Life beyond the UN – and retirement
Working abroad can be enriching and exciting. While horror stories of slavery-like conditions, internal and international conflicts, cultural and religious differences, failing economies, natural calamities, pandemics and epidemic outbreaks abound, a foreign job can be still quite rewarding.
Thus, we bravely go abroad, looking at everything that could go wrong with a straight face.
Working abroad made me unmindful of the passing of time. Aging was inevitable but a farfetched reality. Not until the time came to retire.
I literally sought “greener pastures” to cope with the exacting demands of family life. I decided to go “off the grid” for a time and went to the United States.
It was there that patience proved to be the wrong virtue to live by. Instead, the situation needed persistence, which paid off when the call from the United Nations came, and thank the heavens, it did just in time.
It was, however, a bumpy start because of a glaring race issue, but persistence paid off. When faced with challenging circumstances, we realize we have what it takes to beat the odds.
I enjoyed my work with the UN Mission in East Timor. Aside from counseling, I gave lectures on stress management and topics of interest to local and international staff, police and the military, organized welfare and community projects, and handled the mission’s newsletter.
All these were made possible only because I refused to be limited by what I did not know; there is always room to improve.
After five years in East Timor, I was assigned to the UN Mission in Liberia, with shorter stints in other missions. The job was mostly more of the same old things, but perhaps the biggest challenge was during the Ebola virus outbreak.
While the media was busy sensationalizing the event, I took an active role in the awareness training program, and provided sessions to the UN and other international and local groups on coping with psychosocial concerns related to Ebola.
In the workplace, the main catalyst for difficulties was really cultural differences. From here sprang personality conflicts, language barriers, and other factors intrinsic to a multinational community.
People have their unique take on how to enforce the organizational hierarchy and management styles, so misunderstandings are common. And we learn to accept that there are genetically luckier people.
However, it is not a zero-sum game — the success of one is not necessarily the failure of another. Though there are a lot of bright stars, it does not mean we cannot shine in our own way. But, in doing so, no matter what the goal, we should always remain morally upright, for no reward is worth the sacrifice of our core values.
Working with the UN has given me pride in being part of an international organization that makes available not only the dream but also the reality of peace-building and human development.
But I never forgot to reserve a spot in my brain to pay back. For all its faults, the Philippines will always be our motherland.
During my retirement in late 2016, the challenge to myself that I proved right was that life does not end with retirement. I am aging in years, but I defy my crumbling organs.
I miss the UN, but now I am back to school, firm on completing my PhD. I plan to paint soon, dance and play piano, work on my children’s book and community projects that Pope Francis so kindly blessed before my retirement.
Life goes on — yes, even beyond retirement.
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Betty Baronia, from Lucena City, turned 64 last Oct. 25. A registered psychologist and psychometrician, human resources consultant and UN-CISMU external mental health practitioner for the Philippines, she is mother to Jay and Junbee Duhaylongsod, true-blue Ateneans.
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