Baby's First Flight: 5 Tips for OFW Parents


For OFW moms and dads, it's a challenge to give birth abroad where the culture is different and your extended family is not around for support. The birth of a baby is a joyous celebration for the parents and the whole family. For Filipinos especially, it's a custom to introduce the new member of the family to the rest of the clan. This is mostly done in a baptismal celebration and in holiday vacations.

To prepare for your baby's coming home trip, here are some tips for preparing for a hassle-free first flight.

#1 Book plane tickets early

You only need your baby's name to reserve a flight ticket. The soonest that you do this, the cheaper your air fare might be. An extra fee will be charged for your baby - even if a seat is not necessarily included.

#2 Get the required documents for passport

First on the list is your baby's birth certificate. If it's in a foreign language other than English, the Philippine embassy will most likely require a translated version. Both of these need to be authenticated (by a local court and by the Philippine consulate). Devote some two weeks or more to have this step completed.

Next to get is your baby's national ID or ARC (alien resident certificate), if citizenship is not automatically acquired through birth. For married couples, have your marriage certificate from the National Statistics Office ready for verification.

#3 Apply for a passport

You should be able to jump straight to the front of the line because babies are a priority. You might be required to have your baby photographed right on the site. Be patient when waiting for an acceptable mug shot, especially if your baby fusses at the time.

If on an ARC, the passport number may be required information on your baby's ARC. Be sure to update it before you leave.

#4 Pack light

Remember that your baby is the most important one you'll have to hold. If you're travelling as a solo parent, that leaves you with limited capacity to carry other things. Strollers will need to be checked in before boarding the plane.

Bring only the essentials. Your hand carry basically means bottles, diapers, and wipes. For any other stuff, you can request your family members back in the Philippines to prepare it for you in advance.

#5 Brace yourself for the long flight

Time seems to slow down between the plane's take off and touchdown. Expect your baby to fuss, cry, and get uncomfortable from the long flight. When seat belt sign is off, walk around and cradle your baby as you like.

For other experienced OFW parents out there, how did you prepare for and survive your baby's first flight home? Share in the comments below.

What to do in social media after a disaster

For overseas Filipinos, social media is an important tool to monitor the crisis as it happens in the Philippines. Rather than keep up with selfies and lunch stories in Facebook, here's how you can use social media in times of disasters such as super typhoon Yolanda.

5 tips on how overseas Filipinos can help in times of calamities


Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) wrought such great havoc to the Philippines: public infrastructures, communication lines, and homes were instantly destroyed in Leyte, Samar, and nearby coastal towns. Several days after the super typhoon hit, the Philippines continue to suffer from the aftermath of Yolanda's wrath. But our people are proving to the world once again how resilient we are, taking to the task of rebuilding despite the grim reality.

Still, it is not to say that our country has all the help it needs. We need all the help we can get, in whatever form. We need it from everyone. Help even from overseas Filipinos who are miles away or even an ocean apart from Tacloban and all other severely affected provinces. Here are some tips on how you can reach out:

#1 Plan what you can give

Pause for a moment and evaluate what you have. If you would like to donate money, support fund-raising initiatives, or buy relief goods, work on your budget first and figure out other monthly expenses you can cancel so that you won't have to break the bank just to help out. Remember that in order to sustainably help others, you also need to help yourself.

While donating money is the most convenient and efficient way to help the victims of calamities, it's not the only thing you can give out. Go through your personal items and see if you have things you can give that are useful and essential for disaster relief such as working flashlights and batteries, extra blankets, towels, and clothes in good condition.

#2 Mind what you're giving

Understand that what you need right now are not the same things you need when you're in an evacuation center or on the road with nothing to eat. So, strike out high heels, leather jackets, or electric appliances. To help, some people would conduct yard sales and online auctions to sell such items and then donate the proceeds to international disaster aid organizations.

