Is this what I want?
At 25, I am still young. And I am in the Middle East. Every morning when I wake up, I try to convince myself that this is what I want. By “this” I mean being an overseas Filipino worker.
Before I left the country, which must have 100 nurses per square kilometer, I had a job that most of the jobless nurses I knew wanted. I was a staff nurse in one of the best—if not the best—hospitals and the newest of its kind in the Philippines. Talk about the highest standards of care, excellent customer service, high-end equipment, sophisticated structure, excellent human resources support, and of course, prestige, they have it. To top that, I was assigned to one of its critical care units and surrounded with people who learned, made decisions, cared for patients, complained, worked and had fun with me. If I were in someone else’s place, I would have been envious of what I had, minus all the setbacks that we encountered in the process of revving up our unit operations. Because it was a newly opened health care provider, almost every single thing had to be thought out thoroughly and decided upon: from the policies and the protocols and down to free shuttle services. Hence, to say that we had pressure and stress levels reaching the red marks to cope up with ever-changing practices would be an understatement. I was happy with my colleagues and the kind of work I had, but I lacked the strength to face the minor hitches that bugged us every now and then. I was able to keep my love for the job for quite a while and then came the “quarter-life crisis” that dissolved whatever was left of my motivation to stay.
I read about it in a magazine neatly tucked in one of our desk drawers. I am not an avid magazine reader (except for those which feature Angel Locsin) but that one probably had some kind of magnet in it. After disappointingly answering more yeses than no’s, I felt that the columnist was probably thinking about me when he was writing his piece. The fact about me being in my mid-twenties, earning a so-so salary, unmarried and still at an entry-level job hit me squarely.
Right after reading the article, I decided that I had to leave my job. It didn’t matter whether I would go abroad or end up going home. All that mattered was that I leave.
Applications for new job opportunities were sent, homebound tickets (MNL-DVO) were bought, and a resignation letter was prepared. After a series of rejections and a few bouts of frustrations, a God-sent offer finally found its way to me. “This is it!” I thought. I resigned and accomplished requirements needed for the job in the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia, the only thing that was clear about the job opening. I had no idea where exactly in the kingdom I was going and to what nursing unit I would be assigned.
So here I am, in one area of Saudi Arabia that is so far that if we were allowed to do so, we could reach Yemen by land in three hours. It is so far from the heart of the country that if Riyadh were Manila, I would be writing this in the middle of the Celebes Sea.
Don’t ask me about homesickness because I have been homesick for about three to four years already. Ask me about culture shock, adaptation and the million surprises that faced me during my first few days here.
It is a cliché, but working outside one’s homeland isn’t easy and is never a privilege. For others, leaving the country was a necessity because they have families to feed, offsprings to send to school and debts to pay. For me, it was nothing more than a very risky option. I am single. My mother, thankfully, still has the means to provide for our family. I don’t have a heavy debt burden. And I had a stable job in Manila. I could have stayed in if I wanted to, but I chose not to. The quarter-life crisis cast shadows on the path towards my dreams and I needed to get through those dark silhouettes in order to reach them. I thought (and I am still thinking) that this was the best way to do it.
If I can resist the temptation to buy extra food and modern gadgets, money will never be an issue because my salary comes tax-free, food and water are free, I have no electricity bills to pay, and there are no malls to visit. Sounds fun, huh? Fun indeed, except for a few facts that most hopefuls back home underestimate.
For one thing, there’s discrimination. Foreigners against Filipinos—that is to be expected. But there’s also that kind where Filipinos discriminate against fellow Juans and Juanas. There is very limited freedom to speak, to write, to act, to work and to enjoy the way you want to. In adversities, you can only count on your own self because you never know who among those around you would care, listen and do something to keep your trust. Plus, you will miss all the weddings, fiestas, hangouts, birthday celebrations, Christmas parties, out-of-town trips and many other pleasures you can share with your friends and family back home. These and many other difficulties keep me wondering if leaving everything behind, including my previous job, was worth it.
I realize that my job is a blessing. The good friends I met here are blessings, too. The salary I receive every month is a blessing. The learning and experience I get every working day are blessings. All the hard work has paid off and every day I thank God for all of these, and especially for answering my prayers. After all, at 25 and in the middle of a quarter-life crisis, this is what I want.
But again, is this really what I want?
Thea Angelie Braga, 25, is an NICU nurse at Sharourah General Hospital, KSA.