Borderless Learning: Online Education Options for Overseas Filipinos


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty," says Henry Ford. Where innovation is the key to success in many industries, it becomes every professional's responsibility to keep up with new knowledge, skills, and trends. But between juggling tight work deadlines, adjusting in a foreign culture, and regularly reconnecting with family and friends back home, most overseas Filipinos just won't have the time to enroll in a brick-and-mortar institution.

Books, videos, and multimedia resources readily offer food for thought. But for that extra push, a good alternative to try is online education. Not bounded by commute and classroom time, you're free to hit course materials and complete the activities at your own pace. As long as you can manage some trade-offs, such as not getting instant feedback on your questions, you're very much in control of your learning progress. The best part is you can log on to your virtual class wherever you want - be it in a public library or even in your own bedroom.

Short courses

Web-based short courses are gaining ground these days. I've recently completed a short course through Coursera. Coursera courses are offered by top-tier universities such as Princeton and Stanford and are taught by highly esteemed professors. Have I mentioned that it's free? Yup, totally free! In some courses (like the one I took on Gamification), you can even get a certificate if you pass the requirements such as quizzes, written assignments and final exams. The range of courses to choose from include programming and computational methods to poetry and philosophy. (If you're an OFW dazed with money responsibilities, check out financial literacy basics.) For support, you'll find lots of students from diverse nationalities (Filipinos included!) in online study groups. Some alternatives to check out include EDx and Khan Academy.

If you're looking for a particular professional qualification (such as project management, leadership strategy, or multimedia basics) and are willing to spend modest tuition fees, you can try training providers such as GIZ e-Academy. Backed by the German government, GIZ courses are low-cost, tutor-supported, and quality-controlled. Since there's a limit to the number of students who can enroll, the learning outcomes are more targeted. You can directly apply concepts to your professional needs. A college degree is usually an entry requirement for some of these programs. When I enrolled in GIZ last year, I was satisfied with the scheduled synchronous discussions and as well as inputs on assignments from the course facilitators. On a side note, if you're into the content business, be sure to check out Poynter's NewsU too for learning more about multimedia.

Formal degrees

You can also engage in full-blown degree programs (even tuition-free, such as the case in UoPeople). Locally, the University of the Philippines through its Open University (UPOU) arm, spearheaded online education for Filipinos. UPOU offers accredited programs straight up from the associate's degree to the Ph.D. level. Some graduates of the institution include ranking government officials, armed force personnel, film/TV personalities, and of course, overseas Filipinos. From enrollment, class discussions, to grade inquiry, everything is conveniently done online.

So what could you expect if you decide to pursue further studies with UPOU? "The professors are there just to layout the syllabus and grade your outputs, but they will not spoon-feed the lesson like they do in college," Riyadh-based Pink Tarha blogs on her experience as a Master of Development Communication student at UPOU. "They are available through email in case you need clarifications. But all in all, you will be entirely responsible for you success as an OU student."

Once you decide to further your education, drive and determination are important to accomplish your study goals. Education is one of the best and lasting investments you can have. Drop us a comment to share what you think of online learning. We'll collect some tips to stay ahead of your courses in one of our future posts.

Voices: Home (and Away) for the Holidays


BY LUZ ABAD

During Christmas season, OFWs from all over the world typically return to the Philippines to spend time with their loved ones. However, this is not always a viable option for most, especially when the cost of two-way flight tickets would break the bank. There are some quick ways to remedy homesickness. But there's no escaping loneliness and longing for home. These feelings must be acknowledged or else it will consume you. In this Hay Pinas! Voices post, Luz Abad reminisce on what she misses the most from home and also shares things she's learned in her new life in Canada.
"Naloloka na yata ako dito sa Canada. Wala namang dahilan, napapagod lang. O baka tumatanda na. Anim na taon na ako dito. Tignan mo nga, di pala anim, pito pala. Pitong taon na. Minsan naiisip ko, ano kaya ang nangyari sa buhay ko kung hindi kami umalis ng Pinas? Pero syempre, tulad ng ibang 'what ifs', wala namang kwenta ang ganitong pag iisip, wag nalang isipin.
"Sa tagal ko dito, at sa tagal na panahong di ako umuuwi, di ko na alam kung ano na nga ba ang Pinas. Ang nasa alaala ko yata e yung mga gusto ko lang maalala. Masarap na pagkain, mabagal na buhay, mainit na araw. Masasayang mga pagkakataon kasama ng mga mahal sa buhay. Nakalimutan ko na ang hirap mag budget ng kaunting kita doon. Ang sobrang traffic. Ang nakatutunaw na init, ang malakas na ulan - ang baha. Ang away away ng mga magkapatid. 
"Gusto ko na lang umuwi. At humilata ng walang iniisip. Kumain ng pagkaing hindi ako ang nagluto. Bumili ng kung anu-anong napakamumura. Maligo sa dagat. Sumakay ng tricycle. Magsuot ng bagong plantsang damit. Uminom ng coke sa plastic. Kumain ng Champ sa Jollibee, ng Bunch of Lunch sa Shakey's, ng inihaw na pusit sa Riverbanks, ng bibingka at oysters sa Via Mare, ng chicharong bulaklak sa Pathways, ng lechong manok sa Andoks, ng fishballs at manggang hilaw na may bagoong ni Mang Andy. Mag gala sa Mega Mall. Mag shopping sa Greenhills. Magkape sa Starbucks sa Greenbelt. Makipagkwentuhan sa labas kahit gano katagal, ng hindi nag iisip ng mga anak ko sa bahay, naiwang mag isa. Makinig ng Tagalog na nag uusap ng walang halong Punjabi, Korean, French, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, at kung ano ano pa. Oo, ganyan ka diverse ang population dito sa Vancouver. English yata ang minority. Tagalog lang pwede? 
"Alam ko naman na nangangarap lang ako. Di naman langit ang Pinas. Na mi miss ko lang. Baka pag bumalik ako dun lalo akong maluka. 
"In fairness, marami akong natutunan dito. Naobliga kasi akong matuto. Kaya ko ng magluto ng napakaraming klase ng Pilipinong pagkain. Dati pang handaan lang ang alam kong lutuin. Kaya nung bago kami dito, parang laging may party. Spaghetti, lumpiang shanghai, carbonara, baked macaroni, mixed vegetables with shrimps and quail eggs in creamy white sauce, etc. etc. Ngayon sinigang, pakbet, palabok, adobo, bistek, nilaga, mechado, kaldereta, kahit ano yata. Of course sa tulong ni Mama, Mama Sita. 
"Ang galing ko na ding mag Ingles. Dati-rati, ako na pala ang kausap, di ko pa alam, nakatitig lang ako. Ngayon sanay na ako sa mga Ingles na iba-iba ang accent, pati sa Ingles ng Canadians na para bang kinakain ang mga salita. Bat ba di nila ibuka ang mga bibig nila? Di ba sila tinuruan ng tamang English pronunciation nung elementary? Kunsabagay, ganyan na rin ang mga anak ko ngayon. 
"At eto ka, meron na akong sport. Lampa ako nung bata. Kunsabagay, hanggang ngayon naman. Dati, patintero lang di pa ako makasali sa varsity. Pang muse lang daw ang beauty ko. Pwede na rin, kesa matalo ang mababang paaralan namin dahil nadapa ako. Pero dito, snowboarder ako. O di ba? Sosyal. Pero bago ako natuto, nabali yata ang lahat ng buto-buto ko at nag kulay talong ang buong katawan ko sa dami ng pasa. Lalo yata akong napango sa dami ng 'face plants' ko sa snow. Ikaw ba naman itali ang dalawang paa mo sa tila ba kapirasong plywood. Pero sa wakas, pagkatapos ng dalawang winter, e nakakababa na ako ng bundok ng hindi natutumba. Nadadapa pa rin ako pagbaba ng 'chair lift' pero pwede na. Uubra na. Matatawag ko ng sport ko ang snowboarding. Kaya excited na ako mag winter. Di ko akalaing magagawa ko ito. Parang sa pelikula ko lang nakikita ito noon sa Pinas. 
"Anyway, tama na ang pagmumukmok, wala namang kahihinatnan. I'll just smile and look forward to the future. I'll count my blessings and try to share them. Wish ko lang makauwi sa Pinas. Next year talaga. Promise. See you there."