#3 Find out where you should give


Identify the causes you want to support. Are you OK with just giving out to the victims in general? Or would you care to focus more on a particular group such as small children, sick mothers, weak elders, the disabled? Having this in mind, you can search for a trusted organization that will help mobilize such cause. Take time in learning about the organization itself (efficiency and financial transparency) before making your donation. Or else, you may have to count yourself as a victim as well. Some charitable institutions to start with include:


#4 Consider giving your time and sharing your talents


Because many are such in deep distress after a disaster, Filipinos shouldn't stop with just giving financial dole-outs. If we really want to get somewhere and somehow stop the cycle of requesting aid, invest your time and talents to give back to our country. If you want to see some action, campaign for it. If you think there should be some accountability, demand change. Write about it, spread the word, ask others to help, push for your own solutions. Don't be complacent just because you're abroad. When you act, somebody might notice and listen. Like-minded people will support you. Just don't settle. Not yet.

#5 Give without a heavy heart

Don't expect for immediate calm and order: trauma from the calamity, the instinct for survival, and an otherwise ineffective bureaucracy might get the upper hand at the onset. While it's natural to feel bad when you hear stories about looting, corruption, and slow progress of aid despite your contributions, it's important to manage your expectations. Continue to demand change, but don't get trapped in endless complaining, unproductive finger-pointing, and making harsh judgments. Remember that we're trying to restore and rise above the disaster and not create a new one for ourselves.

Last, but definitely not the least, continue to #PrayforthePhilippines! Seeing an overwhelming support from different sectors and countries around the world just proves that there is still hope for us. We just need to keep going.

Got an idea to share? Post your comments below.

Tips and Tricks for Filipinos Studying Overseas


BY EARVIN CHARLES B. CABALQUINTO

It was in 2012 when I was granted a scholarship to pursue a Doctorate Degree in Melbourne, Australia. Prior to moving in Melbourne, I worked in an advertising and events company in Brunei Darussalam. I also previously worked on independent researches that compelled me to jumpstart a PhD journey.

To study overseas comes with a roster of joys and challenges. While overseas Filipino students may experience homesickness and even culture shock during the “adjustment period”, they may also find joy in their independence as they face school life away from their family and friends. School pressure may put overseas Filipino students to the test, but exploring new cultures and meeting individuals from diverse backgrounds may serve a reward in one’s scholarly quest in a foreign land.

I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs as an overseas Filipino student. I’ve got lost in taking the train and trams in Melbourne. I was harried by the winter season. I had sleepless nights because of homesickness paired with school deadlines to beat. Despite these experiences, I’ve learned to enjoy and maximize whatever experience and opportunities that come along with studying overseas.

Here are the five tips that I want to share to ease your struggles as you embark on a scholarly life overseas.

New and network

You may be anxious and shy on the first day of classes. You don’t know anyone in the classroom. You haven’t met anyone in the shared house or dormitory that you’re staying in. That’s acceptable. But once the days pass by, it is best for you to network with other students in and outside the university. Here in Melbourne, we encourage Filipino students to join organizations inside and outside the university. Filipino students in Melbourne are invited to join our organization, Filipino-Australian Student Council Victoria (FASTCO). Through networking with other Filipino and International students, you don’t only meet new friends and acquaintances, but you also widen your contacts in your future scholarly or professional endeavors.

Be at home elsewhere

Homesickness is one of enemies of any individual who work or study overseas. As an Overseas Filipino student, you may capitalize on digital communication technologies to ward off homesickness. Maintaining a constant and open line of communication to your family and friends back in the Philippines will surely help you combat homesickness. Through mobile devices – mobile phones, laptops, tabs and many more – can keep you in perpetual contact, or 24/7! You may also opt to make a lot of friends in your host country. Having your own group does not only bring you a sense of belonging, but you get to feel at home as you explore cultures and lifestyle overseas.

Big on bargains

Whether you are self-paying or a scholar of a university, to study overseas is undeniably expensive. So to make the most out of your money as you enjoy the wonders of a foreign land, it is best to be on the lookout for big bargains. Here in Melbourne, apart from visiting thrift shops like Salvos or Savers, students opt to check out “on sale” items. Should you wish not to spend on clothes that you may not be able to use as you go back in the Philippines such as winter jackets, you may use your network of friends who are to leave the country to lend you or give you their slightly used items.

