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5 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Moved Away from the Philippines

When I first decided to move to the United States for a job opportunity, a lot of people told me “ang tapang mo naman!” I didn’t understand at first. I equated courage with saving a life, serving your country or surviving a fatal disease. Moving abroad to follow my dreams didn’t seem like a big deal.

While I still wouldn’t say that I was brave, I can say that there is a certain amount of gutsiness involved in packing up your entire life and moving thousands of miles away from home.

The thought of moving abroad felt like an exciting, new adventure and I thought I had prepared myself for everything I could possibly encounter. Well, I was dead wrong. You can prepare yourself as best as you can, but there are some things that you simply can’t anticipate when you move abroad.

Here are some of the things I didn't expect when I moved abroad:

1. It can be hard to make friends

Growing up in the Philippines can lead you to think that it will be that easy to befriend people everywhere you go. But moving to another country means getting used to a whole new social dynamic.

I moved to Seattle, Washington, a part of the United States that has some notoriety when it comes to their frosty welcome of newcomers, local and foreign alike. I find Seattleites to be incredibly friendly and helpful. However, going beyond small talk and finding real friends can take time. Once you do manage to build solid friendships, they’re in it for the long haul.

Forging bonds abroad isn’t always easy and you’ll often end up comparing your new friends with your friends back home. But you’ll soon realize that while these friends may be different, they don’t care for you any less than the ones you have at home. Real friends can be found anywhere.

Sure, you’re not in the Philippines anymore, but the people you manage to become friends with will make you feel like you’ve found a home in your new city. You just need to work hard at putting yourself out there, be friendly and open to people of different backgrounds, and be the kind of friend you would also want to have.

2. Government processes suck wherever you go

One of the things that I looked forward to when I moved abroad was the end of government red tape. All of us have felt frustration at the difficulties we face just to obtain a piece of paper or ID. We imagine it to be a purely Filipino experience. With a first world country’s modern databases, faster internet connection and generally less fussy policies, you’ll spend less time at a depressing government offices, right?

I hate to burst your bubble but government processing is horrific wherever you go. Think the NBI clearance is already an inconvenient wait? Processing of FBI clearances in the United States can take up to 3 months. The requirements for various documents, such as social security and driver’s licenses, are different for each state, so you may have to update your documents if you move to another state. Processing for these documents also takes time and money.

I have friends in other countries who have also spent valuable hours of their lives in government offices in other countries. Everyone in the world experiences dissatisfaction with their governments. It’s not a purely Filipino experience.

3. Time runs faster

My Filipino friends in the US and I all agree on one thing when we moved: time moves so much faster over there. There was always something we needed to do and we didn’t seem to have enough time to do everything.

Life in the US is pretty fast-paced. People are always hurrying from one place to another, doing one errand after another. American culture values busyness so a hectic way of living at work and out of work validates this culture. All hours of the day are filled up with work, lots of errands, social activities, and other stuff.

Because Americans are rather independent, there’s no one around to help you do what needs to be done. If you were used to a life of household helpers and drivers to do your chores or if you were used to having your mom or kuya solve your problems for you, you’d struggle to get your bearings there. It’s all on you to make things happen.

4. More money, more problems

I think a lot of Filipinos who moved abroad or are OFWs will agree with this: There’s a huge misconception that when you move abroad, the money will start pouring in and you can start swimming in moolah any day now. Yes, when you convert your earnings to peso, you do earn a lot more money abroad than here in the Philippines. But keep in mind, you still have to spend in the currency you’re earning in. You have to pay for your rent, utilities and other necessary expenses in dollars. The money goes just as fast it comes.

Aside from that, the real value of money in dollars can’t really be converted. Let’s say you’re a professional earning the equivalent of Php 100,000 in a month in the US. That’s a considerably huge amount of money here in the Philippines. It will go a looong way here. But in dollars, that’s a pretty low salary rate. It can barely pay for rent in Seattle.

So nope, America isn’t a promised land where money grows on trees. You’ll have to work for it just as hard as anyone else in the US or in the Philippines.

5. Home is here, there, and everywhere

People say that home is where the heart is. What does that even really mean? Yes, I grew up in Manila and have friends and family here. But I’ve also grown to adore Seattle and have loved ones over there.

When I was in Seattle, I missed my family and my friends in Manila. I grew a bit envious with every Facebook post of each party or reunion that I missed. I felt really sad whenever people would say “ikaw nalang kulang dito.” But at the same time, I also loved my life in Seattle and I had an incredible time there. I still think about how my friends and co-workers are doing over there.

When you move away, you leave with a singular notion of what and where home is. But when you start building and settling into your new life, you start to realize that home can’t be confined to a single place. We all leave a piece of ourselves in every place that we live in. And at the same time, every place we’ve lived in and every friend we’ve made also leaves a mark on us.

It’s pretty great actually. You start to realize that in this big world we live in, you will always find your own space, and your own tribe to call your own.

Living abroad is an exciting adventure I would recommend to anyone, especially young people who want to experience life in a different setting. Although it’s true that it might take a while to adjust to a whole new environment, it’s a pretty enriching opportunity that opens your eyes to new experiences that will not only make you appreciate your life over there, but your life in the Philippines as well.