My journey on expat living as an OFW!
June 6 of 2006, at age 24, I stepped into Ninoy Aquino International Airport for the very first time. Not to pick up anyone from the arrival area, but for me to get on a huge plane flying into Beijing, China.
I was a naïve probinsyana, without really understanding what it meant to leave the country that day. I can still remember my very curious eyes—looking at hundreds of Filipinos around me, most of them looking very sad or have just wiped their tears from crying too much.
It was only later I realized, that these are the bravest and strongest men & women from across the country, that we labeled as Overseas Filipino Workers. Most of whom, are also first-timers that day. Oblivious with my surroundings, I didn’t know that I will also be called an OFW, from then on.
I said strongest and bravest, because they are the modern-day heroes of the country—leaving behind their own families, to seek for a greener pasture so that they can send thousands of pesos each month for their families’ everyday needs, school education, health medicines, and material lifestyle.
When I arrived in Beijing after almost eight hours of traveling, stopping by Hong Kong— it dawned on me that I’m already thousands of miles away from my family and loved ones. There was a certain feeling of excitement, yet loneliness. There was a certain feeling of curiosity but also feeling lost. I felt mixed emotions that were of no meaning to me before, but all of a sudden came in waves—from days, to weeks, and months.
I have genuinely understood the true meaning of homesickness.
For a period of one year, I tried to familiarize my new surroundings and environment. Me, having a curious-observer personality, has learned to navigate my way in no time. I may not have learned the Chinese language very easily, but I learned the language of patience, kindness, and open-mindedness— that made me survived the huge city of Beijing without getting into trouble.
I was in constant communication with my families and friends, because I missed them terribly. But when I started to create a daily routine with my new life, in my new community with my newfound friends— the calls and chats became lesser. I learned to embrace the new things and the new opportunities around me. The sooner I accepted that I’m no longer in the Philippines, the sooner I made new fun memories. Sometimes, it made me felt guilty, but at most times, when I had lots of fun, I couldn’t care less anymore with the guilt.
I moved on to a different direction with my life, so to speak. Which I thought made me stronger and fight back my homesickness.
After exactly a year, I went back home to decide whether I’m staying in China or go back home indefinitely.
This time, the decision was easier. I’m staying in China.
I felt lost in our own family home. Sure there was a feeling of familiarity, but after being away for one year— all I felt was strangeness because it’s not the same for me anymore. For example, I couldn’t find where the coffee and sugar are. Or how to turn on the gas stove because it’s different from mine. Or just the comfort of my bed. Small details but big feelings.
I can no longer relate to the topics of my former colleagues and friends. They have inside jokes that I can’t laugh with them. I told them about my life in China, but none of them can relate to my stories. They told me about their lives but all I can think of in my head, saying to them— you can do better than that! We tried to reconnect but we knew their was a certain invisible gap that we will subtly acknowledge. I mean, we still love talking with each other, but it’s all mainly about the past— where I belonged. We seldom made a talk about the future or the present moment. These days, I’m only in constant communication with friends who lived as an OFW.
The town looked smaller to me. And for the first time, I felt suffocated and bored. I was looking for the energy and vibe that my body was used with for one year in Beijing. But it meant that I have to go to the city and search for it. And when I went, it’s not the same. Funnily enough, when I was in Beijing, I was looking for that peace and simplicity of my hometown. Yet, when it’s right in front of me, all I felt was uneasiness.
I complained and compared the way things are from my life in China. Which made me grumpy and angry, in a way. But my comparison was mostly on how things were readily available to me or how efficiency was a huge part of finishing a task. I found myself on several government offices one day— trying to comply their gazillions of requirements being an OFW. And all of the persons I dealt with that day, were neither helpful or productive with their jobs. They made everything harder, unclear, and remotely impossible to finish! How I survived that day, was even wild to me! #OnlyInThePhilippines
I learned that my open-mindedness is not normal to most of my families and friends. One year of immersion in a culture somewhat different (and a little similar) from ours, has opened my eyes in many perspectives. I appreciated our values and cultures in many ways, for sure. But at the same time there were certain things that definitely falls on the category of “I wish we could do this back home.” That when I conveyed this message to my families and friends, I struck as somehow self-righteous or boastful to them. (And most likely how you will think of me after reading this whole post.)
Although I became more appreciative of mother nature and how beautiful the Philippines is, I was sad to see the picture of how we have abuse that beauty for the sake of money-making and tourism. Everything has a price. Everything needs to be paid first before you get to enjoy the beauty and scenery. I would have understand the price tag, if it also extended to the development of the area. But sadly, no.
