10 Things I Learned from Living Abroad

A Filipino Immigrant’s Realization

Canada has been “home” for our family for a decade now and if I were to go back to that year when I am still deciding whether I should complete our application for skilled immigrant through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, I will still take the same path.

I will not deny that there are times that I sometimes ask myself the famous “what if” question – “What if we didn’t leave Philippines?” Our lives will for sure be entirely different, I may not even have this blog had we decided not to move to Canada.

As we complete our 10th year as Filipino immigrants in Canada this month, I thought that it’s a good way of recognizing this milestone by sharing a reflection (or should I say realization) of my journey for the past 10 years.

LEAVING HOME IS ONE THE MOST DIFFICULT DECISIONS I EVER MADE. This is the first time that I am acknowledging the pain I felt when I left the Philippines in 2009. Coming from a closely-knit family, I spent 31 years of my life surrounded by my parents, siblings and our relatives. I am not a very outgoing person but I have a handful of friends that I always hang around with. The longest time that I’ve been away from home was those times that I went out of town or out of the country for a week or two to go on vacation or to attend work-related activities. Being away from them for 11,925 km permanently was not easy to fathom… It was really a difficult decision for me, leaving home was as painful as my first major heartbreak, you want to hold on but you have no choice but to let go. I cannot recall how I managed to hold my emotions and my tears in every despedida or farewell party that our family and friends have thrown for us. To me, each tight hug that I get from a family member or a friend is like a final goodbye, because I know that no matter how much I promise them that I will visit soon, there is no guarantee that it will really happen.

MIGRANT WORKERS AND PERMANENT IMMIGRANTS ARE STRONG-WILLED PEOPLE. Regardless if you’re leaving Philippines with a permanent residence status or with a work visa/permit to the country that you are heading to, you will never choose this path if you are not a strong-willed person. I didn’t see myself in this category, I always thought that I was dependent and I cannot cope up without my support-system (my family and friends) behind me. But here I am, I managed to leave for Canada, I knew that when I boarded in that Philippine Airlines flight I had nothing in my luggage but hopes for an unknown future and great expectations on what life could be in a foreign land but I choose to hold on to that. That’s when I realized that I am strong, after all, I managed to fight the creeping fear, hesitations and anxiety. Living abroad turned me to a stronger person that I am now, I will not hide that there are still times that I still feel lonely and anxious, homesickness still brings me down, but every time I feel this way, my determination helps me to get back on my feet. I know there are millions of Filipinos who live or work abroad who have their own share of trials and tribulations, but guess what? Once you made it and you have settled successfully, you will for sure feel proud of yourself, you will look back smiling with a realization that you made it despite of all the challenges. You survived!

LIFE ABROAD IS NOT AS EASY AS YOU THINK. Social media made it appear that people who live in abroad are on extended vacation living a glamorous life.  At times, it could be splendid depending on what jobs we do and how much we earn.  But to be honest, our life abroad is not entirely different from how we live life back home. We also wake up early each day to make a living… some of us would even take up to three jobs to earn more and have enough money to send to our families back home. We also have bills to pay, food and other needs to buy.  Money doesn’t come easy, we need to work hard to earn it.  Apart from ensuring that our finances are well taken care of, we also need to deal with other issues including the culture, the people and even the language that are far different from what we are accustomed to.  And did I mention that we also need to overcome racism?  If we are unlucky enough, we even need to work harder to prove ourselves that we are more than what the other nations stereotyped about us – – – that Filipinos are not just domestic helpers, we are skilled and well-educated professionals.   More than these challenges, the toughest part is dealing with homesickness and the times that we have to face the growing pains that we feel every time we miss our family and friends.  We have to accept that life in the Philippines goes on with or without us – a cousin will get married, a sibling will graduate from college, a best friend will have a baby, our high school classmates will hold reunion, the grandest parties will be thrown and the worst part is you may also miss a chance to bid goodbye to a loved-one from unexpected passing.  The same thing happens to our family and friends back home, they will not witness our triumphs and milestones. Yes, living in a foreign country is exciting and rewarding, but not every day is Instagram worthy, we have our tough times too…

