Why did I leave?

The view from my plane window, when I first left the Philippines to work abroad.

No doubt, for a majority of overseas Filipinos the incentive to work abroad is economic. We can earn incomes potentially up to 20x more than in the Philippines.

My initial reason for leaving was simpler: love.

My then-boyfriend (now husband) had been assigned to the UK the year before I left. We both agreed that a long-distance relationship wasn’t sustainable, so I left a fairly comfortable job in Makati to apply for a UK role within the bank I worked for. Thankfully I got in.

It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, but I’m no stranger to OFW life. My dad, trained as an engineer, decided to work abroad in Indonesia in the early 1990s and left my mom behind to care for me and my siblings. Like most middle-class Filipino families, we had domestic helpers to assist in daily chores but my mom was effectively a single parent for a few years. She also decided to keep on working.

We were never in want during those years. But I could see it was tough on my mom: she and my dad often argued over the phone, usually about money, and I spotted her crying by herself a few times. I remember how unnerving it felt to see her in such a vulnerable position – for a kid, seeing a parent cry meant something wasn’t quite right in the world. I wrote in my diary that if I ever had a family of my own, I would never put them through something like that and dreamed of the day we were all together for good.

Eventually, my dad managed to bring us all to live with him in Jakarta, which made things much, much better.

Two decades later there I was, on the cusp of following in my dad’s footsteps. Right before I left, my mom and siblings gave a me a blank scrapbook to fill with memories of the new life I was about to have. There were short and sweet messages from family and friends pasted throughout the pages, but right on the inside cover was a printed e-mail from my dad (he had just moved out of the Philippines again, this time to work in the Middle East). He said:

“In my own view, OFWs are always confronted with a dilemma; that is, to know when to stop if he/she prefers later to go back for good, or to stay permanently in a host country of his choice. Either way, you have to be resolute in your decision. The difficulty is that you can’t do this unilaterally. There will always be pressures from relatives, peers, even from your would-be spouse and children.

I’m jumping the gun here. I should be saying… enjoy and build a career! Seriously, be focused and build one while you’re still young!”

A decade on and here I am, still abroad. Still building, still dreaming, still finding my voice.

Think critically dear readers,

13 thoughts on “Why did I leave?

  1. My wife has been living in Italy for 20 years and she too is in a quandary about whether she wants to make roots here or go back for good and she is faced with a double pressure: her mother who wants the whole family to be reunited in Bulacan and I, her husband. I am open to the possibility to move to the Philippines to live there but I am weighing things more rationally than emotionally… it’s a mahirap na situwasyon…

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    1. Mahirap indeed… and family roots run deep. Will need to read more of your blog to find out what you thought of living in Bulacan. 🙂 I’m a Bulakenya myself!

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  2. Your dad’s advice was sound. Travel now while you’re young, test the waters. If you feel it’s for you, then go grab it, gurl. If not, then come home. It’s so much easier to make decisions when you’re young and have smaller cares in the world. Once you get older, you’ll be saddled with more baggage to tie you down. Everyone will have different circumstances, thus there’s no cure-all solution to that common dilemma among our people who decide to try the ofw route. Just go for what your heart desires.

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    1. Indeed, salamat! 😊 These days there are also more ways to keep in touch with those back home, though of course the homesickness still kicks in sometimes.

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