Luz Abad migrated to Canada seven years ago. She enjoys frolicking in the snow with her husband and kids, although she misses her extended family back in the Philippines. She works as a banking and finance professional. To read more about her OFW stories, visit her blog.

Protecting Your Money From Investment Scams and Frauds


BY BURN GUTTIEREZ

Quite a number of OFWs are starting their homecoming (vacation) at this time. Most of them are staying up until Christmas or New Year’s Day. This is also the period and season when OFWs are the main “target market” of scammers.

So how will an OFW be able to spot a financial scam such as pyramiding and avoid being the next victim while enjoying his or her vacation with loved ones?

Here are a few quick points to remember to protect you, your family, and your money during the Holidays:

1) Don’t be too excited to invest your money. Take your time to research first the background of any investment program being offered to you.

2) Never borrow more money to invest on something you do not understand just because you were promised to receive big returns.

3) Avoid free seminars that claim you can quickly become a millionaire with their strategies. People behind these will tell you and advertise that you should not invest your money in slow traditional investments such as stocks, mutual funds, VUL’s, etc.

4) Avoid complicated and unbelievable presentations on how to build massive wealth in less than 2 years. Building wealth takes time, planning, hard work, and determination. Remember that there’s only one bestfriend that you can rely on in long-term investing: “Compounded Interest”. By reinvesting the returns of your stocks or funds, your wealth will grow exponentially over the long term. You can not consider 2 years as long term.

5) Don’t give in to salesmen who pressure you. Scammers usually pressure their prospective victims into investing all their money in their “wealth-building” program but will not explain to you the risks. They even urge you to borrow money so you can invest more.

6) Do not believe promises to receive “secret” techniques to becoming rich if you join them. Remember, there are no “secrets” or “insider information” to getting wealthy. The ONLY “secrets” to becoming rich that you should know are these:
  • Learn more about investing
  • Give back to God
  • Live a frugal and simple life
  • Avoid unnecessary expenses
  • Be content with just 60% to 70% of your monthly income/salary
  • Be an entrepreneur
  • Invest the rest in legitimate financial instruments
7) Beware of glossy posters and banners with images of peso/dollar bills, a man on an SUV, or of a man punching his hands towards the sky. Run away as fast as you can before they take your money away straight from your pocket.

8) Do not invest if they do not have a physical office in the Philippines. If someone offers you a wealth-building system but could not present a legitimate office address in the Philippines, it’s scam. Many scams claim that their offices are located overseas, in weird places for business like Belize, Panama, Ukraine, etc. and would even present credentials of the business in those countries. Why invest in companies based overseas? There’s more FUND in the Philippines!

You Can Become Rich Over Time, Not Too Soon

Lastly, please remember that you can be financially free and independent even if you are just an employee or as an entrepreneur selling real and legitimate products or providing professional services. Its just a matter of gaining knowledge, discipline, and exerting more effort.

Making more money will never guarantee that you will become “rich”. It’s what you save and invest, and how you manage it as a steward that will make or break you.

Grow yourself first, and you will grow your wealth over time.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God And His righteousness; And all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33

Have a happy and bountiful Christmas season with your loved ones!

This article was first published in BurnGutierrez.com.

OFW Profiles: DJ Regina of South Korea


DJ Regina hosts the radio program for Filipinos in South Korea under Woongjin Foundation's Multicultural Family Music Broadcasting. She is a Master's student of Public Policy at the Korea Development Institute under the Global Ambassador Fellowship.

In this pilot episode of Hay Pinas! Profiles, Regina shares insights and lessons she has learned while staying abroad. Among it is for overseas Filipinos to serve as "Philippine ambassadors" to foster goodwill wherever they may be.


Baby on Board while Abroad: First Trimester Survival Guide


BY ANNE QUINTOS

I've always wondered why it takes so long for women to carry their offsprings in their wombs. Sure, other animals like dolphins and sharks have longer gestation periods. For perplexed young adults like me, however, nine months seemed like an eternity to bear.

Now that I'm pregnant, what I thought was an eternity seemed to move like a speed train. And pregnancy, like a speed train, has been exciting, nauseating (literally!), expensive, disorienting, and amazing! This is why I would like to share my story, hoping to shed some guiding light for overseas Filipino moms-to-be. Even though it can be quite a struggle to get pregnant abroad, it's definitely all worth the ride.

1st month: Oh Happy News

The instructions said wait for two to three minutes. After a few wee drops, one...two...positive. This wasn't the first time I took the test, but this was the first time I didn't have to wait. "I'm so pregnant," I told myself. I immediately rushed out and gave my husband a big hug.

He also didn't have enough time to let everything sink in. After months of trying, our prayers were finally answered. Happiness was an understatement and words just escaped both of us. I cried. He was dazed. Nonetheless, the moment was perfect. We hugged and welcomed each other to parenthood.

"Press 1 to call. Press 2 to deposit. Press 3 to check value..." Raymond waited and followed the voice prompts to make a cheap call to the Philippines. Even though it's anti-climactic than personally delivering our happy news to our family, phone calls were the only choice since we're miles away from home.

We weren't able to see their smiles nor celebrate with festive meals. Still, we felt everybody was happy, from my 90-year old grandmother to our youngest sibling. It's really wonderful how the warmth and love of family travel fast despite the distance.
Preggie tips
  • Prepare yourself for the next months to come as being pregnant while abroad can get emotionally tiresome. On top of the usual homesickness, changing hormones, cravings, and mood swings all add up to the challenge. 
  • Discuss with your partner on when you should announce your pregnancy news to friends, relatives, and co-workers. In most countries, a wait of up to three months is common.

2nd month: Flip Cravings

I grew up with a sense of taste that can take up almost anything. My mom even told me that I was the only baby who ate mashed ampalaya (bitter gourd). Weirdly enough, my taste buds suddenly changed on my second month of pregnancy. The Chinese food I've been eating for almost four years became too strong for my palate. Our usual Japanese sushi dates just became unappealing.

On the other hand, my love for lutong Pinoy grew fonder. I was craving for Sinigang, Nilaga, Adobo, Pancit Bihon, and the usual fare. This was when Raymond started to learn how to cook. My sense of smell was so heightened that I can smell onions even in another closed room. Our friend Merlisa also shared her delicious lutong-Pinoy meals with us from time to time.

Unfortunately, we only the have time to cook during the weekends. We also live far from the Filipino community area. So, on tortured days of barfing the whole work week, I deeply longed for Saturdays and Sundays when I can have my baby get the yummy taste of home.
Preggie tips
  • If your sense of taste gets out of whack, visit the nearest Filipino store for authentic Pinoy ingredients. Adding familiar brands of soy sauce, sinigang mix, and the like to your cooking might do the trick.
  • Even if you have a bad case of morning sickness and most food are unpalatable, you need to eat regularly. Remember that there's a growing baby inside you so try your best to eat whatever tolerable (but healthy) food you can grab on.

3rd month: Hospital Blues

Finding the right OB-Gyne for me in Taiwan was quite challenging. Most doctors speak good English, but we felt there's still something being lost in translation. We did a lot of research and we settled for a hospital recommended by most foreigners working and living in Taiwan. We met our first doctor, a young and perky lady who seemed nice but we didn't feel much expertise. When her nurse was roughly translating our next schedule to us, she asked for the help of another doctor in the next office. The male doctor looked at our schedule slip and asked me, "Pilipino ka?"

