Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Even before the extreme boom of migration, working abroad has been a symbol of golden opportunity to escape our poverty-stricken and highly-corrupted nation. It has become the highly-coveted fast lane to live a comfortable life. And nowadays, I guess, if you’ll ask 10 Filipinos, nine would confidently admit they would want to work abroad as this is rooted on the absence of hope and lack of trust on the country. In addition, some of them would not dare to go back to the Philippines or perhaps forget their identity as a Filipino forever.

I was one of those who out of luck got the ticket to that golden opportunity. Mind you, I never dreamed of working abroad. To me, overseas could only be a source of further studies as I wanted to get a graduate and doctorate degree in a foreign country. However, everything changed when I received an offer to work in Brunei. I considered it as a blessing. 

At first, I was hesitant. I was doing my masters in UP when the job offer came. Then again, as my professors, friends and family told me that opportunities knock only once, I grabbed it and 
never let it go. Deal!

By 5 March 2008, I embarked on a new journey. It was called the life of a Bruneiyuki. I became a certified OFW/expat. I joined the millions of the present day heroes working hard to support their families and fuel our depressing economy. Soon, I adapted the new reality of a foreign worker.

Working abroad is not as glossy as it sounds. What most people see is only the surface of the whole hyped and glitzy pedestal, and not the depth of the struggles and sacrifices.

The real deal.

If you think you really want to work abroad, I suggest, think a thousand times before leaving your family behind. To help you sort out things, here’s a rundown of the TOP 10 WORSE TRUTHS that may happen if you will work/ are working abroad.

ILLEGAL. We heard a lot of stories of Filipinos being hired as a teacher and suddenly ended up as a domestic helper, or accepted as a nurse but ended up as a sex worker. Or putting big placement money in an agency to get a job then suddenly realizing that such agency doesn’t even exist at all. Obviously, these cases are the products of filthy businesses. Whether the employee didn’t verify or checked their employment contract or the processes involved, it’s a matter of knowing more what you are getting into. Researching and verifying to know the details is beneficial to have secured stay overseas, hence avoiding nightmares like this.

PERSONAL SPACE. Most employers nowadays provide accommodation among foreign workers. Normally, two to three persons share one room. In our case, luckily, our employer is generous enough to provide us one room each. The kitchen, the living room and the laundry area are shared by everyone. 

So what’s the worse could happen to you? Just in case you’re not used to sharing a bedroom or toilet among housemates, you may regret working abroad. Much worst, too bad if you have room mates who are the exact opposite of your personality. Just imagine someone using your stuff without your permission. In short, life abroad could be hell. So, in this setting, better stretch your patience and establish your privacy by talking to those people who stay with you. After all, you are all borders and not owners of the staff house. It’s a matter of give and take.

ATTITUDE. Living for a year with different people has made realize how true Pinoy Big Brother could be. Misunderstanding may fire anytime especially if you have housemates who show their mood swings, mental inconsistencies, or unreasonable angst without considering if they hurt other people’s feelings. 

On one hand, because everyone is battling homesickness, a fragile or emotional heart may push a person to the pitfall of forbidden love. No wonder, migration is one of the causes of broken homes in our country as those individuals who work abroad suddenly fall for a relationship with someone while totally leaving their “real” families behind. 

With these faces of emotional instability, it is best to re-assess yourself on how emotionally and psychologically prepared you are in getting into the overseas offer. In this way, pakikisama would not be a problem and you know what parameters should be set especially if you have a GF/BF or a wife/husband left in the Philippines.

MONEY MATTERS. To earn and save more for the future are the sole reasons why anyone would take chances in working overseas. Anyone who works hard could be very disappointed if they’re hard-earned money would not go in good use.

For parents working double abroad, it would be more of a frustration if they’ll find out the bad performance of their children in school. For individuals saving for a business, it would be depressing if a scam happens or bank closes which may eat up their savings. And even for a person who doesn’t know how to save, looking in one's bank account and seeing zero savings could be a late wake up call. 

Sadly, some of the Filipinos who work abroad go back to the Philippines empty handed for a million reasons. Maybe, they aren’t able to guard their money and use it wisely. Or, it’s just luck is far from their fate. Seriously, if you’re to work abroad, save, save and save. It is not bad to support your family especially if you are single, but consider also your future. You have a life ahead of you.

LANGUAGE BARRIER. Language is our tool to communicate. We get our message across through it. However, most of the OFWs are faced with the challenges of expressing themselves in a foreign tongue. As a result, misunderstanding especially on critical messages may surface. To avoid this, master the science of listening and asking. Listen to what others are saying and if it’s unclear, you may ask them to repeat it or elaborate what they’re talking about. Eat your pride and fears on not asking them to repeat what they just said. In that way, you’ll be sure what they’re talking about.

