10 HARD TRUTHS I LEARNED WHEN I BECAME AN OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKER
I couldn’t understand the hype of being an Overseas Filipino Worker until it happened to me until I myself decided to leave home and work with people in a country I am completely unfamiliar with. It was like being born again, but in a different place, and learning the basics of the language, food, and getting along with people. It was okay at first, or so I thought, until the truth hit me hard in the face and things happen.
Contrary to what other Filipinos believe, working abroad is not easy. As a matter of fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my whole life! It’s basically constant grinding and hustling.
Now, I’m not insinuating that being an OFW is all bad. No. It has its perks. Life abroad is hard for OFWs like me, but to be honest, I couldn’t be more proud of the experience. After all, it’s opened so many things that it’s changed my perspectives in life.
There were lots of challenges physically, mentally, and most of all emotionally that many times, I felt giving up. I’d bet every OFWs have gone through this stage. During these times, I’d remember how far I’ve gone, then I’d look at what’s ahead, and only then that I’d be able to continue hustling.
It wasn’t a beautiful journey, but it definitely was worth it! Why? It’s because of the lessons I learned that I doubt I’d be able to know had I not taken the leap to become an OFW.
Disclaimer: These are all from my personal experiences, and not meant in any way, to offend other Overseas Filipino workers, or discourage Filipinos of pursuing their dreams of working abroad.
*I’ve included some of my photos with friends and workmates. You can check them below. 🙂
1. No family will ever come to the rescue.
It isn’t like when we get sick, wonder mom could come and take care of us. It’s not. Unless we live with our family abroad, when we encounter problems at work or if we get sick, no one will ever come to our rescue. When we’re abroad, we are on our own. This and separation are just some things most Filipinos find difficult to deal with.
One time I got sick and was left alone. My housemates had to go to work. I had no choice but to take care of myself. It was a struggle, yes, but experience like this made me strong.
Over time, you will know that having friends, especially true ones, would play a big part in your everyday life abroad. Eventually, they’d become like a family that you can go and talk to when you need help.
2. Money doesn’t come easy.
The number one myth that our families (in the Philippines) think about is we have lots of money and are just picking up money in the streets of Europe or of the Middle East. They have the least idea that the opposite is true. Money doesn’t come easy. It’s not like we do magic abroad.
We need to work our asses off for every dollar that our employers pay us. We give value to every dollar we earn to the point that some eat canned goods and instant noodles for a week just to save some coins, and all those are sent home.
If you think working abroad is a walk in the park, you’re downright wrong. You’ll experience how to earn every penny in abroad the hard way.
3. Most overseas Filipino workers don’t have savings.
We all know the importance of savings, but still, it’s surprising to know that most of us don’t have savings. Do you know why that is? I must admit this is one thing we all struggle with so much. We are known to be family oriented to the point we support everyone in the family including our extended family. And so, all money goes to that purpose. I’m not saying this is wrong, but having savings is imperative.
So, I deeply encourage all who works abroad to set aside a part of your salary for savings.
I know a friend who has 100kPhp ($ 2000) savings for a year of working only to spend it for a month in the Philippines on her vacation.
Perhaps, we need to be more open-minded regarding savings and investments, and not be a “one time, big time” shot.
4. The contract has caused problems to our Kababayans.
I realized how serious problems could arise because of the contract when working in Bahrain.
Many of us, especially in the Middle East, pay a hefty amount of money to breach the contract and end up nothing. Why? That’s because they no longer want to work with their employers who exploit them. I’m not saying this to judge, but I’ve been told personal stories and firsthand experiences of people who have gone this road.
I met many house helpers (because of the industry where I worked) who told me their stories. I met one domestic helper (Filipina) who cried in front of me while telling me her story of how she ended up working in Bahrain even though she’s a bit old. (She’s in her 50’s.) She’s being exploited by working more than 16 hours. When I told her to report it to the embassy, she only replied, “That’s in the contract.”