It was such a relief to find a Filipino doctor because we instantly felt the connection and that language won't be a problem. Immediately, we rescheduled my check-up with him for the following weeks. But came the time of our appointment, he was rude in reading us the results and not as accommodating with our anxious questions. His clinic line moved in clockwork, like us pregnant women were cogs. He dwelt on early tests and statistics, which filled us with anxiety.

The very next day after, we went to find another doctor. This time around, we chose a Catholic hospital. While it was not as foreigner-friendly, we prayed that we'll be able to find the right doctor for us. And thank God, we did. She was a Chinese middle-aged woman who was fluent in English. Reserved, but gentle. Not as wishy-washy as the first, and not as alarmist as our second find. Finally we had a medical expert to guide us in our pregnancy journey! (Read our 2nd trimester experience...)
Preggie tips
  • Find a doctor you absolutely trust and feel comfortable with. 
  • Seek advice from relatives and close friends on things to expect in pregnancy, and also check with colleagues in your current country for local customs. 

The Asian Dream According to Taipei 101 and its Damper Babies


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Whenever my wife and I have family and friends who visit us in Taiwan, we take them to Taipei 101. Taking the stroll from the City Hall MRT station to Xinyi district's string of boutique shops, our visitors would excitedly gawk at the imposing curiosity that is Taipei 101. The building rises 508 meters from the ground and towers over the sprawling metropolis. The humble but pliant bamboo: that's where Taipei 101 takes design inspiration from. Fittingly so as the bamboo can withstand nature’s temper, braving against oriental typhoons and earthquakes. The building’s aesthetic is very much Asian, but there’s no mistaking its world-class stature. Glistening like an emerald on a clear day, I’ve associated the iconic Taipei 101 building with the Taiwanese – and as well as the Asian – dream.

Although it now has runner-up status as the tallest skyscraper on the planet, Taipei 101 still has plenty to boast of. The building is technologically advanced (world-record for the fastest elevator speed) and environmentally conscious as well (recognized as the largest “green building” by international design consortiums). And it has cuteness overload too! Inside the building, you’ll see the “Damper Babies”. These cheerful-looking mascots are based on the spherical 6-ton dampers that balance the building from strong winds. “Damper Babies” represent decidedly Taiwanese ideals: Rich Gold, Cool Black, Smart Silver, and Lucky Red. From my daily work life in Taiwan, I want to share how I came to witness virtues by the “Damper Babies” come to life.

“Rich Gold”

In Taiwan, good fortune comes from hard work and determination. Riding a taxi on my way to work, the driver casually told me that he is a stockholder of my company. I was amused as salary men like me back in the Philippines don't commonly invest in stocks. But it’s not just the taxi driver though – our neighborhood cook had also informed me before that he bought stocks of my company. This is what impressed me most about Taiwan – everyone seems to have a keen “business sense”. Of course, it takes careful consideration of where money should be invested, studying the risk and making informed decisions. Away from our families, migrant workers like us are tempted to splurge our paycheck on the latest tech gizmos or designer bags – we mistake it as an excuse for our homesickness. But hearing how the Taiwanese handle their money so well, we learn how to better invest our hard-earned income too.

“Cool Black”

How we envy the Taiwanese who seem to be blessed with great genes – they snack on street food but don’t get fat. Beneath the fashionable clothes, their veneer of coolness isn’t only skin-deep: they’re at the pink of health as well. In Taiwan, people have an active and sporty lifestyle – it’s common to see even the elderly doing calisthenics at the park. While lining up to pay our groceries the other time, the man ahead of us stacked his purchases from his cart: fruit juices, wheat bread, and yogurt. Looking at our items, we have chips, chocolates, and liters of cola! All those processed food could only clog our bodies with fat. It got me to thinking that health comes from a holistic lifestyle: eat good, feel good, and look good. Fitting well in jeans is an added bonus – not the end all. Before jumping to another diet fad and workout craze, the rest of the world should look at hints shared by people of this Asian country.

“Smart Silver”

Taipei’s busy streets are an intersection of old wisdom and high-tech. I work for the company that introduced Google’s Android operating system to the world. Just five years ago, the company was not internationally famous. Thanks to continued innovation, the company now stands to be the only Taiwanese company in the global list of the most valuable 100 brands. Such an amazing feat indeed. But the company couldn’t have leapfrogged to success on its own – it shares the accolades with the talented people working for it. Whenever I see groups of students poring over books in the MRT or in fast-food restaurants, I could picture my co-workers as also a curious bunch when they were younger. I’m always amazed that some of the busiest stores in Taiwan are bookstores, at a time when many in Western countries are shutting down due to losing readership to the Internet. Time-honored lessons and forward-looking technology should not be a contradiction – they can mesh well, as shown by Taiwan.

“Lucky Red”

From Taipei 101’s viewing deck, the skyline is a sight to behold. Down below, we see the carefully zoned grids of city roads and the conserved mountain greens. At this vantage point, we come to appreciate Taiwan and its role in what’s called as “the Asian century”. Luck is what we make of it, as the saying goes. Despite political limitations, Taiwan has rapidly industrialized and transformed into a knowledge-based economy. It’s an inspiration to its neighbors across the Pacific border, the Philippines included. At the heart of its democracy are its people. That’s why public service and health care are efficient here. And why its citizens have access to affordable, excellent education. Cultural richness also contributes to the Taiwanese success story. Like many fresh-eyed foreign workers who found themselves in Taiwan before us, my wife and I appreciate the opportunity to not only earn while staying in this beautiful country, but to also nurture goodwill and friendship. Along with family and friends at the top of Taipei 101, we are reminded to dream big and reach for the skies.

Themes from Homilies Addressed to Overseas Filipino Workers


In celebration of World Sunday for Refugees and Migrants, HayPinas.org shares research on themes from Church homilies that address the concerns of Filipino workers in Taiwan. Presented during the International Association for Intercultural Studies annual convention held in Taiwan, the study suggests that overseas Filipinos take on the roles of "surveyor" (of the host society), "survivor" (of migrant problems and challenges), and "savior-returnee" (of the eventual return home). Watch this video for more information.

What's More Dangerous: Dark Skin or Narrow-Mindedness?


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

"No to foreign workers in our community."

Banners with those words hang somewhere in Bade City, Taoyuan County in Taiwan. The sentiment effectively drove away 30 "dark-skinned" Filipinos out of Rueilian, a community of 460 households. The Taipei Times reported that some 1,000 local residents petitioned Ablecome Technology, the company who hired the foreign workers, to house the Filipinos elsewhere but in their community.

In effect, the migrant workers - who have arrived in Taiwan just two weeks before - were doubly displaced. For most of these Filipinos, the lure of higher salaries than what they could get back home forced them to make the difficult decision to work abroad. But rather than welcomed by their new host society, they were shooed away as an unwanted group by a self-described "peaceful community."

Dark-skinned migrants

The reason for the petition basically boils down to the Filipinos' "dark skin." As quoted in the newspaper report, Taoyuan County Councilor Lu Lin Hsiao-feng has this to say about the incident: "[Locals] are merely worried that clashes could happen because of these foreign workers, with their different skin color and different culture, going in and out of the community."

Dark skin alone - a "safety concern" brought about by the Filipinos' otherness - is the main reason for the migrant workers to be expelled from the Rueilian community. None whatsoever of disorderly conduct, suspicious activity, or any misdeed. Mere color, pigment, melanin. This is racial discrimination rearing its ugly head. The excuse made by the government official just made the incident a whole lot sadder.

