Filipinos are massive fans of traveling. We enjoy seeing new places and consider it as a milestone each time. When one goes to another country, those who are left back home anxiously wait for the person to return. They eagerly listen to his stories, check out his amazing pictures and, if they get lucky, receive some souvenirs from the country this person visited which we fondly call Pasalubong.
But what happens to those who leave the country to work and not to have fun? What goes on in the lives of those who bravely chose to be far from what is comfortable, familiar and known? After seven months of settling outside the Philippines, I have come to the realisation that many (if not all) go through different stages in discovering and unlocking Hong Kong’s way of life.
Stage 1: The Initial Heartbreak
April 13, 2019 - I can still clearly remember how confused I have felt on my way to the airport. Traveling has always been my thing. Exploring different places is my constant passion; but I have never dreamt of settling somewhere else except my home country. You see, I took teaching to heart; and in the Philippines we are made to take an oath to serve our fellow citizens. I have lived in and for that mission for the past ten years. It was never easy but it was all worth the sacrifices. Despite the hardships and seasonal frustration because of the lacking resources for children, I made it through.
But April 13 was particularly special and memorable - simply because it was my first time to buy a one-way ticket. I had to say goodbye to all my amazing students back home, to my colleagues whom I practically grew up with in those ten years, and to my family whom I love the most. I was not feeling like it was goodbye until the last minute. That was the only time I felt that I was about to leave everything behind.
Tears, endless hugs and goodbyes are usual scenarios in the Manila International Airport. To move away from this, I asked my family not to bring me to the airport. I was successful not to have watery eyes while checking in and passing through immigration. I was rather excited. It felt like a new adventure for me! And then we were called to board the plane - still no sign of fatal heartbreak or sadness. When the plane finally took off, I heard some kids clapping seemingly very excited. This was the moment I burst into tears. It finally sunk in that I was about to have a new life far from everything I have known for the past 30 years.
Stage 2: Learning to Letting Go
My first few days in Hong Kong were really fun! It was like having a long vacation from work. Then it started to dawn on me that this is my life now. My husband laughed at me so many times because I would convert (I still do!) every single price in the grocery from HKD to PHP before buying. I was also a bit lost with the changes in terms of surroundings, people and sound. I was scared because I did not know what to expect. I remember being very confused with the bus numbers and all those times I had to run like no one’s business because the drivers leave the stop on time. I also learned to eat toast for breakfast and go for “rice-less” meals (Fun Fact: Filipinos eat rice 3-4 times a day!).
During the start, I was set on to land a teaching job as soon as possible. Days turned into weeks and I started to be very anxious and frustrated. I wanted to start working, but it was not happening for me. In those moments, I thank my husband for his endless patience and support. He is my constant motivator and best friend :) He is the reason why I never gave up on trying.
Before I left Manila I was utterly positive about my credentials. I have the relevant university diploma, master’s degree, international recognitions and ten years of experience. I was pretty confident at first, but then I was reminded that this is not Manila and it will take time for me to gain my spot here in HK. It was a learning experience for me - a letting go lesson that is. I learned that no matter how well I did back home, it did not matter here.
In HK, I learned to be stronger and show what I can do. I learned to let go and stop comparing how things happen back home and here. I learned to be humble - that whatever I have earned in Manila may not be as relevant in the country where I am now. Having this in mind changed my perspective. I stopped aiming for the best and worked on getting to know the education culture in Hong Kong. Instead of getting a full-time job, I decided to facilitate off-shore classes with my students back home and get a part-time teaching post. It sounds mental, I know, and my family was worried that I would not be able to juggle all these things. But I was very eager to find the starting line and understand the teaching ground during that time, and so I did.
Stage 3: Finding Your Spot
I started looking for part-time teaching jobs that I can take on during my free time. It did not take long until I received interview requests from an international school and a language centre. I was worried the entire time because I did not know how organisations conduct interviews in HK. I remember arriving at the international school three hours before my scheduled interview with the coordinator. I was terrified to be late and lose the chance. I was feeling really small during that time. I suddenly felt incompetent and undeserving when I saw the other interviewees come in. It was lovely speaking with the coordinator, but did not push my luck hard because I felt that they will go for the other candidates.
After three days I had my interview with the language centre manager. This time I was more confident because I knew what to do. I was prepared to throw some convincing statements when all she asked was “Why do you like to teach?”. I was dumbfounded at first but managed to answer the question. After talking a little bit more, I felt overjoyed when she finally offered me the job! I It was such a relief for me!
A week went by after I started teaching in the language centre when the international school informed me that they’d like to offer me the job. It was lucrative and very tempting, but just the same I turned it down. My mom went crazy after hearing what I did. She told me I lost a great opportunity. I told her that I already gave my word and there is no doubt in my mind that I was happy with my decision. For many, it was a lost chance. For me, it was a chance gained to payback those who first believed in me. My boss is an amazing person. She is always there to help out and would patiently walk us through in case we need assistance. Her positivity at work is so contagious that it resonates among all the teachers and staff. Yes, it is incomparable to the international school. Yes, the pay is different. But to me the chance she gave meant more than anything else. She believed that I can do it and I am no less that the other native speakers in her organisation. Because of her faith in my skills, more opportunities opened up for me. It just took that one tiny chance and everything else followed. If not for my current boss, I would not have found my spot and where I truly belong.
Stage 4: Embracing the Changes
Hong Kong’s way of life is definitely far from what I used to have in Manila. I learned to embrace it wholeheartedly and call it my “other home”. Before, I used to worry that students here will never like or respect me. Now I am receiving commendations from some of them, from the parents and even from the staff and managers.
I learned not to fight the change and to just let it flow. I allowed Hong Kong to embrace me back, change my heart and teach me great life lessons. I have met lots of great people who welcomed me with lovingly opened arms and I could not thank them enough for doing so. Each day is a learning opportunity for me to be more adept to the local culture, to be more grounded and hardworking. I know my experiences are nothing compared to all the Filipinos and migrant workers who have been living here for years. I just cannot wait to see more of Hong Kong and discover more things to love about it soon.