What comes to mind whenever ‘working overseas’ comes up in conversations – adventure, career growth, money, travel? Usually, working abroad becomes synonymous to the things we gain or look forward to. As a country exposed to colonization for more than 300 years, the idea of something, or someone, foreign is a sign of good things to come. This despite being classified at the bottom strata of society during the Spanish era, or enslaved as comfort women during the Japanese period of our history.
As a people hungry for the basic comforts first world countries take for granted, working abroad becomes the Filipinos’ escape for the short-term, and refuge for the long haul. And I don’t blame those who choose this path. Job scarcity, ambition and the steadfast belief that life’s problems can be solved by working in another country serves as the fuel many need to brave the unknown. It comes to no surprise, then, that millions of Filipinos benefit from foreign currency remittances that increase their spending power. Our economy continues to thrive due to consumer spending driven by OFW families. It really is a phenomenon that only a handful of countries can relate to (for example Mexico, India or Vietnam). But at what cost?
I had a college friend who, at 19, got pregnant and was forced to marry her childhood sweetheart to save face and ensure that her son wouldn’t be born out of wedlock. But at that tender age and getting married for the wrong reason abruptly ended their 3-year marriage. She was forced to look for work that would support herself and her son. She tried different opportunities here but decided to go for a job overseas working as a flight attendant for one of the top Middle East airline companies. At first, she was sad at the thought of leaving her son, but necessity forced her to pursue this opportunity. So she packed her bags, went to Riyadh, and went to work. She enjoyed the traveling despite the long hours and stress brought about by time zone changes, and the income was good. But after only 6 months she decided to come home – without any savings. She explained to me that there were 2 reasons for her decision to come back: one – she missed her son so much, and two – she felt like she was losing her mind.
Working abroad may appear exciting and fun, in the beginning. But if you’re not prepared physically, emotionally and mentally considering cultural differences, climate conditions and religious beliefs, it is extremely hard to adjust. Pair all that with a deep longing to be with your loved ones and you’re either in for a miserable contract term should you choose to stay, or penalized for not fulfilling your contract plus having nothing to show for the short stint away. How do you prepare to work abroad?
OFW Coach Tip #1: BE REALISTIC. No matter how wonderful working abroad appears, do your research! And I don’t mean famous landmarks to visit and food to eat (you can do this after Tip #3). Attend a pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) from a reputable agency, or those offered by POEA or OWWA or even your LGU to learn more about the country you’re going to. Google your destination or Wiki-find it, and try to learn as much about the country – culture, climate, people. Talk to people who’ve been there to work and better they be strangers than friends or relatives. Why? Have you ever heard of the saying ‘misery loves company’? To do this, go to groups online like Facebook, Yahoo or Google to find objective opinions about the truth of working abroad.
OFW Coach Tip #2: MIND YOUR MANNERS. Don’t dive in without knowing at least some common terms and useful expressions in the local language such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘help’, ‘good morning/afternoon/evening’, and the like. Learning cultural NO-NOs is also important (for example tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention might be considered rude in another country).
OFW Coach Tip #3: HAVE A VISION, HAVE A GOAL. In any project or endeavor, one should always have a CLEAR goal. CLEAR stands for Concise (it has to be comprehensive but short so it’s easy to remember), Logical (it needs to make sense! Having a car only you can touch when you don’t drive is a waste of resources), has an Ending (goals must have deadlines), Ambitious (it should be just out of reach to make you work harder for it) and Rewarding (it should make you feel good once you’ve attained it).
These tips are by no means exhaustive and there are plenty more you can do to prepare yourself to work abroad. Check out the tools section to find useful resources. Visit ofwcoach.com weekly for new articles and stories to empower you to come home, for good. If you have a personal OFW experience you’d like to share, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you! Coach signing off until next time!