Narrow-minded locals

There's darkness that's really dangerous, and it's not skin-deep. It's darkness from a place of ignorance and intolerance. In a world where borders are opening up and technology is broadening horizons, there's no reason to harbor unfounded fear and prejudice. Taiwan is a major world player in developing cutting-edge technology. But as manifested by the incident, the attitude of a segment of its people needs catching up with the rest of the globalized world.

The most cosmopolitan societies are a melting pot of cultures. Ideas, art, and innovation thrive when diverse backgrounds intermingle. In some advanced societies, multiculturalism is even a highlight of school curricula. Had the Rueilian locals been more open to diversity, they would have learned sooner or later that Filipinos, although coming from a poorer country, are no less intelligent or talented than the next person on the street. Discrimination is disgusting, wherever part of the world it is committed.

Let's talk

One week after the news report "Local community petitions foreign workers to leave" was published, the article still ranks as among the most read and shared in the Taipei Times website. Foreigners and locals alike expressed outrage in the comments. A few dismissed the issue as an isolated case, although the article cited two other recent examples of discrimination. For whatever it's worth, the incident encouraged people to talk about racism and bigotry in Taiwanese society.

Was there an attempt by the petitioning group to reach out and communicate with the migrant workers? Maybe a simple dialogue with the migrants would have reassured the Rueilian locals that they have nothing to worry about. But that's only likely to happen if fear and loathing don't take precedence over common decency. Wherever they found temporary home, the work that those migrants will do ultimately services the Taiwanese company that hired them for jobs that locals couldn't care less for.

Have you ever experienced discrimination as an overseas Filipino? What happened and how did you react? Share your thoughts on Hay Pinas! Forums.

Battling Homesickness: 3 Tips for Overseas Filipinos


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Filipinos who live and work abroad constantly deal with a common ailment - mild enough at times, but debilitating on special days (such as Christmas). It attacks at odd moments, and with wide-ranging symptoms. It starts harmless enough with you missing your toddler's laughter, craving for salted egg and dried fish, or wishing for the warmth of sun during cold winter mornings. Then a silent panic creeps in. Thousands of miles away, distance conjures a false sense of how you're helplessly missing out milestones and becoming estranged from loved ones. It's commonly understood as "homesickness".

But you don't need to suddenly book an expensive one-way return flight to the Philippines for a taste of home. Maybe you have another year or two in your contract before you can return for good? Here are some quick fixes to deal with homesickness:

Shop at a Filipino store

Most major world cities have one. Finding yourself surrounded with familiar Filipino products - canned tuna, shampoo, disinfectant alcohol, local DVDs - is invigorating especially if you're in a foreign land. To brush the blues away, crack chicharon while reading chismis in showbiz magazines. Pop some polvoron or choconut for sugar rush. And don't forget to grab a bottle of vinegar and soy sauce to make your own adobo. Indulge in simple retail therapy to recharge with familiar memories of home.

Join a Filipino community

Filipinos are highly sociable people. With millions of OFWs out there, it's not hard to find established Filipino associations - some even have multiple chapters in popular destination countries. If you don't know where to start looking, contact the Philippine embassy in your area. Church groups also provide company: why not join the choir or lay service? Social networking sites can also keep you on the loop - become active on online discussions such as in HayPinas.org's Facebook or Google Groups pages. Chatting up with people who share the same concerns as you have could help lighten the load.

Connect through tech

One generation ago, Filipinos abroad used voice recordings, mailed letters, and expensive overseas calls to contact their loved ones. Thankfully, you can now virtually sit across your mom through video calling in Skype. Take advantage of the Internet: some websites even stream local TV shows for your dose of news and entertainment. Smartphone apps offer convenience as well, with a variety of services from free SMS to gift calculators. The Philippines is ever a click away if you're longing for the sights and sounds of home.

Remembering why you left in the first place - to save for a house renovation, to earn money for a future business, to secure your children's education - is a counter-punch to lonely thoughts. How about you - what do you do when you're feeling homesick? Share your thoughts on the comments below!

Make Your Vote Count, Kabayan: How to Register as an Absentee Voter



BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Election season in the Philippines is fast approaching once again. Even if you live or work abroad, you can still cast your vote to elect a new generation of government leaders. The Absentee Voting Act ensures that overseas Filipinos can practice their right to vote even if they're out of the country. Philippine embassies and foreign offices are tasked to ensure an efficient process to facilitate absentee votes.

You're qualified to be an absentee voter so long as your Philippine citizenship is in good standing, and if you haven't been convicted of any crime that would forfeit your right to vote. Here's what you need to do to register:
  1. Check for registration schedules. For the 2013 elections, the deadline is October 31, 2012.
  2. Go to a Philippine embassy or designated registration venue (church, duty-free outlet, etc.) nearest to you.
  3. Present the following documents:
    -  Valid passport
    -  Order of Approval (for those with dual citizenship)
    -  Seaman's book (for seafarers)
  4. Submit an accomplished registration form (you can download it in advance). 
  5. Have your fingerprints scanned and your photo taken. 
  6. Confirm if your application has been approved. The Commission on Elections website publishes an official list at least six months before the election.
TIP: Still planning your immigration? While in the Philippines, you may already register as an absentee voter when you apply for your passport.

In the upcoming 2013 national elections, you can elect the following officials: 12 senators, district/party-list representatives in Congress, and local province and city officials. Make sure that you cast your vote come election day! Less than 10 percent of the 10 million overseas Filipinos have registered as absentee voters since 2004, and a lot less actually show up on election day.

As among the country's top income earners, overseas Filipinos should benefit from their hard work abroad by coming home to a corruption-free government, financially stable economy, and better quality social services. So register now - your single vote is a move forward to a better future for the Philippines.

Taste of Home: Pinoy Street Foods



Wherever Filipinos find themselves to be, there's one thing that they'll surely crave. Sometimes, the thought alone is worth coming back home for. Of course, it's Filipino food! Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Maurine Kristine Calaycay, with her winning photo entry, shares with us what makes her say a mouth-watering "Hay Pinas!":

"These are a few of the street foods that I miss in the Philippines: fish balls and kikiam (paired with sweet sauce), kwek-kwek (flour-covered hard-boiled egg dipped in vinegar), thirst-quenching samalamig, siomai (dumplings), "dirty" ice cream, turon and banana cue on stick, calamares, and taho (soft tofu with syrup and tapioca).

"Street foods in the Philippines are one of a kind. It's affordable and of course delicious! It's common for people to buy these snacks in the afternoon, usually after work, after a busy day at school, or anytime whenever they feel hungry. These snacks are usually conveniently bought at the side of the street.

"Other countries may also have it's wide array of street foods or snacks, but sure thing - iba pa din sa Pinas."

Hurdling the Language Barrier: Tips for Filipinos Abroad


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

"Excuse me, may I ask where the nearest ATM is?" The local gives you a blank stare and shakes his head. Meanwhile you search your pockets and panic that you don't have any more cash to spare.

Whether you're a foreign worker or a tourist in another country, speaking in English is sometimes not enough to communicate with locals. People may not always be able to or hesitate to converse in English. What to do then as you struggle to get your message across? Here are three quick tips.

Learn common words

If you can't take formal classes yet to master the local language, do your homework and learn some common phrases that you can use in daily exchanges. Carry a pocket-sized dictionary or download a dictionary app on your smart phone. Then find short video tutorials on the Internet to get a sense of how the language is spoken. Start with these words: "hello", "please", and "thank you". Some helpful dialog to learn are for these common situations: ordering food, getting around in public transportation, buying items, and dealing with important life-savers such as banks and hospitals.