Some contracts have discrepancies, so watch out if you ever plan to work abroad. Protect yourself. You don’t want to have this kind of experience, do you? Good.
Unfortunately, she’s only one of the many. You’ll meet more when you’re on board the ship.
5. Goods from home are expensive.
Of course! They’re considered imported!
Eating food from home felt like home. It is a brilliant thing that Bahrain values diversity so Filipino restaurants are everywhere. You choose! You can find restaurants that sell halo-halo, sinigang, bulalo, and more Pinoy food easily.
I find it funny how one friend of mine kept on complaining to me that there was no rice in Europe. I mean, rice isn’t a staple food there, right? Rice is for Asian. Lol. So she’s forced to eat in Asian restaurants which are a bit pricey.
No worries, you’ll get used to it as time goes by.
Things as simple as food from home can cure homesickness.
6. People expect too much.
Especially people from home. They expect we’d be able to buy land, a house, and have a business in as little as two years of working abroad. I can’t stress enough how this is so not true. (It might be true to some, maybe depends on your line of work).
I am not saying these are impossible to achieve but it takes several years to have all those things, at least ten years maybe if you work blue-collar jobs.
I had to opportunity to meet OFWs who worked for more than ten years but hadn’t invested in anything. I don’t know if this is because of financial illiteracy or because there are just too many people to support financially.
So my advise? If you’re going to work abroad, the first thing you should think about is an investment. Don’t let your time working abroad pass by without any fruits of labor.
7. Some OFWs are exploited.
There’s more than meets the eye! We may not be physically exploited, but emotionally and mentally.
Some work way past the required time without any pay. Others are abused verbally. There are many stories of abused OFWs that are not shown on TV or online.
8. Health is wealth is secondary.
There are more companies with not enough staff or worker, so what happens is, Pinay domestic helper A does all the job.
There are domestic helpers who work for big families and do all the house chores. This is why even when we’re sick, we push ourselves to go to work as there’s no one we can rely on to continue the work.
I personally had experienced working 17 hours because we’re understaffed. It usually is mind over matter. That’s one way to definitely survive.
9. Workers abroad are likely to suffer from depression.
There are many things to stress about when working abroad, not only in work but also in our homes.
Family problems and work-related issues keep on piling up causing some of us to blow off like a bomb. There are so many things to talk about but no one to talk to. Some are not adept in managing stress thus they get depressed.
10. Most OFWs have sad stories to tell.
You know how most episodes of the famous “Maalaala Mo Kaya” are about overseas Filipino Workers, right? Because they’re true! It depicts the naked truth about the lives of Filipinos abroad. People who’ve left home to work abroad have sad stories about them.
Most are breadwinners and from poor families, the exact common reason why we left home.
I had this habit of asking people or my workmates about their lives and what made them decide to work abroad, and the replies I got were all interesting and sad.
You can go ask anyone who know who works abroad. They won’t give a second thought in telling you their story.
There you all have it!
While working abroad, I became aware of how my experiences make me. I had the hardest time while working in Bahrain. I won’t tell you the story, but there’s only one thing I can say, it’s very challenging! At some point, I regret going there, but right now, whenever I recall the circumstances I was in years ago, I’d burst out laughing. Lol! It was distressing to the point I’d laugh at it now.
Thanks to the help I got from friends during that time, I survived! 😀
-Cue “I’m a Survivor” by Destiny’s Child song
I’m a survivor (What?)
I’m not gon give up (What?)
I’m not gon stop (What?)
I’m gon work harder (What?)…
Just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to working abroad. These are just things you sometimes need to learn the hard way.
What can I say? Just keep going. All the experiences, bad or good, at some point will come in handy, so just keep going!
To all OFWs, I salute you! May you continue to achieve your dreams for you and your family. Above all, the most important is you create moments.
This is Melanie signing off from being an OFW!
Till next time. Keep hustling.
P.S. These are some of the photos I’ve taken with friends and workmates while in Bahrain. 🙂