It also pains me to see that although we are gearing towards for a better country, we are still electing corrupt officials and still treat them as GOD wherever they go. When can we learn that these officials are representing us?!? Which means their job is to serve and care for our needs— not the other way around. We are not suppose to be intimidated by them, they’re suppose to openly communicate with us in order to hear what problems needed to be solved. They’re not suppose to take the people’s money for their personal needs and luxurious lifestyle, because that money is intended for all of our education, health, and welfare. And most of all, they’re not allowed to put their names on any government projects. It’s the most douche-bag and asshole move ever!
I love the Philippines! Always have been and always will.
I have promoted the country in any possible and little way that I can— may it be our food, our scenery, and our culture. We are the most fun-loving, resilient, generous, hospitable, and kindest humans in these planet. We love to give. We love to share. We love to make other people laugh. We value our families in the most unselfish ways. We value our relationships. We value our fear with God. Yet, somehow we failed so miserably to change into the best versions of ourselves— for our loved ones, community, and country.
Throughout my years as an OFW, I have met and talked with Filipinos on my travels. I remembered the very first time I saw Central, Hong Kong on a Sunday. It was overwhelmingly fascinating but when I came closer with a group, I have nothing but profound sadness. I was sad that it was the only day in the week they saw their friends or have even gotten out of the house. I never knew that they had that kind of life. All along, I had a picture in my head that they were living their most awesome lives because I had classmates from school that were so happy and proud to present new things from their mothers who worked in Hong Kong. Although, Vilma Santos: Anak had accurately depicted them in the movie, none of my classmates believed that their moms were living like that.
To this day, the most humbling experience I’ve ever had was my brief stay in Hong Kong while waiting for my Chinese visa papers. I stayed with a 69 years old Filipina, who charged me 20HKD/day for a bed space in her tiny apartment in Wan Chai for three weeks. During that amount of time, I have not only learned about her life but also about the lives of six other Filipina women who came to stay with her, during their days off. I learned about their struggles, their heartaches, and their heartbreaking journey of raising other children while being away from their own children. Sadly, not all of them have success stories to tell me. They have several debts, their children have not finished school, their husbands cheated, they have a sick elderly to finance…the problems went on and on. They can barely (and impossibly) save their own earnings. That’s why they see themselves working harder and longer in Hong Kong as domestic helpers— some of them spanning over two decades already.
With that experience, I vowed to always better myself. I have greatly valued my life as an OFW. I learned to focus on the the things that will give me lessons, inspirations, and aspirations. I also learned to save money for my future because working abroad is a fleeting opportunity, except if you’re given the chance to be an immigrant in a country. And more importantly, I tried to distance myself from the chaos and dramas within the Filipino community.
I know, I’m a rare breed and I’m fortunate. #blessed
I’m fortunate to practice my profession as a teacher abroad. I’m fortunate that I have no husband and children that I left behind in the Philippines. I’m fortunate that I have my sister in supporting our parents, financially. I’m fortunate I get to enjoy my earnings by traveling the world. I’m fortunate that I can freely choose to stay or leave my job, without compromise. I’m very fortunate I was able to live an expat life because of my teaching career. And I’m fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring people from different cultures.
After almost 15 years of being away from the Philippines— having lived in China (8 years), USA (1 year), and Brazil (3.5 years), I don’t think Philippines is my home.
Home seems to have a vague definition anymore. After moving to several places (continents, countries, and apartments) it’s hard to tell where it is. In a few weeks time, I’m moving to France to be with my French husband— but even then, my stay in the country would be brief. We have plans of moving somewhere unknown again.
My Filipino values are still there, especially being God-fearing, but I have now grown into a totally different person because I have lived in different cultures. Which I hoped have only made me a better version of myself. I became more open-minded, tolerant, patient, and sensitive. I am now more understanding and appreciative, not only being a Filipino but also about other nationalities, gender, cultures, and religions.
I am, without a doubt, still proud to be a Filipino.
At the end of the day, life is a choice we make, regardless where we came from. Whether we like it or not, we have to choose what we feel is right and what we feel will ultimately make us a better and happier person.
To live this life of change can be overwhelmingly good and bad. I love the adrenaline of exploring the new surroundings around me and being able to try something new. The bad side is of course, the stability of your relationships and life. I may be used with packing and saying goodbyes, but it is still very hard every time.
It also means, that choosing a life to live abroad, is not for everyone.