Google Translate

Trust Google to solve your online - and sometimes offline - problems. If you need instant linguistic support and you have Internet connection on your laptop or tablet, use Google Translate. Wonder of wonders, it presents your message in the foreign language's native characters as you type. You can then let someone read your translated message, say in traditional Mandarin. It works vice-versa too: you can ask the other person to type a reply that you can then translate into English. Voice translation is also supported, but it's still spotty at least for now. Moreover, you can download an app for your smart phone from Play Store to also convert text messages you receive in your preferred language.

Call a friend (or a friendly government service)

Seek help from someone you know who speaks the language. But do this as a last resort - your friend or colleague might not always be available to attend to you. Consider too that some countries offer round-the-clock hotlines for foreign workers and tourists. Search the web or browse tourist brochures for such information beforehand. For example, here in Taiwan, the government provides call center services (0800-024-111) to assist foreigners. You can use it to seek help in facilitating conversations with locals.

The so-called language barrier is indeed very challenging to deal with. But realize too that you're not the only one struggling with words in an intercultural exchange. Be courteous when there's a failure to communicate. Remember that talk is always give-and-take. Shun any sense of entitlement: you're the foreigner and it's you who need to adjust. Just soak in the experience, and in time you'd pick up new words for learning.

Do you have more tips or foreign words to teach us? Share it on the comments below or join the conversation in Facebook.

Photo Contest: What Makes You Say Hay Pinas


We all have our own reasons why we left and why we want to go back home in Pinas again. 


We'd love to know the things you like and don't like -- in pictures! Visit our Facebook page and share with us the best Hay Pinas Memes you've got! 


You also get the chance to win our awesome prize so you won't ever have to worry about baggage weight limit for your back-to-Pinas flights (pretty practical, right?).


So, hurry, contest ends on June 30, 2012.

How to Join:

1. Like our Facebook page.
2. Post your image and a short caption on our wall.
3. Qualified entries will be added to the "Hay Pinas Memes" Facebook folder.
4. The photo with the most number of Facebook likes wins! 

    See prize details here.


Before you submit your entry, please carefully read the terms and conditions of the Hay Pinas Memes contest:

Hay Pinas! Overseas Filipino Channel will not be liable for any loss or damage arising directly or indirectly from the use of your photo submissions by any party for whatever purpose.

Contestants retain the copyright to their photos. By joining the Hay Pinas Memes contest, contestants agree to have their submitted photos displayed on the Hay Pinas! Overseas Filipino Channel website and Facebook page without any fee or other form of compensation.

Photos submitted to Hay Pinas Memes photo contest will never be sold. Hay Pinas! Overseas Filipino Channel will never claim to own the photos.

OFW Moms: What Makes Them Super


BY ANNE QUINTOS

Our parish priest in Taoyuan asked all mothers to come to the altar for his Mother's day blessing. To my surprise, more than half of the people inside the church stood up and crowded in front of Fr. Allan.

Up to this day as an OFW, there's nothing more depressing to me than witnessing about 50 mothers, away from their children, line up right before my eyes.

While seeing OFW moms from afar made my heart drown in sadness, getting to know some of them closely wrapped me in thought that motherhood, especially long-distance motherhood, isn't for the fainthearted.

And here are five extraordinary qualities I've learned about moms through my overseas experience:

They follow their uncanny intuition.

I swear, uncanny is the right word. After I left the Philippines, my mom never fails to send me a warm text message or give me a call every time I'm sad and missing home. Without me telling her anything.

OFW moms here also have that same amazing power. Oftentimes I'd hear them worry about their bunso being bullied at school. Or the Kuya who might be having the wrong set of friends. Even miles away, these moms feel the emotions and sometimes detect impending problems of their children.

They have awesome 'reality distortion field'.

During my first few months abroad, a good friend invited me  to a lunch gathering with her other Filipino friends at the backwall of a university near the St. Christopher's Church in Taipei.

At that time, you can say I was drawn into a different reality. All of them were laughing and enjoying the yummy Adobo while discussing all their hardships and problems at work. Mind you, they weren't loathing or feeling sunken. Although some of them only get to have one day-off every month, I believed for a moment that OFW life is fun.

I remember Ate D telling us her story of her five balikbayan boxes for Christmas. She said, "akala nila ganun kadali ang buhay dito, hindi nila alam...naku...ang hirap magpuno ng mga kahon!" She then took a handful of rice to her mouth. All of them again laughed in agreement.

The lack of Maalaala-Mo-Kaya moments even extends to their conversations with their families over long distance calls. The rose-tinted overseas reality somehow creates a negative effect on the families left behind -- with most of them thinking everything is easy. It is just natural for OFW moms, however, to tell the best stories so their kids would sleep well at night. And for them, to make things bearable.

They can see the future.

It's what keeps them going: the future of their family. OFW moms envision themselves sitting at their kids' graduation ceremony someday. Or holding the keys to their new home.

The problem is, seeing the future isn't the same as building it. It also isn't a one-way street. Most of them find themselves disappointed, because while they were dreaming, their families eventually grew apart.

They are women of steel, with hearts of gold.

Ate L, a seamstress we met near our home, endures the physical strain of longer work hours to fend for her newly-born grandchild. Her son-in-law wasted the money she sent as placement fee, because the boy felt stuck in an overseas job he didn't like.

She is just one of the thousands of OFW mothers who painfully tend to the needs of their families (even to the point of being abused).

They give more than what they get.

OFW moms keep on giving selflessly.

They sacrifice their precious time with their kids to give them a better future. The full balikbayan boxes they send home speak of how much they emptied themselves up.

What do most of them get in return? Aloof hearts, overspent household budgets, and if they're lucky, a viral Coke commercial.

While our country may have been blessed with amazing OFW moms, they are mere mortals too who can't carry the world on their shoulders for long.

Think about it: Behind their laughter and stories, they may be lonely. Despite the gifts they give, they may be tired. And, all of them, like everyone else, definitely yearns to feel loved.

Going Mobile: Android Apps for Overseas Filipinos


BY MERLISA BISCOCHO

Years ago, we used phones to make a call, send a text message, or take a grainy photo. Fast forward to 2012 and phones—with “smart” now added to its name--have evolved to multi-tasking beasts that let us share photos on Facebook, keep us updated with the latest news around the world, or entertain us with a game, a movie, or a  song.

Half the fun of owning a smartphone is selecting which apps to install. There’s even one created especially for OFWs. Looking for new apps? We’ve scoured Google’s Play Store for free apps that deserve RAM-space in every OFW’s  smartphone.

Chikka Messenger

Send free text messages to any subscriber of a network in Pinas. You only need a Chikka account and an internet connection. Friends back home can reply using their feature phones for only Php2.00-2.50/text. To exchange texts completely free, have friends and family install this app on their smartphones or computers.

Because Chikka is a calling service that depends on internet connection, emergency or important messages should still be coursed through mobile networks.

Time2Remit

As OFWs, one of the most important figures in our lives is the exchange rate. We try to get as much bang for our hard-earned bucks.

Time2Remit saves Singapore-based OFWs the effort of having to visit several remittance centers to ask about the rate. This app claims to publish exchange rates every day, but developers do this manually (meaning, there might be a chance for human error). Future enhancements include automatic publishing of exchange rates and support for more countries.

tfsRadio – Radio Philippines

This app streams live content from AM and FM stations in the Philippines. Streaming content consumes a lot of bandwidth, so be sure that you use this app only when you’re connected to  a Wi-Fi network. There’s a nifty option on tfsRadio to help you do just that.

Want the breaking news in the Philippines? You can tune in to DZBB or DZRH or to provincials stations such as Aksyon Radyo Ilo-Ilo. Missing your favorite DJs back home? There’s RX Monster Radio or Love Radio. The list of stations could be more comprehensive, though (there’s no DZMM or there are very few provincial stations, for example).

Simba

For some OFWs, Sunday is a working day or churches are few and far in between.