Tipid tummy and yummy

One way to better understand a different culture is to immerse your taste buds in a culinary escapade. Apparently, some dishes come in a hefty price to pay. Believe it or not, as an overseas Filipino student, you can indulge in glorious food treats via working on a budget. One of the best techniques is learning the art of a “budget meal.” By simply bringing your own packed lunch on an everyday or alternate basis, you may be able to save a few dollars. These dollars will serve as your key in rewarding yourself with something more extra special at the end of the week or a month.

Your legacy, your best “health” forward

Each and every Filipino who work or study overseas represents the Philippines in so many ways. As an overseas Filipino student, you are expected to give your best in school and somehow embody Philippine values. While societal expectations may inspire you or even put a pressure on you in obtaining an international degree, do not forget to live a balanced student life and healthy well-being overseas. Independent living is not only about emancipation from a sheltered life back home, but it also entails heaps of discipline and wise decision making towards success. By keeping yourself active such as engaging in sports or healthy activities, you are rewarding yourself with a healthy body and mindset to boost your endeavors inside and outside your academic life.

The road that leads to walking away with an International degree in your hand is long and challenging at most times. But as long you are determined, passionate and focused, you will reach your goal and even graduate with flying colors. However, as you take that baby steps or perhaps a leap of faith in bringing home an International degree, never forget to not only enrich yourself with openness, diversity and humility, but also share your knowledge and wisdom in your home country, the Philippines.

---

Earvin Charles B. Cabalquinto is a PhD Candidate (Film, Media and Communications) at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, under the Monash Graduate Scholarship and Monash International Postgraduate Research Scholarship. His research focuses on the mobile media engagement of OFWs in Melbourne in connecting to their left-behind families in the Philippines. If he’s not writing or reading a book or journal for his research, you can spot him teaching Zumba, singing in a bar or simply wandering around Melbourne’s sleek streets and artsy alleys. You can visit his personal blog and his PhD blog.

From migrant to expat lifestyle on a shoestring budget


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

When people from western cultures leave their home countries to find work elsewhere, they're called "expats". But when those from the developing world take jobs abroad, they're labelled as "migrant workers". The Philippine government even has an official term for its diaspora: "Overseas Filipino Workers".

Surely, the status of "worker" is frowned upon over the "expat" who could socialize with locals, enjoy the sights and sounds that the destination country has to offer, and treat themselves to the good life. It shouldn't be the case that Filipinos typecast themselves as mere workers bonded to their employment contracts.

With a dash of imagination, getting around and learning about your host country could also be inexpensive. Here are some tips on how you can enjoy expat lifestyle abroad without spending more than the cost of a day's meal. Take a pick of a hat to wear:

Culinary Connoisseur


Block off a weekend without cooking adobo: hunt for traditional dishes instead. Forget fancy restaurants and go where the locals eat. For authentic local flavor, favor the street-side fares over the chain stores. If adventurous enough, try the notorious delicacies (such as stinky tofus or casu marzus) to seal your global gourmand status.

Cineaste


Back in Manila, you get to see non-Hollywood foreign movies only in occasional film festivals and in bootleg DVDs. You're now practically dealing with cinema obscura. Watch any movie in the vernacular. Just buy a ticket, and go in without any expectation. Even if you don't understand a single conversation, get carried away by the narrative and visuals.

Civilian adventurer


History is enshrined in memorial halls, monuments, and public parks. Bask in the country's past glory by knowing a bit about its heroes and statesmen, especially those whose names are now associated with places. You don't have to travel far to get to a landmark as every community has a pride of its own (perhaps an ancestral house that dates back to a century?). Whether it's a public art museum or a monument, take a guilt-free selfie as a stamp of your tourist trail.

Culture Vulture


A country's soul is reflected in its art. Who says you need to be a millionaire to be considered an arts patron? A few bucks spent on art would trickle down to the artist as royalty. So pick a book by a local author, visit an art exhibit, or catch a live theatrical or musical performance. A good art experience will make you reflect on life's big questions, such as when you will be ready to return to your roots.

