Challenges of Working Abroad

Over eleven million Filipinos either live or work outside the Philippines. This statistics is said to have almost reached its peak, given the emigration pace is a little less faster than expected, perhaps due to developments in the country. However, the fact is still remains that over ten percent of the population resides abroad. This challenges pose a big challenge, not just the society in general, but also the concerned individual. The challenges and experiences are sometimes underestimated by those who never had to undergo the ups and downs of being an overseas Filipino workers.

In late 2013, I took the chance of starting a new life in Norway, a country I hardly knew before, inspite of me interested in world history and geography. The first few months literally caused a culture shock and somewhat short period of "depression." It was not easy. There are things that I did not expect even though I was financially prepared of it. Much worse, I went to a country where as a health care provider, I need to speak another language and literally start from zero. Everything I had in the Philippines did not matter. However, this is surprisingly not the greatest challenge I encountered. These challenges will be the focus of this blogpost.

Competing with time.

When one starts anew in a new place, it is like being born again. One has to learn everything in that society as fast as one could. For example, a native language learned by locals for years is something an immigrant is expected to master in months. The legal requirements are not as easy as one would say. One has to race with time and use all resources available during that time. It is like one trying to read a book in three days, while others are allowed to do it for months. That is a tough challenge.

Losing one's cultural identity.

The first months would be the most difficult, but in contrast to what others say, cultural problems become worse as time passes by. One loses his or her identity gradually, and doing so is feeling like a strange with oneself. Worse, at times, immigrants are careful to express and practice traditions, including their language. It is like having dilemma fitting into something, but the best solution is changing, ignoring and even forgetting almost everything concerning with oneself.

The hidden struggles.

There are things that are left untold. Those experiences are somewhat buried in one's subconsciousness. The picture show another thing than the story behind everything. Every immigrant felt embarrassed, ridiculed or has been humiliated intentionally or inadvertently. Those are things that threaten one's ego. Those struggles break one, but one tries to be still confident and whole, even breaking and suffering inside. Although some of these struggles are temporary and short-lived, but these have permanently made a mark in the consciousness of these individuals.

Establishing a trusted new social network.

Feeling lonely, look for a friend. Easy said that one. The problem lies is whether to find someone who shares the same feelings or experiences like another Filipino, or mingle with those belonging to the locality themselves. The goal is to integrate well into the new society, without losing the original social networks one has, but the implementation is challenging. Everyone seems to distrust each other among immigrants themselves. It seem some will take the opportunity away from another. Worse, locals in the new society have increased scepticism to immigrants making conversation and cultural exchange more difficult.

Being part of a sub-society.

Living as an overseas worker is like living in a bunker house within a big house. There are things we see in the dark streets of the society that the locals do not see. There are scenarios that occur because we are foreigners in a new place. These experiences could be tragic and dramatic for immigrants, which aggravates the prevailing challenges each overseas worker. The strange cultural set-up and complicated bureaucracy in the new land might be difficult to understand, suc that asking help would almost be non-existent, or irrelevant. This makes it the experiences of an immigrant different with that of the locals, a characteristic of a sub-society.

Beating expectations and misconceptions.

Many are actually expecting that those living outside the home country are living a luxurious stress-free life. This is totally different from the realities of being an overseas worker. Every immigrant expects things will go as planned and dreamed. However, this is often different from what actually happens. Sometimes, the dream of heaven is the actually a life in hell or anything a little better. The sacrifices and compromises an immigrant need are quite big, exposing one to various risks and vulnerabilities that do not just affect one, but everyone depending with the immigrant back home.

Being detached with reality.

Immigrants live in a different versions of reality. The reality that everything in the home country will be better, while believing that life in the new place will be easier or different. However, both of these realities are far from the "real" reality that exists. Immigrants have a hard time differentiating assumptions and the reality. Being detached to a reality is like living a fantasy. A fantasy that is difficult to attain in reality. The reality of living a better life in two different worlds not really connected with each other.

Going away from the stereotypes.

Being a Filipino in Norway, there exists three common stereotypes for Filipinos, either a househelp, struggling health care worker or a highly vulnerable and dependent Filipino/a married to a local. Going away from that stereotype is a challenge when locals ask me if I have a decent  house or work in the Philippines. Most expect Filipinos are always in need or in distress. That demeaning fact is hard for me to accept. Worse, some Filipinos prove that these stereotypes are true by not being careful of their actions and decisions. This is the reason I want to set an example that being a first-generation immigrant is not an automatic pass to say that all Filipinos are the same.

I could say despite of all the challenges, I am still lucky in a way that I came to Norway. I just have to reach that difficult-to-achieve societal threshold, then everything seems to be easier. I do not need to compete with other nationalities, who could easily pass a low societal threshold, for example in a naturally English-speaking nation, where immigrants learned English even before coming to that place. In Norway, every immigrant struggles, almost everyone. No one could say he or she has an advantage, such that almost everyone starts on the same low level. What matters is the perseverance and determination. Many would give up, but to those who could, then they would reap the opportunities and benefits this land could offer.

In contrast to this, the stories of Filipinos living in restrictive lands and competitive societies would constantly prove themselves all throughout. Everyday is an opportunity to prove oneself where anyone better could instantly replace what one. To add, there are things and experiences only those residing abroad could understood. Loneliness is an understated feeling for overseas workers like me. It is hard, but who said it would be easy. We chose this path, so we need to endure this no matter what for the reasons and beliefs we stand for.


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