In recent years, globalism has found a common thread among different races and nationalities. Moving to a foreign country is somewhat commonplace and for many has become the perfect opportunity to grasp and integrate a new way of living.
By living abroad, many Filipinos have discovered how they became accustomed to their inner “Filipino”. According to Rica Facundo of Rappler, living abroad made her realize the disparities that outlined who she is as a Filipino.
“The exposure abroad makes us hyper-aware of the strengths and weaknesses born out of Filipino culture — traits we can leverage and work on to become better Filipinos, to compete in the globalized economy, learnings we can take for those of us who pay it forward when we move back home,” Facundo said.
For generations, Filipinos with professional ambitions and unambiguous career goals have chosen to leave the Philippines to ensure they’ll have a better future. Since the ‘70s, moving abroad is the surest way to progress, to earn a good salary and achieve their goals, Wall Street Journal noted. It also became a solution for those in hopeless situations; people who feared poverty would consume them.
As Filipinos seek greener pastures, better opportunities and promising future elsewhere, they leave with heavy suitcases filled not only with their belongings but also of stories of family and friends and tales of hopes and dreams.
I may not be living in a foreign land but I witnessed my sister leaving the Philippines to live in Canada. Sending her off at the airport was heartbreaking and I badly wanted to stop her from leaving but who was I to hold back her dreams?
In May of 2015, I saw my sister for the first time in five years. I also met her new family — my brother-in-law and my two cute nieces. At the time, my sister was very pregnant with their third child. Seeing her was surreal but what really hit me was seeing her life abroad through her very eyes. She and my mom, who lived in Canada for two years, always told me that their life abroad was never easy. There are obstacles to overcome and hardships to endure.
So, for a glimpse into the lives of Filipinos living in Canada, the following bio is about experiences in a foreign land is written by my sister, Inah Mae B. Chavez.
We mostly hear people say “Buti ka pa nasa Canada, ako kaya? (You’re very lucky you’re in Canada, how about me?)” or “Wow! nasa Canada ka? Mayaman kana cguro, dami mo nang pera, pautang naman? (Wow! You’re in Canada? Perhaps, you’re rich. Can you lend me some money?)” Those words can’t describe how reality bites. I guess it is a Filipino norm that if there’s someone is working or living abroad — may it be a friend or a relative — they are considered rich or living in luxury. But that’s not the case at all.
Canada is one of the countries where most Filipinos want to live. They often hear about the support and benefits this country has to offer. But did we experience hardships when we came here? Yes, we did.
Even if Canada is a country of diversity, we still had to lower our pride and career expectations in order to find employment. As an immigrant, we needed to learn, accept and embrace their culture so that we could work harmoniously. As a Filipino living here for 7 years, I often see the different struggles of my fellow kababayans (countrymen).
We struggle physically and emotionally. We live away from our families and some of us have left our children so that we could earn money to support them. While most of us work more than one job, there are also Filipinos who are lucky to work in big companies and earn more.
However, there’s no difference because in the end, we are still sending financial help and support to our families back home. That’s one thing that some Canadians are curious to know. Here, they are taught to be independent at a young age — a trait I want to instill in my children.
I thought that getting a degree from one of the best universities back home could land me a good paying job in a big company but that was not the case. When I arrived in Canada back in 2011, I came prepared to face the challenges of being an immigrant (I was under spousal sponsorship). My husband, who came here 4 years ahead of me, gave me a brief perspective on what to expect and I was up for a challenge.
I might say I’m one of the lucky ones because when I came here, I had a house to live in and we were financially stable, thanks to my husband who was hired by a top manufacturing company, which is also the same company he worked for back in the Philippines. But working in Canada is pretty challenging. There’s a term called, “Canadian Work Experience” that we are not familiar with. To gain Canadian experience, some immigrants will do volunteer work so that they will be familiar with workplace culture and expectations before applying for a job.
Some of us decided to study here — either to enhance our knowledge of our respective fields or to study new courses that is more in demand. But all of us have the same goal in mind — to get a good paying job.
Some of us are lucky but some are not. There are Filipinos who jump from one job to another and there are others who can’t find a compatible job so they quit.
I got a job as a Finance Associate in the Call Center office of a top retail store two months after I arrived. Thanks to my nine years of work experience in the Philippines, I confidently responded to interview questions based on situational examples and I was hired.
Communication, however, became a challenge. Being the only Asian on our team, I felt uncomfortable speaking English in front of English-speaking Canadians, thinking they might laugh at me or I might mispronounce the words. I remember back home that we only spoke English during class or when we were obliged to do so, therefore I had a lack of confidence even though I studied American English before coming here (I came prepared like a girl scout!).
Over time, my fears and apprehensions never materialized, making me realize that I was wrong all along. (Perhaps, I was just paranoid.) My co-workers began talking to me every day and eventually began to show interest in the country I left behind. I was also shocked that some of my fellow employees knew about Philippine tourist spots. One day, co-workers told me that my English was very good, like it was my mother tongue. When I told them that the Filipinos speak different dialects, it took them by surprise.
From then on, it became a start of a good workplace experience for me. I became an adviser when they decided to move the call center support team to the Philippines but there were drawbacks to this project. I heard many discussing how Filipinos took their jobs away. They whined a lot, asking questions on why Filipinos got their job.
Living here is another challenge we face. Filipinos live in basements of other Filipinos when they arrive and while they look for a job. Since we don’t have families or relatives living with us, having kids is hard in terms of money and care. In my case, my husband and I had to decide on whether to quit our job or spend money for daycare. I’m the one who quit after 4 years of working so that I could care for our 3 kids. We can sponsor a family member too, just like we did with my mom for two years when my eldest daughter was born. It was really great to have some extra help.
There are times that I look back and compare our life here and back home. If we stayed there, would our lives be different? Or are we really living our dream here? Being away from our families makes us emotionally stable and independent. Planning for a vacation takes months to decide because of the amount of money to be spent, but looking at the brighter side of these challenges, they are not here for life as they only serve as stepping stones to not give up and never lose hope to achieve our dreams.
For us, it’s a new life indeed! Every day is a challenge to face but as Filipinos, we are determined and hardworking individuals so we’ll be okay.
Written by Kristine Belonio
Kristine Belonio is a registered medical laboratory scientist and DOH-trained screening drug test analyst who hopes for a drug-free Philippines. And though she loves to do all the “bloody” work and analyze other bodily fluids, she’s also an aspiring journalist with a thorough know-how on the rudiments of news, feature and editorial writing.