger's child/children and family to take care of.
14. I have never felt so humbled in my whole life, when I came across Filipinas in Hong Kong, after hearing their stories, their sacrifices, and their heartbreaking jobs-- all for the love and service to their families, that oftentimes, get unacknowledged.
15. We don't make easy money. Like everyone else, we also wake up very early and come home late at night-- to earn every cent and penny and paper bills, we sent to our families back home. We also have bills to pay. We also have foods to buy that are even three (to ten) times higher from the prices back home.
16. OUR LIFE ABROAD IS TOUGH. Even tougher than most of you. Because we have to adjust to the new dynamic of our family relationships. We have to deal with the culture, the people, and the language that are too foreign to us. We have to overcome racism. We have to overcome maltreatment at work. We have to overcome missing out on family celebrations. We have to sacrifice for years(!) of not being able to go back home. That's how tough it is.
17. Our façade life is a reminder that we need to stay stronger! That's why you'll never hear us complain, you'll never see our sad faces, you'll never hear our cries at night-- that even if some of us are already being abused and almost at the brink of losing our dear lives.
18. And having been to observe and experience a foreign culture, it made me think that our country and as Filipino people, WE CAN DEFINITELY ALL EXCEL IN ANY FIELDS WE CHOOSE.
19. We have so much potential. We are very skillful. We are very hardworking. We have common sense! And because we can literally adjust to anything, we can gradually change the world's stereotyping about us-- we are not just domestic helpers. We are the best and initiative(!) workers out there. And our domestic helpers are not idiots. They work with genuine compassion, utmost respect, and true kindness.
20. And with this in mind, we need to help each other rather than compete with each other. Stop the "inggit" (jealousy) or putting another Filipino down. It's about time to address this. A sensible human person and even religiously at that, will never ever do this. So be of help. Be a true friend. Be an inspiration. We will never move forward or excel as a nation, simply because of this.
21. Stop the hate. Stop the shaming of our (fellow) Overseas Filipino Workers. Just because your job is more skillful and more compensated, or even if you immigrated abroad, it doesn't mean you're not one of us.
22. Regardless of the amount we send as remittances, we are also contributing to the 13.5% of Philippine's GDP. So each of us deserves to be treated with respect and equality.
23. The truth of the matter, we are not the only migrant workers in the world searching for a better life for our families. Chinese, Mexicans, Indians, Pakistanis, Russians, Ukrainians, Africans, Georgians, Puerto Ricans, Thais, Greeks, Americans, and Canadians-- they were just some of the people I've met who have shared their own stories of finding a better life outside their home countries.
24. And as an OFW, I learned that I can stop the stereotyping about us, Filipinos-- by proving to my employers (and colleagues) that I am better at my job. In fact, I'm the best. I learned to learn what is needed to learn.
25. I did not stop asking questions. I started learning the city or place (Beijing) I lived in. I first learned the transportation systems (getting from point A to point B) and the interesting places to go, see & eat. I also learned a bit of their history and read a lot about the latest news of their country (and other countries). And more importantly, their laws (the DOs and DONTs).
26. Because of this, I did not only gain respect from my colleagues, but also their admiration, because I know their city (or country) better than them. Key words: be knowledgeable.
27. Read! Read! Read! Be informed and be-on-the-know of the country you are currently living in! Immerse yourself in the city, or town, or country just like a local! Trust me: It's liberating!
28. Don't pass up the chance to engage a conversation with the locals or your colleagues. Don't be the Mr-Know-It-All though. There's a fine line between being smart and boastful. Feed your curiosity.
29. When i was in the US, everyone is telling me that this is THE DREAM LIFE, I beg to disagree. I've fully understood the scale of: Americans live to work. Sadly, I have to point out that despite having everything they need, they have depressing lives out here. I now understand why some of them chose to live in Asia. And oh, they have high crime problems, too. Just so you know.
30. So coming from the Philippines and having lived in China, I have greatly appreciated our simple way of life, spending time with our families on weekends, being connected to our neighbors & friends, and having no qualms, as long as we can eat three meals a day-- we're already blessed.
31. Sadly, we are being governed by corrupt politicians, who continue to fool us every election day. And we only get to see the BIG picture, and truly understand corruption when we step outside of the Philippines.
32. And just like millions of OFWs across the world, I can only express my dismay and frustrations from a foreign land regarding our government and its officials. But we can change this, if we will start voting for TRUE LEADERS.
33. So my wish and prayers is that, one day, hopefully, still in my lifetime, that GOING ABROAD will only be a CHOICE, not a necessity for us, Filipinos!