What does it truly feel like to be a full-fledged OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker)? Three words best describe it for me ― challenging, lonely, and fulfilling.
Getting a diploma is hard, let alone, working and living abroad. During my early years, in the United States, I brought with me the know-it-all and seen-it-all attitude coming from the corporate rat race in the Philippines, and emerging from a very comfortable life. Contrary to what you see on Facebook, life in America is not always a bed of roses. I had to learn everything the hard way, although, not by choice.
I polished and revised my resume like a pro and started feeding applications online. Days, weeks, and months flew by. The only responses I got were, either, from insurance companies wanting me to sell their products, or from an agency that wanted me as a talent recruiter; more like a pimp.
Ten years ago, I would’ve denied this if you asked me. But, now that I’ve grown a little bit mature, I am proud of this journey. Prior to the real 8-5 office job, I was once a dishwasher at a local Mom-and-Pop pizza place in Virginia, a nail technician at a salon that was owned by a rude Vietnamese woman, a hotel receptionist at a stinky motel with an African American mentor who did nothing but yell at me. And I also babysat my cousins. The common denominator? I knew nothing about these odd jobs. I have never washed dishes in my past life, never painted my own nails, had zero hotel experience, and never ever cared for another being.
It seemed like everything that I wasn’t was shoved in my throat like a test. If it was a test, I passed.
Four seasons have come and gone several times and my butt was still restless trying to decipher what I really wanted in this universe. Then, I met my husband. Fast forward and two kids later, I am now sitting in a corporate chair with a fancy laptop negotiating advertising contracts on behalf of multi-billion retail giants. If this was a Tic-Tac-Toe, I formed a diagonal line right before my opponent and I am winning.
I am unsure if life in America is Speedy-Gonzales fast because labor is paid by the hour, or if life, in general, is short. We had to learn to do everything by ourselves. The kitchen sink disposal was broken and shedding $200 for a plumber is mortal sin so I YouTubed a DIY video and I could not have been prouder.
This is life in America. Everyone races to get home to do laundry while preparing dinner and meals for the following day, dine (if you’re not in a hurry), sleep, then, awake the next day and repeat.
No matter how immigrants try to recreate a nest of their own to call “home,” this will never be home. The lack of street-kid carolers randomly singing in front of your house in December, absence of public transportation (such as tricycles or jeepneys), training your brain to use English as the primary language, and the constant and conscious effort to prove yourself to every living organism, are the realities that made me feel lonely, occasionally.
If this loneliness is on this side of the spectrum, what, then, is on the other side?
The day we got rid of the baby carrier is the day I celebrated because I knew that a new chapter was about to unfold. Once the kids are old enough to feed and entertain, themselves, and when you can keep up with Dancing with the Stars conversations at work, and when you are actually able to complete a pilates session ― these are indications that the coast is clear.
Next scene… I am holding a microphone sharing the news on television just like I am telling a story to a coworker.
I, then, realized that the universe did not abandon me!
You, literally, have to shout out what you want and take one productive action at a time. Fear of the unknown usually blinds you and this is the first hurdle that we should all overcome.
I did not know what I wanted specifically but realized that, somehow, the universe will work with you and align the pathway in your direction. All that was needed was just a bottle of wine and a confidence push.
Although the battle to prove yourself continues, it is comforting to know that, in my new American world, you can be whatever, and whoever, you want to be. True, the journey might have been, at times, lonely and challenging. But, at the end of the day, if you have made your countrymen, your family, and yourself proud, you can sleep peacefully and fulfilled, and be able to call this OFW* place, home. ✿
*[Wikipedia note: An Overseas Filipino is a person of Filipino origin who lives outside of the Philippines. This term applies to Filipinos who are both abroad indefinitely as citizens or permanent residents of a different country, and to those Filipino citizens abroad for a limited, definite period, such as on a work contract or a student. Overseas Filipino Workers, also known as OFWs, are Filipinos working abroad that are expected to return permanently either upon the expiration of a work contract or upon retirement.]