The Struggles of a Twenty-Something Living and Working Overseas

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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60 thoughts on “The Struggles of a Twenty-Something Living and Working Overseas

  1. This…this is all so painfully true. You encapsulated everything I felt while I was teaching English abroad away from home in California, albeit pregnant and unable to communicate with locals the majority of the time. I’m a huge fan of your writing already and look forward to following!

    xo,
    Loreann
    http://whosjomama.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And this is all because the Philippine government cant provide us even with our basic needs. Such a shameful government that we have to find ourselves another place to live and get decent jobs.

    Like

  3. great article. Ive been working 3years now overseas, nothing makes me happier to hear that my sibling is going to finish her Uni this May. 😊😊

    Like

  4. Hi there,

    I got your blog and it seems the state f homesick had strike you one way or another. Whatever you fell right now, I want to tell you you’re blessed.

    I am from KL also and if you happen to have time to hang out, let me know. There is more fun with Pinoys and no one beats our pagsasama. Tama?

    Let me know.

    Rhai
    I sent an email to you!

    PS: Malapit lang ako sa KLCC. 🙂

    “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” – Dr. Seuss.

    Like

  5. I like your kind of writing..i have a daughter in that state too…keep writing heart warming lines….all the best

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  6. You must be a keen observer and a wonderful person to talk to. I’m not that good in writing as much as you do and reading was not my thing. Yet I’m becoming a fan of yours ’cause you’re one of the few peope I know who’s able to share their thought’s and personality that most people who works abroad cannot. I urge you to continue writing and who knows who you’d end up to be one day. If you haven’t noticed yourself, you’re good in writing arguments on present life situations which you should pay more attention to and I say you have a talent in fitting your life’s journey to most people who’s in the same situation as you do. I hope to read more from you soon, so keep the pages flipping.:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well written! You managed to describe what I’ve been going through for the last six months. Your blog entry validates that I’m just going through a “normal” phase in life of OFW. I admire the positivity at the end of the article. Hope to read more of your works and keep me inspired.

    Like

  8. I change my mind ’cause if I’ll give u an idea, you’d something about it and boom- your light bulb switch off after you’ve finished so I’d rather give you a thought on how to keep that light on and in that way, i’d have something to look forward to everytime.
    I assume, with the nature of your work that you can have a hundred and more stories or ideas as a basis of your writings. Yet you skip one aspect that blocks your mind in overlooking what’s completely visible. -curiosity-
    I believe you’re better than me in interpreting the responses and gestures of every person you met on any place you see which will inspire other people. For example , you noticed two strangers trying hard to share their stories in english which is sometimes funny and the next thing you knew is you’re writting something about the importance of communication..and so on and so forth..

    p.s. if you’re getting confused- don’t worry, this is why I fail in writing hehe

    Like

  9. So sa malaysia ka nagtratrabaho….anyway i will not blame the gov but instead i blame to the people who are idiot enough to vote those stupid politician…and to us who works abroad we fail to educate those voters…

    Like

  10. I may not be an OFW, but I read your blog by fitting in your shoes. It makes me sad, it also made me realize things my older siblings have been experiencing as of now. Yes, I want to work overseas, not just to test my limits as an independent man, but as to work and earn money for myself and my family. Maybe soon enough I can personally relate to this post. But as of yet I am happy to share this one, kudos Aly. 👊👍

    Like

  11. I guess I can relate to this article seeing as I am also a 20 – something living overseas (from England but living in the Philippines since 2012). I too miss my friends and family but it’s possible to make new friends, who become like your local family in a way.

    One thing that’s always important is to have good and positive people around you. Your friends and family will always be there when you get back but having your own support network in your new environment will definitely distract you from homesickness and make you a lot more comfortable in your new location.

    I felt very alone until I made good friends and you can always develop new comfort snacks too (I too love pancit canton!) – just be open to new experiences and new people ☺

    Like

  12. I’m feeling exactly the same way.
    Not to mention the time difference that makes the communication even more challenging.
    I’m 14 hours behind Manila.. And finding time to communicate takes a lot of effort for me and my loved ones..

    Like

  13. Inspiring words that will uplift overseas workers and will give them inspiration on how to cope up in everyday living abroad. You’re gifted with good writing skills. I loved to read interesting articles like yours. Thank you for this informative one. God Bless 🙂

    Like

  14. Hi Aly,

    This article is what I needed. A comfort from another fellow pinay undergoing the same struggle. I have been working straight ever since I got here in the US, I am use to have a lot of friends and acquaintances back home and it never gets boring. Life here in a America is all about work, but as you’ve mentioned, the lives of our family and ourself have not been in such a better place if we weren’t brave enough in reaching our dreams somewhere else. God bless you!

