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,

Mabuhay! Welcome to my blog

“Mabuhay.” I bet you expected me to write that. It’s a Filipina blogging — isn’t that how we greet each other in the Philippines?

Well, no. The only times I ever hear someone say “Mabuhay!” is at Duty Free Philippines or at a Miss Universe contest.

I suppose the reason why I’m starting this blog is I’m tired…

  • tired of being pegged as a great singer (though for the record, I do like singing but it doesn’t like me back);
  • tired of people automatically assuming that, as an OFW or overseas Filipino worker, I’m a nurse / domestic helper / seafarer (all valuable and tough jobs, by the way) or that I’m either loaded with money (back home) or poor as a mouse (abroad). It’s strange to paint an entire nation’s overseas population this way;
  • tired of seeing other OFWs work so hard for so long in difficult conditions abroad, only to have near zero savings when they finally decide to return to the Philippines for good. I work in finance, so I hope to share a few tips on how to manage our hard-earned cash;
  • … and other stereotypes.

By sharing my thoughts here, I hope to give you another perspective on us OFWs and Filipinos in general.

I’ve been working overseas for over ten years with around seven of those spent in Singapore. I grew up as a third culture kid, but for the most part was raised in the Philippines.

I’m also a mom to a preschooler, so expect some posts about #momlife here and there.

Oh, and I’m two years in to learning an entirely new language, which has been made more interesting in the days of Covid-19.

I’m looking forward to reading your stories and hearing from you too. 🇵🇭 | 🇸🇬

Think critically dear readers,