Hearing mass has no substitute, but if doing so is unlikely for Catholic OFWs, they may like Simba’s Sunday mass readings, guide for praying the rosary, and other Catholic prayers.  The text is in Tagalog, and we wish that this app will have translations for other major languages in the Philippines (like Cebuano, Hiligaynon, or Kapampangan).

Regalo App

Hay Pinas advocates planning for expenses, especially gift-giving.

Regalo is a very basic app that lets you keep track of pasalubongs. You can group recipients, create a list of gifts for a person, and track how much you’ve spent. When you’ve bought the gift, simply go to my Regalo screen and tap the item. This is a nice tool to help you stay within your budget as the app computes your total spending. Using this app is confusing at first because of the interface, but it certainly gets the job done.

What app would you recommend for OFWs? What do you like about this app? What improvements do you want to see?

For more articles and tips, like us on Facebook and join us on Twitter!

All Work Deserves Respect: A Photo Essay


Fair wages. Adequate rest days. Equal labor rights. It all boils down to "respect". Workers clamor tirelessly for these issues, which ring louder this time of the year as many parts of the world celebrate Labor Day. Hay Pinas! Correspondent Joemer Mandigal shares snapshots from the International Migrant Rally that he participated in last December.












Wanted/Unwanted: Profiling and the Migrant Worker


BY ANNE QUINTOS

The man in a police car asked me to stop. I was a few feet away from our condominium to catch my husband who's about to hail a taxi to work.

Not only did I stop. My body froze from fear. In my three years here in Taiwan, this was my fifth time I've been asked to stop by the police.

Two of them came out and approached me. My husband, seeing this, went back to ask what's happening. "We want to see your ID," one guy said.

We took out our Alien Resident Certificates (ARC) from our wallets and showed it to both of them. They saw that both of us are legal residents. They just nodded without anything to say. Of course my irritated husband asked why we were questioned. The police man said in a louder voice, "It's the law! You need to bring your ID."

Honestly, I felt we were in grade school. Only we could be sent to jail.

On Racial Profiling

The night before the incident, I happened to read an article for foreigners  to always obey the laws of your host country, "even if these seem harsh or unfair."

I have high respect for the government here and I seldom question their protocols. Racial profiling, however, takes its toll on innocent people who just happen to be different from the citizens, or look like other illegal aliens.

Now, instead of feeling safe when I see roving police cars, my heart seriously beats faster with the thought that I may be one of the people they're out to get (even if I'm not guilty of anything).

Naively, I asked an American co-worker if he also had this problem. Of course, he said no but acknowledged that it was a terrible situation to be in. I just jokingly replied that I'd be willing to wear the I'm-not-illegal placard so that they'd save the time pulling over.

On 'Facial' Profiling

In the taxi cab, my husband tried to make things lighter for us. After all, it was his first time to be profiled. I looked away and diverted my attention to a row of peach blossoms in the street. I would never have this at home, I sadly thought.

It was again naive of me to think that these things just happen here.

The Philippines has its own taste too. Atty. Dodo Dulay, a columnist  for Manila Times,  asked What's wrong with "facial" profiling? With this type of profiling, he iterated that "an unfortunate Filipino tourist can be prevented or barred from traveling abroad at the whim or caprice of single immigration officer who determines that he or she is a “tourist worker” or a “potential” or “suspected” human trafficking victim based on a buffet of factors..."

During my trips from the Philippines, I was often asked by some airport personnel what I'm doing in Taiwan. I'd answer that I'm already a resident there. One officer harshly asked me if I was married to a Taiwanese since I have a Chinese name. If so, I need to get the right papers for it. "No, I'm not and what papers are you looking for," I raised my voice. He stamped my passport and let me go.

Some of my friends advised me to wear nicer clothes and a pair of earrings when passing through our immigration office in Manila airports (to look more like a well-off balikbayan). Because my flights are usually in wee hours, I was never in the mood to dress pretty. So I just keep my fingers crossed that no immigration officer will rudely interrogate me.

Truth be told, there are a lot of illegal aliens living in Taiwan, mostly from Southeast Asia. We also have serious cases of human trafficking in the Philippines. But I can't help to ask: Where does someone like me go when he or she fits the physical profiles of both the Unwanted and the Wanted?


*Postscript: I was given context by our Chinese teacher that migrant workers travel in groups and stay at work or in dormitories usually. Those traveling alone may be illegal or runaway workers. Random police checks are pretty normal too, even for citizens.

Balikbayan on a Budget: Summer Vacation


BY ANNE QUINTOS

Itching to feel the summer heat and the Filipino warmth again? Before even booking your flight back home, here are three simple tips on how to enjoy a vacation and still keep your wallet healthy.

Set your budget and priorities

You know how the excitement of coming home makes you want to do a lot of catching up with most of your relatives and friends. Find some time planning and budgeting your trip. Ask yourself: How much should you spend for this vacation? Who do you want to spend it with, and where?

Always keep in mind that your vacation is about reconnecting with the people closest to your heart.  It's a breather from work. So don't blow off your savings and find the need to work doubly hard afterwards.

Trip Tip! Keep your vacation news within your closest kin. Arrange simple meet-ups with your best of friends. 

Know when to split the cost

Somewhere, there's an unwritten rule that balikbayans always foot the bill. That's why most can't say no to requests from their loved ones. From boxes of chocolates, new shoes, to upscale home appliances.

While some protest in silence, most balikbayans feel opening their wallets is the same as opening their hearts. It has been a way to bridge the gap, caused by the time spent apart.  Remember that enjoying the company of your family doesn't have to come at a high price tag.

Trip Tip! Ask for a relative's help to organize potluck for family reunions.

Control your vacation splurges

The local malls seem to have everything you need that you can't find abroad. "Clothes are cheaper here!" "I miss the taste of this de-lata!" "My Filipino friends will love this pasalubong!"

So, you end up having more balikbayan boxes with you than cash. Resist  buying all the souvenirs you can find. Just focus on the things you really need.

Trip Tip! Remember to jot down your expenses. 

Living Out Your Faith in a Foreign Land


BY SHIRLEY RAMIREZ

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Daniel. As a little kid, I read his story countless times and was amazed by his courage to worship and pray to his God in a foreign land despite being forbidden to do so. He was thrown into the lions’ den as a result, yet the God he served rescued him from being devoured by the lions.

Unlike in Daniel’s time when it was decreed that praying to God during a 30-day period meant sure death, we are blessed to enjoy religious freedom in Taiwan. We can freely assemble, proselytize, and engage in faith-based activities.

As the Christian world remembers the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this week, let me share with you a few precious faith lessons learned during my 8 years in Taiwan as an overseas Filipino worker and a Pastor’s wife. Everyday, we face our own share of fierce lions, but like Daniel who depended on God to deliver him, we can also take comfort in the fact that God will never leave us nor forsake us.

Find a spiritual family.

Leaving our family behind is not easy. When we come to work in a foreign land, we are suddenly thrust into an environment where we’d have to adjust to the culture, the language, and host of other new things. Building relationships at work will certainly help, but I found that getting plugged into a church family allowed me to develop deeper, more intimate friendships. We grow in our faith with other believers, we carry one another’s burdens, and we receive encouragement. Plus, we get the chance to encourage others, too.

Many of the friendships I’ve built in the church family continue to flourish long after my friends have left Taiwan. They’ve either moved to other countries or have gone back to the Philippines, but we keep in touch. I’m truly thankful for each person that God has brought my way and for making this foreign land my second home.

Accept that adversities are opportunities in disguise.

When people are in debt, homesick, and going through difficulties, they are most likely to seek comfort in their faith. Many of our members in church were nominal Christians in the Philippines. They attended church every Sunday and forgot about God the rest of the week. When they came to Taiwan and experienced being away from their comfort zone, they sought God and became very actively committed in church, eventually becoming leaders and ministers themselves. Indeed, pain is one way for God to get our full, undivided attention.