Current Events Opinionator


You're connected to WiFi 24/7, but when did you last check the local buzz? Hopefully there's readily available English newspaper that you can read. It's a window to politics, sports, entertainment and more that are shaping your host country. Knowing the basics is a great conversation starter with locals. And who knows, you might even get your next lead for free concerts or lectures in the classified ads.

Which of these profiles fit you best? Share your recent experience as a Filipino expat!

The OFW and the three bears


BY ANNE QUINTOS

Be prepared as the BE(A)R months are in. OFWs consider this time of the year to be the most difficult season to get through. It's cold and dreary, made worse with Christmas approaching and you're not sure if you could spend it with the family.

You feel listless and sad, as if in a forest where the tangled branches of trees are out to trap you. When you see something that reminds you of home, you'll try to enter it. It's tempting to taste a warmly cooked meal, find solace in a comfy chair, or to stretch out and rest in a bed that invites your tired body.

Still, as Goldilocks also found out, you'll complain that nothing fits you best. Or when it does finally "feel just right", you'll learn that it isn't yours in the end. Like other OFWs, you have one foot in and the other out in trying to survive sadness in another country that will never be home. That's the story as we know it. It ends with Goldilocks running away from the home of the three bears.

Too bad, the OFW story doesn't end with just running away. For us, we need to be strong to face our fears. There is another thing to understand: the bears we need to confront aren't part of our external world. The most dangerous bears may be the ones dwelling within us.

The lonely bear

A grizzly is drawn to just hibernate during the winter season. That's how we wish it to happen when we're lonely. Bury ourselves in a cave of depression and sleep through the waiting.

The lonely bear is the first one to welcome the OFW. If you don't run away from it soon enough, it will introduce you to more of its friends. Why? Because misery loves company.

The hoard bear

To prepare for hibernation, bears eat as much food they can. While we don't have the capacity to stock nourishment in our bodies for months without food, we hoard on things for ourselves and families (and even our extended families) to fill such an empty space inside us.

The emptiness may be a bottomless pit, but our bank accounts and opportunities can easily run out. When you give in to the hoard bear, that's when you'll get to meet the third bear.

The lost bear

Feeling lost is like how the bear market is, a term mostly used to refer to when the economy is weak and the future is bleak. It's a common reality for OFWs who lost track of their purpose while abroad. So they also spiral down or run in circles.

When you meet or start to feel like the lost bear, hang on. Things may, in fact, get better. It'll get better just long as you wake up to confront your bears and find your way out of the forest.

Which bear have you encountered, and how did you slay it?

#NoToPork: OFWs Protest with Zero Remittance Day


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

When a whistle-blower broke the news that socialite Janet Napoles was re-channeling certain lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus NGOs, many overseas Filipino workers were particularly indignant. While OFWs separate from their loved ones to earn money abroad because of the lack of local jobs, the thought of politicians using government funds to fund their family's lavish lifestyles add insult to injury.

OFWs have every right to express dismay and anger about the misuse of a reported 10 billion pesos of "pork barrel". These workers mostly hold menial jobs abroad (as domestic helpers or factory workers) but managed to bring home almost U.S.$24 billion last 2012. The last thing they need are politicians leeching off their hard work.

Migrante International, an activist organization that safeguards the welfare of Filipino migrant workers, calls on OFWs to protest the pork barrel fund scam by not remitting on September 19.


Meanwhile, the Aquino government downplays the protest and appeals to OFWs to reconsider their stand on the issue.


A series of protests by OFW groups - from Qatar, Hong Kong, to Canada - have been held. On Twitter, OFWs weigh in on the issue some more.



As a fellow OFW, what do you think about the issue?

In Father's Words: Spiritual Reflection for OFWs


While away from home, many overseas Filipinos turn to the Catholic Church not only for their spiritual needs but also to seek support, friendship, and knowledge sharing. Many also use online religious channels for when they can't physically attend the Sunday mass. But for everyday reflection, a book such as Father Allan Fenix's "A Few Minutes with Father: Meditation on Our Daily Life as Catholic Christians" is a handy treasure-trove of Catholic-inspired insights.