FILIPINOS’ HAVE THE BEST WAYS TO FIGHT HOMESICKNESS.  There are numerous articles that you can read online that will give you tips on how you can fight homesickness.  Some will enumerate productive things that you can do to overcome homesickness.  Despite living in Canada for a decade now, I occasionally get homesick and just like all the other Filipinos I met in Winnipeg, we have learned how to cope.   Filipinos abroad has their own ways – to fight homesickness, you need to surround yourself with “all things Filipino.” We surround ourselves with fellow Filipinos, we eat Filipino food, we watch Filipino shows or movies (I thank TFC for this) and we listen to Filipino music, by doing this, we don’t feel that we are away from home. Here in Winnipeg, one of the biggest things that we look forward on weekends and holidays are the gatherings, we always find a reason to celebrate. A typical weekend for us is coming together for potluck, the kids will gather and play while the adults are bonding over karaoke and drinks.

FILIPINOS ARE AMONG THE BEST WORKERS IN THE WORLD. Filipinos are found all over the world, there are Filipinos in whichever part of the globe you go. Here in Winnipeg, there’s always a big percentage of Filipino employees in all the companies that I worked for. Based on my personal experienced, Filipinos are among the most loyal, hard-working and dedicated workers, traits that endear us to other races. We are one of the most skilled, talented and well-educated people. Aside from being creative and reliable, we are well-loved because we have common-sense.  But what also sets as apart is our adaptability skills, we can literally adjust to anything which I believe is also the reason why we can definitely excel in any field that we go even if sometimes it was not the same field that we have when we were still in our home town.  Whatever the job is, a Filipino will definitely try his best to deliver an excellent work output.

NOTHING BEATS THE WAY OF LIFE THAT I GREW UP IN.   When we just arrived in Canada, I was so excited about everything, the food that we eat and the places we go were all amazing for me. My first snow experience was nostalgic! The changing weather excites me. But after a while, the novelty wore off.  I started to miss my life back home, even if I have seen the great things that Canada has to offer and if I have my way, I will choose to bring the simple way of life that I am accustomed to during my growing up years.  Not that I wasn’t able to adapt with the new way of life that we have, but after being here in Canada for a while now, I’ve greatly appreciate the simple way of life that we have in the Philippines. You live in a so-called compound with your families.  There’s carinderia and sari-sari store everywhere. There’s public transportation anytime of the day.  Your favorite restaurant or coffee shop are open on extended hours. You know who your neighbors are and you are connected to them.  Seeing your family and friends doesn’t need to be scheduled, you can just show up when you need to see them. I guess this is one of those – sometimes you can’t see how beautiful something is until it steps back into the light.”. 

HOW I WAS RAISED AND HOW I WAS TAUGHT IN SCHOOL IS THE BEST TRAINING I EVER RECEIVED.  I am making a bold statement on this part of my blog, this maybe a convoluted topic that I am touching but I’ll throw my hat into the ring (hoping that I will be able to clearly convey what I want to express). Philippines may not have the best education system, but for me, the best training I ever received was the training from my grade school and high school teachers. My kids, didn’t experience studying in the Philippines so I am not sure if education system in my home country got better or became worst. But during my time, I remember how I complained how strict my teachers were and how hard it was for me to maintain outstanding grades.  I went to public school in grade school and high school.  In grade school, there were 9 or 10 sections in each grade level and top section was section 1.  I am a proud graduate of Rizal High School, Guinness Book of World Recordslargest secondary school in the world since 1993 until 2005, there were more than 60 sections who graduated in our batch, just like in grade school top section is section 1.  To be on the top section you need to prove that you are really one of the brightest, so we really need to study hard to make it and to remain on the top. When I was still a student, we have a tough job – we had assignments and home works that we have to do daily, school project that we have to complete for every subject, book report that we have to submit on time, graded oral recitation that we need to prepare for, late night reviews to prepare for weekly long quizzes and periodical examinations plus the after-school practice to prepare for school presentations or inter-school contests. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my student’s days especially my high school days, but it is because of these things that we did to stay on the top section that we learned our traits and skills that prepared us not just in pursuing our field of interest but in facing life challenges.  Caniogan Elementary School and Rizal High School taught me to be hard-working, to be patient, to be creative and reliable, to be a good team-player.  It is also from school that I realized that I have leadership skills. My frustration-tolerance and my perseverance was tested in school so many times and I survived.