Getting sick in a foreign land is not easy. My husband had a knee operation and I couldn’t go with him to the hospital because I had to be in the office. I had extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) for a renal stone on a Sunday and had to be back at work the following day. Several friends have had surgery, and could only rely on co-workers to take turns to care for them. In the midst of those difficulties, we’ve all emerged stronger. Those were precious opportunities to develop our character and to experience God’s faithfulness in tough times.

Invest in things with eternal value.

Working in Taiwan is not a walk in the park. The hours are long, the job is difficult, and often, people are tough to work with. When payday comes, many will remit a big part of their income to their families in the Philippines. Some will hit the shopping districts or treat themselves to a big meal. There’s nothing wrong with supporting our families back home or giving ourselves well-deserved treats. But we should not forget that we are mere stewards of God’s blessings. Remember to feed your soul and spirit, invest your time and resources in sharing your faith, and with God’s help, touch and impact a life. Remember, you are blessed to be a blessing.

Thank God in all circumstances.

We can be so forgetful! Before we came to Taiwan, we prayed and prayed for the opportunity to work abroad and earn good money. Now that we’re here, we realize that life’s not a bed of roses, and we often end up complaining. God’s Word tells us to thank God in all things, not for all things. God wants us to maintain an attitude of gratefulness, not for the bad things happening to us, but in all situations because God will help us overcome and turn things around. There’s so much to be thankful for. When we are grateful, we change not only our circumstances, but also ourselves.

We’ve had lots of tough times here. I often feel as if I were a captive trying to break free from chains of slavery. Sometimes, I fear that the lions of depression, loneliness, pressure, financial obligations, sickness, and fatigue would beat me. But when I focus on my blessings and on the size of my God rather than the size of my problems, I experience inner peace.

Hope for the best.

Know that God brought you here for a higher purpose other than to make a living. If you are burdened by the needs of your family, or stressed with the demands of your work, remember God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” After Good Friday and Black Saturday comes Resurrection Sunday! Be comforted in knowing that our God is alive. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He rose from the dead, and you can ask for His help anytime.

Whether we are in the Philippines or toiling in a foreign land, He is the same loving, caring God who wants the best for us.

OFW Talks: How to React to Negative Comments



Recently, we Filipinos find ourselves in the middle of another viral hoopla. This time, a video by Cebu-based foreigner Jimmy Sieczka turns the spotlight on 20 things to dislike in the Philippines. His tirade includes "uncomfortable" comfort rooms and gun-toting security guards, among others.

Filipinos were abuzz online. Some were mad at the messenger: "A disgrace! Get out of this country!" Some cheered the video's candidness: "It's about time! Just what I had in mind!"

As overseas Filipinos, we also get to taste similar kinds of criticism at different levels. Here are three steps to help you respond:

#1 Think before you respond.

#2 Acknowledge the sentiment of the person ranting. Keep your cool.

#3 Give the context, not excuses, why some of these things are happening back home. Sometimes it's more difficult to judge if you know where people are coming from.

Bonus tip: You can make our country proud by becoming the change you want to see. (Read related article)
* Video stillshot from Jimmy Sieczka's video, 20 Reasons I Dislike the Philippines

Call for Country Correspondents: Join Us!


Remember the first time you left the country without an exact date of when you'll come home?

If you slept like a baby the night before your flight, not thinking of how it'll be for you, then you're lucky. You had it all figured out.

But if, up until the plane landed in another side of the world, you still felt your heart pounding like crazy because you don't know how it'll be for you in your new environment, then we'd like to hear your story.

The fact remains that, no matter how hopeful the situation may be, most overseas Filipinos don't really know what they're getting into until they get to experience the reality abroad. And some were smart enough to stop, rethink, and then take a better route to personal improvement, financial planning, and relationship rebuilding. Many of us, however, are still endlessly running in circles -- living like there's no tomorrow, finding ourselves without any savings, losing our family and friends along the way, and then starting all over again.

We at Hay Pinas! don't really know the best answer to the thousand of overseas Filipino problems. But maybe you have tasted the bitter pill and have successfully gotten out of dilemmas like debts, dead ends, or depression.

Wouldn't it be great to share it with the world, so that when someone like your old self can read and follow your advice?

Share your overseas experience with us. Email an article, a photo, or even a video commentary at feedback@haypinas.org.

We have a special place for country correspondents. Visit team.haypinas.org for more info.

Sons and Daughters: A Letter of Gratitude


BY MERLISA BISCOCHO

I had an interesting conversation with a friend, Jordan, about the challenges of having to provide for family and plan a future for ourselves. I realized that so many OFWs are bread winners for their own families and thought I'd share the letter that I wrote to him.

Dear Jordan,

They say that we belong to the Sandwich generation. We're tasked to take care of our elders and we also want to plan for our future, may that be our own families, higher education, or just items on life's bucket list. I know that desperate wish to have enough so you can do both or all of these. And like you, I've gone through a plethora of drama-- cursed the fates, thought that I lucked out in the lottery of life, felt stuck.

I perceive some resentment towards your parents for finding themselves without retirement savings and being dependent on you. You may blame globalization, the government, or even your parents' faith in industries that they will always prosper. May I gently caution you that finger pointing does not pay the bills. I encourage you to spend a little time to acknowledge the unfairness of it all. But after that, the only time you're going to look back is to understand the mistakes committed and to do your best not to make the same.

You told me that the financial support you provide to your parents prevents you from saving for a future wedding. To be a generous son is a blessing and an honor. But you have to ask yourself: are you giving this willingly or are you doing it out of guilt?

For most of our lives, we've gotten used to running to our parents if we're in trouble. It's disconcerting that this time, they turn to us. It took me a couple of years to wrap my head around the idea that sons and daughters, like us, are asked to shoulder such a huge responsibility by the very people who we've always believed will rescue us from any problem.

We may be sons or daughters, but we're also adults. Discern this decision by yourself and for yourself. If you do decide to support them, allow me to give this advice: give what you can whole-heartedly part with. If you give more than you are willing, then you may secretly resent them if you find yourself with less than enough funds. If you give less, then you may resent yourself when they are less than comfortable. You can revise the budget, cut spending, set up investments, and finally arrive at a figure and hatch a plan. But the most important step is to know with certainty that you're willing.

And if you do walk away, I know that you have decided to do so after careful consideration and acknowledging the probable consequences. Trust that I will be the last person to judge and I will continue to support you, whatever your decision will be.

If you've decided, have an open and honest conversation with your family. No promises of a teary, feel-good round of hugs (but you might be surprised, too). But, I think you owe it to them to set their expectations and to let them know where you're coming from. If you cannot give them all of the material things that they ask, then at least give them the honesty and faithfulness of a loving son. If you feel like setting conditions or asking other siblings to help, I encourage you to do so. This is a family affair, after all. I hope and pray that your family's long years of togetherness have fostered a love that can weather this challenging times.

Lastly, I admire your resolve to iron out these problems before going into a serious, life-long commitment such as marriage. Though she seems to be bothered by your seemingly lack of plans, the fact that you are taking steps to have a financially-stable future belies her suspicions. What seems to be sacrifices now can result to a better family life in the future. She may need to be assured that you're also doing this for your future together (that's always a nice thing to hear) and share with her your plans and how you're progressing.

I empathize with your situation. I've long envied peers whose only barrier to taking chances is their willingness to jump head on. No monthly bills to worry about, no need to leave the country to earn more, some can even afford to quit their jobs and spend some time searching for or pursuing their passions. Rightfully or not, I had also envisioned the same things for myself a lifetime ago (It feels that way, but really, it has just been a decade). I comfort myself with the thought that we have our own crosses to bear and this is mine. In the process, I learned to live with so much less materially, but have learned to treasure those that you can have with or without money: the loyalty and understanding of friends, the thrill of experiencing and learning something new, the familiarity and comfort of family who have known me all my life.