STRESS. Stress can come in different degrees and situations among OFWs/expats. Some stress mushroom in the workplace and sometimes in the staff house. But what's undeniable, because an OFW/expat is coping with a fragile heart brought about by problems arising from the environment, stresses among these people are extreme. 

Sometimes, some of them have lost their sanity in battling the internal issues. No wonder, you’ll hear stories of foreign workers jumping of the building because they have so many problems that they thought cannot be solved. 

So, to live a stress-free life abroad, better find outlets where you can pour your problems and keep you sane. Engaging in a sport, talking with your kababayans during break time, or by simply having a picnic/get together with new friends on weekends could be ways to help you topple down the inevitable and day-to-day impacts of stress.

HARASSMENT. It is a luck for an OFW he/she gets an understanding, generous and humane employer. However, if luck turns its back on you and you end up with a bad tempered employer, well, that may be a curse you have to burden during your stay. 

Undeniably, over the past years, there have been a lot of reports on harassment on OFWs at different levels; discrimination is also seeped in this reality. Some women are sexually harassed and raped. Some are abused - not getting their salary on time or being deprived of food. And some abuse may lead to death which paints us an image of dead bodies in boxes arriving in the airport. All these and more are results of maltreatment. 

So to ensure your security in a foreign land, it is best to have contacts among kababayans or better yet be affiliated with the Philippines Embassy on the country of destination. In that way, you can be sure that there will be a helping hand in times of emergency.

RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL DIFFERENCES. We Filipinos are known for our joyous personality and our commitment on our religious practices. When I arrived here in Brunei, my humour has become a platform to open conversations and make friends. On the side, my penchant on mass services has led me to widen my bond with our dear Lord. It may sound sweet but that’s not case on most Filipinos working abroad. 

For some, especially in a Muslim country, there are a lot of restrictions. Here alone in Brunei, you can't send/receive packages with religious items such as bibles, rosaries, etc. To prove this, one of our officemates supposedly got a package from his mother. Unfortunately, the people opened the package in the post office and when they found out that it’s a bible and rosary, the package never landed on our officemates hand. They burned it. 

Bottom line, better know the rules. On showcasing what your really got, the expression of oneself should not limit you from being you despite cultural parameters. Compromise is the key. And to be sure you are on the right lane of the country’s guidelines, take time to observe the totality of the country and learn to obey rules. In this way, the country may be glad with your ways of respecting their culture and traditions. After all, you, as an OFW/expat is a foreigner.

HOMESICKNESS. Believe me or not, homesickness is the greatest battle an OFW/expat has to overcome. Homesickness is the sole reason why OFWs surrender their golden opportunity to work abroad and opt to stay back in the Philippines.

In our office alone, one writer came back to the Philippines after two weeks of “walang tigil na pagiyak” in Brunei. He told our boss that he can’t fight homesickness. He can’t live without his girlfriend. End up, our company sent him home and he paid all the expenses. 

Honestly, homesickness is a kind of sickness that has no medicine. By simply allowing yourself to fight it for 3 to 6 months, you can be sure everything will be fine. 

So how do you fight it? Enjoy your stay in the country you're residing; learn the language and go with a new culture; discover new hobbies to keep you relaxed and productive; engage in organizations especially in Filipino groups; keep yourself busy at work, and more importantly, remind yourself on why in the first place you are in a foreign country – of course, to save for your future. That alone can give you a kick on pushing away the uninvited homesickness.

MENTALITY. We see balikbayans who wear and sashay glamorous outfits in an alluring beat, festooned with expensive jewelleries, dyed hair, and talking with a “twang” as they criticize how hopeless the Philippines is. And so, they are telling everyone, loud and proud, they will never return to this filthy and sinking country. Too bad, but that's the worse thing that could happen to a Filipino. Nakatikim lang ng unting karangyaan, tinalikuran na ang Inang Bayan.  

Honestly, there’s nothing wrong in looking for a greener pasture abroad. With our current political and economic condition, no one can blame the Filipinos psyche and motives in seeking a promising income in a foreign hub; they’re just being practical to support themselves and their families. Sadly, some Filipinos, after getting into the golden gates of milk and honey, have opted to forget their identity. Tuluyan ng tinalikuran ang pagkapilipino at ang bansang Pilipinas. 

So, to avoid this? Plant a seed of patriotism. Do not forget that we have our country where we come from and let us be proud that we are Filipinos. Let us wear our skin oh so proud! 

Although there are negative perceptions on us and our nation, let these be reasons for us to debunk blur mindset and prove the world how great we are. Thankfully, we hear a lot of success stories showcasing the Filipinos ingenuity and talent contributing to a change on perspectives among foreigners. Nevertheless, it’s just inspiring that after all these years, there are Filipinos who have never forgotten their roots. Angat sa iba, ika nga.

Mabuhay tayong lahat!

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