To make everyone aware how being an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) like myself and the journey that all the other people who are walking in the same shoes as mine should be given an ample volume of respect and consideration, I have scribbled 10 things that might help each one of us understand more about our modern heroes today.
1. Solo Flight
If you are a first time OFW, you naturally feel alienated in a foreign country. You will be taken aback with, first of all, the struggle of culture shock and secondly, the language barrier. You have your own self to depend on when facing the immigration, going to an interview, finding locations, stretching the budget, paying debts and perhaps dealing with horrible bosses and colleagues. Yes, they exist. It would come to a point when working things solely by yourself is no longer healthy so it is advised to reach out to friends and workmates and surround yourself with people whom you find easy to go along with. Friends help eradicate homesickness. They always do.
2. To convert or not to convert, these are both the options.
When we are hired by a company abroad that offers an upright salary, average or above average, our purchasing power increases and consequently, so is our expenditure. In my case, whenever I buy things in Dubai, especially the “branded” ones as they call it, I could not help myself converting the price tags into pesos. It kind of flashes a red flag and sets a limit on how much do I have to go trying to get the item when in fact, back when I was working in the Philippines, I would never afford pricey products even if I can. But, when OFWs are in the Philippines shopping things, with the high cost of products and even if the digits are rolling in, it’s funny how converting local costs the other way around also helps in making them relax. It’s all about the digits depending on where you are, isn’t it?
3. Discrimination becomes a menu on your plate.
It comes in several forms. Among other things, discrimination is patterned in salary, religion, designation or nationality. Either you discriminate or you get discriminated. When you decide to work abroad, it is a reality to face with that the people you will be dealing with in your workplace, meeting on the sidewalk, sitting beside with on a train or bumping into at the malls might not have the personalities and traits you kind of expect for. In a situation like this, learn to stand by what you believe is right without physically or drastically hurting someone and avoid leading other people to hurting you back. Out here, the so-called trick “uminit ang ulo ko” or “nadala ako ng emosyon” is not always applicable. But instead, remember where you are and the reason why you had to be where you are. Pack in your luggage a handful of patience and self-control. It is not going to hurt if we set aside our pride, when in the first place, working on a foreign land has always means sacrifice.
4. Nostalgia with a capital N.
Filipino foods. These have got to be the number one on my list that make me feel nostalgic. With Facebook and Instagram around and how our friends post images of Filipino foods that we can never have in a country where we are working, these could make one craving sizzles for at least a week. Such a pain! Then there are places in our town where we used to hang out and run around and the occasions like town fiestas, “Mahal na Araw” and “Undas” that are celebrated only in our country which we see in our friends’ posts. These, basically, whether we used to appreciate them before or not, but once we are abroad, beat us hard and put us off when we see them.
5. Sale Mania
Most OFWs, little or big earners, love shopping when sales strikes the malls. It’s the opportunity to make use of the extra money left from the salary. Filipinos abroad are fond and always look forward to giving presents when going home. It’s officially a tradition. I see two reasons; it pleases them or is expected of them. That just has to be really blamed to the person who initiated “pasalubong”. Looks like I may take this article as an advantage to say that whatever gifts or presents you receive from a “Balikbayan”, please accept it wholeheartedly and not complain nor expect so much more. To this day, it’s still the thought that counts.
6. Feeling like a stranger in your own country
For years of being away from our love ones, I think it’s the first flight heading back home that is the most exciting thing we always dream about even right at the beginning of our overseas journey. The friction of the aircraft wheels touching the runway strip for me is the most beautiful sound during the entire trip. But the moment you set foot in your country again, the air just feels different, doesn’t it? Nahh, I’m not talking about the air pollution, it’s a given. It’s the things around that look strange to you. The trees have become dense, kids have grown, the elders have become older, streets seem narrow, buildings have worn out and unfamiliar faces are everywhere. Remember how expert you are in the new city but you can barely navigate yourself around your own city plainly because you don’t want to. Whenever I’m on vacation, I have this fear of going out so I mostly stay at home. Or maybe I just didn’t want to be spotted by people who are chasing me for “pasalubong”. Take a pick.
7. You change.
When living abroad, you bring yourself to adjust with the environment. Move with the traffic, adapt with the rush hour, talk to even the most undesirable people because you have to, play by some of the country’s laws even if it’s against your principles, conquer your fears and bring the best assets out of yourself for work’s sake. Most of all, you learn to value more the essence of money. If you used to reckon people who are working abroad as “mapera”, when you get to experience the life they have, no matter how much you’re earning, you yourself will understand the plight that every overseas worker is going through and that every penny they’re earning is worth everything.
8. So many plans, so many cravings and then you forget.
I suppose so many OFWs can relate to this. I appreciate others though who cannot. You know about talking to friends back home planning trips and foods to cook, restaurants and exclusive places to go to, meet-ups at an old mate’s house, drinking sessions, food cravings to satisfy ourselves with and all the other bits and pieces that we could think of doing during the vacation. I could actually go on forever with this list. But, once we reach home, most of them slip in our minds. Bizarre but it’s true. I guess we get overwhelmed and preoccupied of the idea that just being home is really more than enough.
9. The truth about the “Benjamins”
You know the feeling when a family member or a relative is upset because a favor or a thing requested is not granted? When they can only remember you when it’s almost payroll day? When others borrow an amount of money and not even bother returning or suddenly become unreachable and them, not knowing the fact that the money lent to them has just been spared by a friend as well? How they dine delicious food everyday and provided with the best of all the things they desire and still complain about not having enough without knowing the truth that “Ate” or “Kuya” is maximizing the littlest of excess salary left every month because everything else has been sent to the Philippines? How some friends, neighbors and relatives are displeased because they did not receive the right “pasalubong” they demand for and be remarked as selfish and “mayabang at madamot dahil abroad”? I bet you have no exact idea. I may not have experienced all these things, but the stories of an OFW who is my friend, a friend of a friend, and of a friend’s work colleague are all like these. Just so everyone knows, this misconception of others about OFWs as if they’re just picking up dollar bills on the side walk abroad is completely wrong.
10. Time is not gold. Sleep is.
As an OFW, I honestly and always look forward to weekends. I sleep until I wake up the next day and who knows what time it’s going to be because it’s a no-alarm day! After tidying up the room, doing the laundry and pressing clothes, all I could think of again is sleep, sleep and more sleep. With my kind of work, which carries out so much pressure every single day, and pretty sure, the jobs of others are twice as difficult as mine, it’s mostly during the weekend that we get the chance to sleep for as long as we can. And mind you, others are also working part time even on their regular day off so you can really see people napping in the train, in the bus and in a car lift. We grab every opportunity we can to rest our eyes. It’s one of the best parts of the day.
Well, that was the last bit of the article. I’m gonna have to go to sleep now.