PASALUBONG BRINGS SO MUCH JOY. I guess most Filipinos who are away from home can relate on this one. Since I live abroad, receiving pasalubong from the Philippines from my family or friends meant allot to me. Pasalubongor souvenir refers to items from travels of any location, but in our household, pasalubongare gifts from the Philippines!  Though, we can actually order almost anything online nowadays and there are also a gazillion number of Asian stores in Winnipeg that sell Filipino items, getting pasalubongbrings a different joy in my heart.  Whether it is a pack of Choc-Nut, a bag of Ding Dong, a souvenir shirt, a fridge magnet or an English-Tagalog dictionary (to help my children learn the language), believe me, the recipient puts great deal of importance on each of the items they get. It is because for us, pasalubong is not just a simple souvenir or gift, with the items sent to us come with layers of meaning.  It is not an obligation but the sender’s expression of love and affection, it’s like telling the person on the other side of the earth that despite the distance he or she is still in their thoughts.

YOU ARE BETTER THAN WHAT YOU THINK.  Living in Canada has taught me a lot of things and has allowed me to discover a lot of things about myself. As I said earlier, I didn’t see myself to be strong until I moved to Canada.  Fear and anxiety were my constant companion but living abroad will really teach you how strong you can be and how far you can go.  I used to hate cooking and other house chores, but who would have taught that I will learn how to cook “real food.” I’ve always worked in the back office doing administrative job but after working in a coffee shop and a travel agency, I realized that I have customer service skills. There were also some situations that I never taught I would able to handle, but I was able to handle them with pride and grace. I never taught that one day my secret dream to pursue my passion into writing can actually happen, my blog is nothing different from all the other blogs out there and I am not a popular and best blogger but the taught that there are people who actually follow and read my blog boosts my confidence and keeps me going. I am a lot stronger than I thought, living outside my comfort zone allowed me to know myself better and has revealed a better version of myself.

GOODBYES THE SECOND TIME AROUND ARE HARDER.  In my 10 years living in Canada, I only visited Philippines once. Aside from the fact that the cost of the trip from Canada to the Philippines was very expensive, my husband and I had a hard time getting time off from work on the same dates. It was only in 2017 that we finally had the means to get round-trip tickets to the Philippines for 7 people (including my parents who stayed with us in Canada for a couple of years), as my 3 kids put it, “it was the best trip ever!” Just like them, I enjoyed the 23-day vacation, I got the chance to see my 2 siblings and their family, my in-laws, my best friend and a bunch of friends from high school and coworkers from the companies I worked. Contrary to what other people were saying that goodbyes get easier over time, it was way harder for me to say goodbye this time.  The first time that I left was hard but since I was pre-occupied with what kind of life awaits us in Canada, I did not give too much time in being sad.  But during our last visit it was still painful. This time, I know better, I know what life awaits us in Canada and unlike the first time, I am fully aware that I cannot easily fly back to the Philippines as often as I want too.  Hence, this time, I tried to memorize my family and my friends’ faces, I want to keep a memory of how they look in my brain.

I am sure there are a lot more things that I need to learn about Canada and there will be more challenges that will come my way… but I am thankful that I didn’t allow my fear to stop me.

How about you, what did living abroad teach you? You can share your own experiences in the comments sections below…

About Momsiecle 136 Articles
Momsiecle is short for Momsie’s Circle. As our family start a new chapter of our lives in Winnipeg in 2009, I also started to write about my challenges and triumphs in Canada as an immigrant, my mommy stories, my everyday life experiences and everything in between. Enjoy your visit!

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