For many years, Father Allan served the OFW community when he was based in Taiwan's Taoyuan county as a parish priest. He witnessed the many tribulations and challenges faced by Filipinos who depart from their families to try their luck abroad. "There were a number of homilies I delivered in Taoyuan in that book," Father Allan noted. For a sampler of his work, the homily "Migrants" is a concise account of what overseas Filipino workers constantly struggle with: displacement, money issues, and work contracts.

Nominated to the 2013 Cardinal Sin Catholic Book Awards, Father Allan's book is published by St. Paul's Publishing. You can order a copy online. Proceeds of the book are donated to the Clergy Health Fund.

Expectation Versus Reality: 5 Eye-Openers on Working and Living Abroad


BY ANNE QUINTOS

"Finally...it's happening," you whisper to yourself while looking at your newly minted work visa. "My big break is about to begin."

Sure, you know that there will be lonely days ahead once you go abroad but you're determined to stick through it more than ever. It's an opportunity of a lifetime, and there's no way you'll let it slip. You paint a picture of yourself a few years down the road, maybe with a condo, a new car, and a portfolio of investments. The thought just makes you smile.

But what's real and what's just an anticipated outcome that's only in your head?

Expectation #1: You'll have more freedom when you're away from home.

It's a new life, so to speak. In a new country, you'll have your time to explore a new world, meet new friends, and start a new you.

Reality:

While it's true that living abroad can make you start fresh, many overseas Filipinos go overboard. Because of too much "freedom", they splurge their salary, enter illicit relationships, or become addicted to different types of vices just to conquer homesickness. They bring themselves new chains and handcuffs instead.

Think about:

Resist the temptation to do everything you want just because you can. Remember that even if your overseas experience may just be temporary, it can create permanent damage in your life because of lack of self-control.

Expectation #2: People back home will automatically understand your hard work abroad.

Philippine society labels OFWs as "modern heroes" as they sacrifice to leave the familiar comforts of home to work hard in a foreign land where they can earn more. Many mistakenly think that anywhere else is a greener pasture than the Philippines. This leads to the idea that OFWs are ready saviors should there be problems, money or otherwise.

Reality:

Most of the times, the conflict begins when OFWs don't communicate their hardships abroad. Even if it pains them, they continue to support every need and whim of the family (including the extended ones) back home. They expect that their families are already aware of the difficult situation of living abroad and trust that families will value the hard-earned money they get.

Perhaps it's due to convenience that's why families left behind tend to forget the struggles of their OFW kin, equating their working abroad to a life of abundance. They continue to ask for more financial help and free passes while the poor OFW continue to work harder for money and suffer in silence.

Think about:

Be open about the hardships you experience abroad. Although you may think that you are sparing them of the worry, not expressing your situation may lead to the lack of value on the money you're sending back home. It's important that your family is as prepared as you are.

Expectation #3: You'll become richer than you could ever imagine.

Since an OFW's purchasing power gets a sudden boost, buying jewelries, cars, gadgets, and other material belongings is not just a dream any longer. This idea fills you with desire to buy things when you're already a successful OFW.

Reality:

Fate, as we all know, don't always turn out the same for everyone. While others look like they hit the jackpot, many are endlessly repeating the OFW cycle: loan money for the placement fee or their starter fund, work hard abroad, return home after contract ends, then repeat. Some even bury themselves deep into debts because too much unnecessary purchases and the lack of long-term investments.

Think about:

Even though things may start well for you, always prepare yourself and your family for the rainy days ahead. Work out your long-term plans, save and invest your money, and live in simplicity. Stay on track of your money goals to achieve a life of financial independence and affluence.

Expectation #4: All your relationships will have happy endings.

Despite too many sad OFW stories of couples bidding goodbyes for good or parents and children becoming estranged, you know in your heart that your story will be different. Your love for your family, spouse, or kids is just so amazing that nothing will ever change it.

Reality:

Relationships separated by distance won't flourish unless you work doubly hard to make it work. Sure, technology such as Facebook or Skype are there for chatting, and long distance calls are cheaper than before for when getting online can't wait. But unless both parties agree to communicate regularly, time zones and schedule conflicts could contribute to growing alienation.

Think about:

If there are people waiting for you back home, set a deadline as to when you will return for good. It's also helpful if you could book flights and attend family milestones, if budget permits it. The first few months of separation may be unbearable, but hang in there and you'll learn to adjust.