Last Christmas, I treated my family to a simple holiday that's usually out-of-range of our budget (I saved for it the whole year). My parents never really asked for it, but I know it's something that they've always wanted. We were happy just spending time with each other, exchanging stories, laughing together. My Mom and Dad quietly approached me and thanked me for this gift. To hear so much gratitude in their voice--two of the kindest, loving, most honest and generous people I know--filled my heart with humility and joy. At that moment, I understand how a burden has turned into a blessing, and how that blessing has brought me so much honor. I hold on to this feeling, and I carry on.

I pray that in time, you will be at peace with the decision that you will make.

Take care,

Merlisa

Keep Heart & March On, Young Filipino Graduate


BY ANNE QUINTOS

March. A verb that means "to advance in step in an organized body; to go forward." A noun: the month between February and April - which in the Philippines marks the end of an academic year.

With graduations happening left and right this time of the year, it's also when proud parents spam email inboxes with valedictory speeches and commencement addresses. My dad was a regular spammer of such. To this day, my old email account still contains speeches of Mikaela Fudolig, Tony Meloto, and Manny Pangilinan (oh yes, the controversial one). However, there are two commencement addresses that stood out, dated 2005, on the year I marched for graduation:
"Be a Hero! Be A Filipino!" by Eduardo G. Fajardo

Consider yourselves lucky, very lucky... Your parents have the means to get you to the best school where you can get the best education along with the best minds and talents in the country. But, even now, you must be aware that, soon enough, you will have to take care of others around you. Because you have been gifted with so much, you will be responsible for a lot more.
Let me now show you who you are responsible for.  I am told that, in 2004, there were 7.7 million Filipinos working abroad, roughly 9.3% of our total population. If you add the undocumented ones, the percentage figure can easily rise to 10% of our total population. One out of every ten Filipinos is working outside the country! If each such Overseas Filipino Worker ("OFW") has even only two dependents, that means nearly one out of every three Filipinos today depends on OFW remittances for their livelihood. For you to get a better appreciation of this diaspora, 2,378 Filipinos left every single day of 2003 to work abroad.

This exodus is the single biggest mass movement of workers in our century. It has and will continue to have major economic, social, political, and moral ramifications on the future character of our country and our people.

For some time now, OFWs have been carrying us on their shoulders. To begin with, our economy is totally dependent on OFW jobs to keep unemployment down and to maintain economic growth at a steady pace. The earnings of OFWs  are probably the only thing keeping our economy afloat at this time. $ 8.55 Billion of annual remittances  go a long way towards supporting families back home and shoring up the government's dollar reserves to help service maturities from our $ 56 billion of foreign loans... 
... Like all else, there is a price to pay for all these. The Filipino family system is at risk. Almost one-third of our population is growing up without at least one parent:  the absence of a mother or a father against the backdrop of available cash has strained our traditional family structure and values: we see broken marriages, second families, prostitution, out-of-school youth, drug addiction, among others,  on the rise in the OFW sector.

It is no bed of roses either for the OFWs abroad: the women are the most vulnerable to human trafficking while the men take on some of the most dangerous jobs. If they escape these, many OFWs are forced to accept entry-level jobs because the quality of public school education back home has so deteriorated that they lack the professional skills to compete at higher job levels.  Thus, every time a bomb goes off  in Israel or a truck driver is kidnapped in Iraq or a maid is beaten up in Singapore , we hold our collective breath as a nation, fearing that yet another Filipino has been abused or, worse,  that another Filipino is going home in a casket.

And still Filipinos continue to brave dangers and endure loneliness away from their families for a simple reason: we have collectively failed them.  We have failed to create enough decent jobs to save them from a life of grinding poverty back home. We have failed to create a fair and just society, respectful of the rights of every man, woman and child and protective of our environment.

Every generation has a defining challenge. My generation was asked to reclaim democracy from a cruel dictatorship and to restore justice.  We did get democracy back but we have utterly failed so far to make it responsive to the needs of the people. The challenge for your generation today is to create enough decent jobs for a fast-growing population and to promote a better quality of life for all in a fair and just society. The personal challenge for you, of course, is to stay home, forego the "American Dream" of material comforts and cast your lot with our people.  Your response to these challenges will define you and your generation; it will be the story of your life. (Read full speech)
"Stay Foolish. Stay Hungry." by Steve Jobs  
... So you have to trust that the dots (in your life) will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life...
... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. (Watch video)  

Let me tell you how these two speeches connected seven years later, with me hunched in front of my computer this side of Taiwan...

After my college graduation, I had the strongest conviction to "stay home, forego...material comforts and cast the lot with our people," as Fajardo challenged my generation. There was even a time when I felt so bad hearing news from friends who decided to look for greener pastures that I had to write something about it. Four years later, because of sudden turn of events, I found myself packing my stuff, settling in Taiwan, remitting money to different Philippine savings accounts, and dialing call card PIN numbers for cheaper international call rates. It's as if I lost a toss-coin challenge and suddenly took a bite at life's irony.

However, as Jobs said, "So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." That's when irony became life's way of showing me different perspectives of a situation. Being an OFW now taught me a lot of things that I could never learn if I just stayed back home. I started to see, listen, and feel the real pains brought by the lack of opportunities for millions who had no other choice to but to find work abroad.

And so to the new graduates, including by dear sisters Patricia and Enchie, the personal challenge after graduation is to keep your idealism alive. Even when you find yourselves dreading traffic jams, cubicle claustrophobia, and paycheck tax cuts. Your ideas and opinions will definitely change but never let that young voice drown inside you, even when the real world tells you you're wrong and foolish.

Don't become apathetic about the Philippines -- even at times of crazy political dramas that a no-return exit strategy seems like the soundest idea. Circumstances may push you to leave home but don't ever succumb to the "Ganun talaga eh / Whatever" mentality. There are a lot of things we can do, more than just posting on our Facebook walls the brands we like or food we've tasted. Always have the heart to come back home but don't wait until retirement age to inspire change to the nation. Not when your knees are starting to get wobbly and could no longer take another march forward.

Keep heart, dear graduates, and march on!

Hay Pinas: The Story Behind The Name



My conversations with fellow overseas Filipinos usually end up  with with a longing sigh for the country."Hay Pinas!"

Money Questions for the Smart OFW Couple


BY ANNE QUINTOS

When married couples live apart for a very long time, a lot of things that can go wrong. Take time to answer these questions with your partner. It may not be the most romantic thing to talk about, but we believe it'll bring OFW families closer to a happy endings.

Current situation
  What financial obligations should we prioritize together?
  How do we handle our household expenses (in the Philippines and abroad)?
  How much debt do we have?
  How much savings do we have?
  Do we have enough emergency fund in place?

Communication
  When do we talk about our financial situation and plans?
  How should we divide financial duties?
  How much could we spend without immediately consulting one another?
  How will we keep important records and documents?
  When an extended family member or close friend is in need, what's the maximum amount could we lend out?

Family concern
  What are the financial booboos of some of our friends/family members that we want to avoid?
  How much could we spend on occasional vacations as a balikbayan?
  How do we teach our kids to learn the value of saving?
  How many years do we sacrifice apart to meet our financial goals?
  Are we committed to stick to our financial goals even when we're apart?


Financial vision
  How do we start paying off our debts?
  What are the best channels and arrangements for money remittance?
  What are investment opportunities we would like to explore within a year? In five to ten years?
  Do we need to get a life insurance?
  If planning to go back home, how much should we save before settling back?
  How much should we be saving for retirement?


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