My First Year as an EXPAT

By Ruth Santos

It is not the hardest decision for me to work overseas. In fact, I looked forward to it.  What’s not to get excited about? Good bye traffic, good bye steep-priced gasoline, good bye old and boring life.  I’m off to a new adventure.  Hello world!

It was the month of April when I arrived.  A good month, the weather already not too chilly and not yet too hot. Excited and energized, I know I am ready and 100% up for the challenge a new country and culture could bring.

It did not take a week for homesickness to sink in.  I long for my daily dose of “tsismis” (gossip) from my close friends.  Technology is great, but being present is greater.  The feeling of isolation grew. I miss the isaw, the toknene, the street calamares, the manga with bagoong.  I wanted to explore to pass the time but everybody seems so busy with work.  Some people I meet have double jobs and then send all their incomes to their family in the Philippines.   And much as I wanted to see the sights, I was afraid to spend.  In my head are the numbers, I couldn’t help but convert the prices.  A serving of pakbet costs Php 250?! A snack of pansit costs Php 200?! My neighborhood carinderia back in the Philippines serves both complete with drinks and unlimited rice for a hundred pesos.

I landed a job in an advertising company.  After debriefing, I was told to “make copi please”, I remained transfixed, processing what I was told to do. Make coffee? I haven’t even been toured and have no idea where the pantry is.  Then my new boss pointed to a stash of papers saying “3 please” that I realized that he meant 3 photocopies.  And thus started my voyage into deciphering the foreign language, familiar words unrecognizable from the speed of their speech.  And the process was not one way.  I was told by my colleagues that I use some “weird” English words. And so I learned. I learned to say cupboard instead of cabinet, toilet instead of bathroom or CR, and use ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ in my spellings.  You›ll stop talking entirely at one point, burned out of translating words from your head, until you get enough reprieve and can face yet another round.

I found out how hard and frustrating it is to vent out words of anger in a foreign language.  And no, “Anak ng tokwa” doesn’t cut it. Eventhough you want to go on a raging spree, words escape you.  Giving advice is much the same way.  My new friend of a different nationality once told me, in a heart to heart moment, the troubles and heartaches of her love life.

And even though I long to scold her and point out obtuse incidences, to tell her to stop wasting her youth and beauty and explore other venues to occupy her life, to stop looking for the perfect one and instead make herself the right one, all I said was “Don’t worry, everything will be alright” for fear of incorrect sentence coherence.

I do not consider myself nationalistic.  I believe I am just like any normal Filipino citizen. Opinionated yet passive regarding current events, bickering with friends about politics, but not one to go on street rallies for a cause or advocate a national issue.  The closest I come to being on a road assembly was to sing with the throng “For God so love the world, He gave us his only son…” which is when the Pope visited. But distance does make the heart fonder.  I crave for our culture, our food, and our people, everything dear and familiar.  Once impervious, now news of inefficient governance saddens me. News of poverty, corruption, and calamities stabs my heart.  I find myself crying for my country and countrymen.  I yearn to help my homeland. I am a Filipino, and I love the Philippines.

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