Expectation #5: Life is better abroad.

Whether you're abroad or in the Philippines, life is only as good when you strive to make it better. Expectations can very well happen too if you plan and make it be.

In your experience as an OFW, what expectation turned out different and how did you work around it?

3 Important Rates Every OFW Should Know


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Your pay rate just doubled on the job offer you received to work abroad. You've asked yourself the hard questions and made initial preparations. But forget about your promised pay for a minute and focus on these other rates before you sign your contract and fly out to your new destination. What looks like a bigger paycheck might actually buy you less lifestyle, investments, and cost savings if you ignore these important rates.

#1 Exchange rate


Of course you'll quickly check how much a Euro or Dinar converts - but also do some research on the historical value of your host country's currency against the Philippine peso. A drop of "10" or ".01" may impact your earning power, especially if you periodically remit large sums of money back home or plan big-ticket purchases. If for example you're eyeing to buy a 4 million peso condo unit, it will cost you U.S.$95,000 now against U.S.$85,000 from four years ago - more expensive by around U.S.$10,000.

#2 Inflation rate


There's a reason why salaries vary across countries and the inflation rate is an important indicator. Basically, the inflation rate dictates how much your money can command in the market following price fluctuations. For example, if you find yourself headed to Macau earning 100,000 patacas and where last year's inflation rate is 5%, make sure that you can negotiate an annual increase of at least that same figure. Otherwise you lose a bit of your salary's local value, which impacts your rent, consumption, and utility costs while abroad.

#3 Taxation rate


In Manila, your former boss complains about the high 32% tax rate eating up her earnings. Compare that for example in some parts of Europe where the maximum tax rate can exceed 50%. At the other end, Saudi Arabia (a popular destination among OFWs) has 0%,  yes, zero tax rate for foreigners. Where you find yourself relocating should be part of your projected income. Then comes the other taxes such as sales, value-added, or entertainment taxes, which may or may not apply in some territories. Imagine the total cost when you eat out for dinner!

Bear in mind that the money question complicates a bit more because these rates are inter-related. For one, some OFWs mistakenly hope for the Philippine peso to weaken come remittance period so they'll have more to send home. But if consumer goods in the Philippines spike to higher levels, gains in the exchange rate are lost in inflation. Since economics is not necessarily an exact science, you'd better invest your earnings to cushion you from swinging rates.

As an OFW, what other rates have you considered when negotiating for a salary package? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Cheaper calls to the Philippines with Vokka


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

You're already on Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts, so what's the need for another app to call home? Perhaps you own a local business and you need to regularly check with your staff. Or maybe your mom is not sold on changing to an Android phone yet. Vokka is for you if reaching them via cell phones or landlines are your best options.

Vokka is a mobile app that lets you call contacts in the Philippines at a lower rate than most call plans. Depending on your need and budget, you can select from different packages (ranging from prepaid credits, monthly subscriptions, and unlimited calls). Moreover, calls between Vokka contacts are free. For a small monthly premium, Vokka could get you a local Philippine number that your family and friends can reach you with, without being charged hefty bills for overseas calls.

Here's our full review review of the Vokka app.

Pluses

  • Call quality is reliable. You may be in an area with choppy mobile reception, but you're set as long as you have strong data or Wi-Fi connection.
  • The call plans are competitively priced. For USD $5, you can have an unlimited talk time for a whole week to two Philippine numbers. If ever Philippine-based contacts need to call you, they save on bills too since you can opt for a local number (separate plan required).
  • It's quite convenient to reload call credits since payment can be done with a credit card or PayPal via the Vokka website. If you live far from cities with a big Filipino community, it's hard to look for vendors selling call cards at discounted rates so this app is a definitely great option.

Minuses

  • Currently, Vokka plans only apply to PLDT, Smart, and Sun subscribers. Quite a pain if your contacts are with other telecom companies.
  • The local phone number deal is good - but nowhere in the app is it mentioned during initial log in. You need to go to the Vokka website to see the different call plans.
  • Plainer user interface language, please. For example, when you open the app, you see the message "Loading provisioning." This kind of tech-speak might unnerve some users.

