When I finally got the email confirmation of my working visa that subsequently affirmed my departure from the Philippines to pursue a job abroad, I was ecstatic. Also, I was nervous. I was sad. I was excited. I was everything but hesitant to leave. After all, this is the news I’ve been wanting to get for the five months after Christmas 2013.
However, living in a country that is in some ways similar but I’ve later realized has so many differences with my home country for almost a year now, I would say it isn’t all glitter and glamour working abroad.
1. When you see old friends get together. It brings a smile to my face when I see my college friends find time to have a date and dine or see a movie just like the old times. While I have made friends overseas, even with Filipinos, the kind of friendship that we have established and nurtured home will always be different on so many counts. Hence, it also brings me sadness and longing to see my friends together and wish for that tiny space in their group photo to have been my spot.
2. When you do your groceries. Even the simplest task of buying groceries has become a tedious one as nothing is really familiar. For me, the sardines here will never yield the same taste as the Young’s Town sardines at home when mixed with eggs then fried. I will never EVER find a replacement for Lucky Me Pancit Canton with boiled egg, rice and a glass of Coke with ice as the best snack any time of the day. At home, I can do my grocery shopping in 30 minutes to an hour tops with the items in my cart all tried and tested. Living abroad, it’s a trial and error process. And I haven’t told you about the difficulty of looking for a staff and asking them to translate and explain to you what the product is as the label is written in their native language.
3. When you find out another childhood friend is gonna wed soon. TIME FLIES! You remember how your years were so close by with that particular friend when you were still studying and getting your college degrees. And now she’s getting married? Of course, she’s gonna have babies after and obviously begin a family of her own. And you? For a brief second, you feel that you have been left behind – that everyone home is moving on to the next level of adulthood and you’re stuck abroad with so many dreams for your career (still).You feel that you’re growing old and there’s no way stopping it (even if you’re so far away from home)!
4. When you can’t get your quick fix. Not here. Back home, when I’m feeling under the weather, I would usually get myself Coke Float from McDonalds and/or three to six pieces of siomai from Master Siomai. For less than fifty pesos (1.2 USD/4.10 MYR), I have succeeded in making myself happier. Overseas, it’s hard, if not impossible, to find that something that’s gonna instantly put you in a good mood. You’re lucky if you already have.
5. When your birthday passes as an ordinary day. You set your alarm to 12:00 just to wait for who will greet you first. You thank God for another year and pray for more years to come. Your Facebook and Instagram are flooded with birthday greetings. You get phone calls from your family and boyfriend with well wishes on your special day. But the ‘special’ ends there. After that last phone call for the day, you go back to your routine in your life abroad with no one even to cook you a birthday breakfast or anyone who should have brought you a cake when the clock struck twelve. No, you are alone in your apartment and you have to get ready for work because birthday celebrant or not, you gotta show up. And when you get to work? Apparently, no one has cared to check the GD that the birth date under your name matches the date today.
6. When you miss your nephew’s milestones and/or when you realize your mother has grown more white hair. It’s a wound that cuts deep when my brother tells me of my nephew’s developmental feats like when he grows his first teeth, when he calls him ‘Papa’ or when I receive photos of him grinning while balancing his weight to make his first step. It’s even a worse kind of pain when I go home and see more signs that my mother isn’t getting any younger. That inch of white hair, those laugh lines and the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes (that have already become her) that make the idea of staying home and spending time with her all the more enchanting stays with me even when I go back to my work base.
7. When you’re ill and bedridden. No medications. There’s no one to look after you. Even the act of getting yourself a glass of water has become a moment to define how alone you really are abroad. Plus that instance when you don’t have someone who’s readily available to buy you medicine or make you some soup. At times, even when you manage to get yourself to the drug store, you sometimes just end up buying Panadol because it’s a chore (what with your fever, chills and body pain) trying to express what you really need from the pharmacist when it would have been obviously easier when you’re home doing it. You lie in your bed nursing that flu and another illness you just acquired — self-pity.
8. When you’ve no idea when you will go home next. I am lucky to be in a job that practically lets me go home so long as I have days off but still somehow, I share the pain of the other OFWs who have to wait for a year before they can go home and visit their loved ones. Since I am not from Metro Manila and am from a province ten hours away from the airport I land at, I need to have at least a week off to spend some decent time with my family. Imagine, my flight time to Manila is even shorter than my trip from Manila to my province. On top of that, I am in an industry that works by rosters – rosters that are published every end of the month. Imagine planning going home for a family occasion that’s supposed to happen on the first week of the month and you’ve already allotted your annual leave credits for Christmas and New Year. Boohoo.
9. When your family/loved one gets sick. I remember that time when my mother has that piercing headache she had to be brought to the hospital. I wasn’t home, obviously. It was only her and my brother. My mother is the type who would shoo away all forms of intervention that’s gonna bring her in the emergency room. So, when my brother informed me that she consciously allowed herself to be checked worried me to the bones. No words from my brother, boyfriend and my mother herself ever comforted me from the thoughts I had of her being ill. I still almost called them every hour even when they and she said she was okay just to stop myself from worrying. It’s depressing not being there for your family when they need you. To think that I am a nurse and I should have been the one doing all the fussing. But I’m not there.
10. When you miss your family. And this isn’t one of those ‘normal’ days that you just miss them and want them around. This day I’m talking about just comes randomly and you suddenly have that very deep aching for your family. You want them there for and with you and you want them there stat. You look back on the family gatherings you’ve missed by browsing the photos your sibling uploaded on Facebook. Your eyes linger on the happy faces of your mother, your brother, your nephew.. And then this brings you to browse the photos you had with them last time you were home. You content yourself with these because you have to be where you are. You content yourself with these because there’s no other choice. You content yourself with these because these are all you have — memories. And you brush those tears away.
Tomorrow may be another set of struggles in my life working abroad. But I always take comfort in the reasons and the dreams I have yet to fulfill that brought me here in the first place. If God would give me a choice on where I would want to be now, I’ll still choose living and working overseas with all my heart. It’s no joke being away from your family while life obviously goes on for all of you but I am certain I have made the right decision when I claimed that this will get me to achieve my dreams for myself and for my family. After all, I wouldn’t be living a more comfortable life now and couldn’t have provided the same to my family if not for my choice. And I will eternally be grateful for that. Everything has a price indeed but these struggles are ones I am most ready to take on any time of the day since I know that equates to me realizing and achieving more of what’s left on my long list of ambitions. Lastly, I feel very genuine in saying that these struggles make life all the more beautiful! #
Thanks to my housemate, April, for giving me the idea of writing about living abroad. 🙂 #
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Registered Nurse. Flight Attendant.
Writer. Reader. Dreamer. Believer.
Daughter. Sister. Auntie. Wife.