    Like

  15. Wow, this is awesome and nicely written. I can really relate this article when I used to work abroad. There is really no place like HOME.

    Like

  16. I was sobbing when I read this (and I’m here in the office) especially numbers 5, 7 9 and 10..My mom shared this OFW link in my facebook. 😦
    I know KL is just near, but still it’s not that easy to go home. Anyway, I like your blog. Keep on writing gorgeous and soar high! 🙂

    Like

  17. tapos yung kupal mo pang AMO eh halos ayaw kang pakawalan.. medyo proud ka sa una dahil ayaw ka nila mawala, eh kaso naman, almost 3 Years ka na walang bakasyon, tapos magpapaalam ka pa lang, ayaw na agad.. Ano yun? lokohan.. makakatakas lang siguro ako sa former employer ko kugn magreresign na ako..

    Like

  18. gorgeous aly, you brought me to tears. I am feeling the same way. Awesome article, everything has a price indeed. From saudi with love, please keep writing, I’m a follower.😉

    Like

  19. its very hard specially working abroad and no one around sometimes even your own fellow countrymen will destroy putting the blame on you

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  20. I’m in college right now and I was initially planning to go abroad right after I finish my medicine course. But then I read this article (which was shared by my OFW cousin) and I’m beginning to have doubts. Filipino families are very close-knitted, and even though I am not yet ‘out there,’ I felt the pain so strongly. The way you’re about your family is the same as how much I miss my cousin in Spain. But thank you for sharing this 🙂 Your thoughts are beautiful.

    Like

  21. I have a daughter in Australia who’s studying there and working too. She also told me about the challenging adjustment of being away from home. You hit it right, there is always a price to pay for everything we do. But your heart is in the right place my dear, your Mom must be proud of you. You expressed the difficulties but at the end you know you made the right decision. Sometimes, there is no such thing as the “right decision”, you just have to make your decision right. Take comfort and solace in prayer. I read the Psalms when I feel lonely. People get lonely too even when you’re in your own homeland.

    Like

  22. Hi Aly!

    I can completely relate myself to you and your blog 🙂 You’re so on point to enlisting the struggles every ‘young adult’ / OFW faces while working abroad. I myself have turned a year now working away from my family and friends and it is painful. But, there’s a reason why we’re still here right? I’m just glad there’s someone out there who has the same sentiments. It’s like finding a friend online, I hope I get to talk to you in person (someday?) I feel I’m not alone on this. I believe we both share most dreams! And amusingly, we’re both named Aly 🙂

    Followed!

    Like

    1. Hi, Aly! Wow! It’s not so often I get to call someone my own name. 🙂 The feeling is mutual. The response this post got showed me how women from all over the world are going through the same things. I hope to talk to you too. Believe it, I really enjoy talking about life with people my age. 🙂 Take care, Aly!

      Like

  23. I relate with every word you wrote, living in abroad is a struggle and risk worth taking and I believe we all made the right choice.
    Kudos!!!

    Like

  24. 6 months in KL now. My first and one and only nephew just turned 2 yesterday and I spent the whole day thinking kung ano na ginagawa nila sa Pinas. Kababawan pero I was crying while typing my greetings for him.
    Great article. The type that speaks of reality and moves you!

    Like

  25. This is reallty true. I definitely agree and relate in this article. It’s a heartbreaking reality which made me miss my family more. Working abroad is the hardest thing that could ever happen in someone’s life. You must be strong enough to fight depression, boredom and sadness that comes along the way. I had struggled 5 years working in KSA and still working on it to survive for some years to come. I even have no idea when i could go out from this place,and savour an open city/country which can provide a great opportunity to divert my emotions/feelings most especially after a long day/week work ( God only knows!). This is a very sad part of our life working in a close country and just seeing 4 corners of our room 😦 Earning dollars with an exchange of struggling with your emotions especially if you’re getting older and you can’t even afford to find you partner in life is the greatest thing a person could do. But if i had given a chance to choose, i would still choose working abroad because we are not well compensated in the Philippines wherein the cost of living is very expensive. And the saddest part in it is that you cannot be a permanent employee of a certain government institution if you have no recommendation from a politician.

    Like

  26. you put my life into writing. Especially with my nieces and nephews. When i left PH, they were so little but when i see them on fb, they are getting bigger and bigger.
    Sometimes i wonder if it’s still worth it. If it’s still worth sacrificing….hays buhay OFW. haha
    I love this and will start following your blog. 🙂

    Like

  27. To most people like Pinoy working away from home are the greatest challenge in life, working and learning the hard ways and remembering the old days of difficulties as we place our faith to the Almighty and believing to our-self and knowingly that our great future in life will come.

    Like

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