In the future, it would be nice if website features can be integrated with the app itself. That way, users won't need to open a separate browser. It would also be great if the service coverage is expanded to include most telecoms in the Philippines.

Overall, Vokka is worth downloading. The app has a simple yet functional layout. The "Contacts" tab automatically import and list your existing contacts so it's easier to find someone to call. Rates could also go as low as $.04 USD per minute (if you avail of the $25 USD monthly subscription). A caveat: since Vokka is an app that relies on your mobile connection, take note if you're on limited data plan or else connect to a Wi-Fi network. You might save on call credits, but you don't want your monthly mobile bill to balloon.

Have you ever used Vokka or similar apps before? Let us know your experience so far in the comments section below.

Preparing yourself for overseas success


BY ANNE QUINTOS

Working abroad takes more preparations than just booking your flight, signing a work contract, and packing your bags.

We've heard of stories about overseas Filipinos returning home empty-handed. Some were too homesick. Others went bankrupt and wallowed in debt. Because leaving the country to try their luck abroad is a dream for many Filipinos, some instantly jump the boat (or a plane for that matter) blindly hoping for everything to go well. Not as planned, but just as how they dreamt it to be.

And dreams are good. Until reality kicks in, such as feeling homesick or being discriminated against. That's when overseas Filipinos struggle and lose grip of the dream. Sometimes even finding themselves in their worst nightmare.

Don't let this happen to you. With careful planning, you'll be able to assess if overseas life is the right door for you.

#1 Identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Even if adaptability and resiliency are deeply rooted in our system as Filipinos, living alone in a new environment and adjusting to a different culture from yours may push you to your limits.

It's important to take a deep look within you to understand how you cope and deal with difficult changes. Use past situations in your life as your benchmark for assessing if living overseas is something you can handle. Ask yourself: Do you easily give up when faced with a difficult decision? Are you tolerant of opposing opinions? How do you deal with stress?

You also need to take the following into consideration:

  • Your personality type. Are you too family-oriented to live alone? How long does it take you to get along with new friends and co-workers?
  • Your physical conditions. Do you have preexisting health problems that may interfere with your work? Are you physically fit to live abroad?
  • Your current financial status. Do you have enough money set aside for your first few months of adjustment for you and your family? 

#2 Make your goals crystal clear.

We may think that there's only one reason why Filipinos are leaving the country: to earn more for building their families' future. While this sound like a reasonable objective for overseas Filipinos, in reality, earning money and building a future are two separate goals. Oftentimes, the first goal gets more focus than the latter.

Many overseas Filipinos think that because they're earning and sending money back home, they are automatically building the future of their kids. Years later, they'll learn and regret that they have given too much money and too less of themselves.

Examine and break down your goals even before you decide to leave your family. Write them down and never forget it. Sure, these goals aren't cast in stone but it's always good to know them by heart so that you won't get lost in the process.

And remember, you shouldn't keep your money goals to yourself. Make sure that your family knows exactly how you plan things to happen (e.g. communication, budgeting, retirement, etc). Goals are easier to accomplish when family members are hand in hand.

#3 Pray for discernment.

You may be at a point in your life where things are a blur, desperate even. Perhaps, going abroad is the only solution you can see in the horizon or it may just be one of the many options to choose from. Either way, praying for discernment can help you find peace, good judgment, and answers. Not only for the near future but also for many years ahead.

Baby on Board while Abroad: 3rd 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. (Read first trimester and second trimester posts.)

7th month: Shopping for the baby

Our shopping list got longer. Who could ever blame first-time parents? We were so excited that budget seemed irrelevant during the waiting game. Looking back, however, this excitement of buying (a lot of) stuff was not a new feeling. And neither was it solely for newbie parents. For overseas Filipinos who have been away from home long enough, balikbayan shopping is also the way to ease the excitement and at times, compensate for the time lost.

Because we felt we're accumulating a lot of little things that will be easily outgrown, I knew that listing it down wasn't enough. I had to set the following:


  • Priorities. Does baby really (I mean, really) need it?

  • Time frame. Can it wait until our baby is one year old? Or does it really have to be now because it's on sale?

  • Budget. How much money can we set aside from our monthly income to buy it?

I had wins and losses over this shopping for the baby challenge. We had limited toy purchases to a minimum. But lessons came as soon as baby was born. Baby didn't like to be in the nice crib that we bought. Instead, she often enjoys her time in the secondhand cradle we graciously received from a co-worker.

8th month: Anxiety Attacks 

Breathe in, breathe out. Will I be a good mom to this kid? Breathe in, breathe out. What if I turned out to be not ready for motherhood? Will this kid hate me for the rest of her life? Breathe in, breathe out. Help, I really don't know what I'm in for!

And then there were worries about finances and the biggest word ever: Future. Where do we raise her, abroad or back home? If back home, will our salaries and investments cover her needs? Breathe in, breathe out.

They say it's normal to be scared and worry about what's going to happen for you and your baby. I blame it on my pregnancy hormones, physical strain, and lack of sleep. And perhaps, it's my second nature to worry. When it got a little bit crazy, that's when I told myself to restrain from thinking to much and put my trust in God. Of course, my husband and my mom didn't fail to reassure me that everything will be alright.

9th month: The Real Deal 

The waiting game is nearly done and my husband and I are more excited than ever. We also have conquered some of our fears and managed to resolve most items in our to-do list. "Is this really happening?" I kept asking myself. "I'm officially a mom."

Speaking of being a mother, my mom graciously offered her help on our D-day. She said that while I'm on my maternity leave, she can help me with the baby and chores. Because Taiwan is just a few hours away by plane, she booked her flight tickets without hesitations.

My delivery was on schedule. Our daughter was born a day after the Chinese New Year. From the moment she arrived, all the pain and worries were instantly replaced with absolute happiness and calmness. Things were clear: We, as parents, want to give her the best.

And that is where we begin a new journey of parenthood.

Taiwan-Philippine diplomatic row: stop treating OFWs as pawns


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

My wife and I hailed a cab and with our very limited Mandarin we figured that what's blasting on the radio was rabid commentary about the Philippine-Taiwan conflict. In a country where pet grooming makes it to primetime news, the killing of a sixty-five-year old Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard sparked a media frenzy. We just kept quiet and toyed with our smart phones to avoid conversation with the driver. As OFWs, our rule of thumb is to always try to blend in to avoid being singled out.

The diplomatic row between the two countries ensued when the Philippine Coast Guard fired some 50 bullets against the fishing vessel that the old man boarded along with his companions. For its defense, the Philippine Coast Guard said that the 15-ton fishing vessel tried to ram into their ship. On the other hand, the Taiwanese believed that there was no intrusion into Philippine territory, and that the attack was uncalled for and "barbaric".

Retaliation and sanction

On my Facebook wall, links were being shared about how a Filipino migrant worker in Taiwan was reportedly beaten at a train station as a result of local outrage. Another Filipino was said to be ganged up by four Taiwanese and hit with a baseball bat. Elsewhere in the East Asian island, Filipinos were being refused to be sold at some groceries and were shouted invectives at. The tension was bad enough that some factories issued warnings to its Filipino employees to avoid places usually associated with the Philippine community. The Taipei mayor also called for cooler heads among the locals and even deployed extra police near where Filipinos gather to avoid more commotion.

These developments were a surprise since the Taiwanese are generally polite. In the more than three years that we've lived in Taiwan, we had limited experience with racist or discriminatory behavior. Some say that the shooting incident hit a raw nerve, especially since the Philippines had again wrongly invoked the One China Policy in its diplomatic dealing with Taiwan.

Four things were demanded from the Philippines: a formal apology from the government, compensation for the family of the killed fisherman, penalty for the armed force personnel responsible for the death, and talks of a shared fishing boundary. If any of these will not be met within three days, Taiwan promised tough sanctions against the Philippines.

Presidents' Game

The flaming rhetoric used by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in discussing the incident received mixed reaction. A segment cheered on that it's time to assert Taiwan's border rights, while some said that the demands were merely a political stunt because the Taiwanese president has falling popularity rating. On the other hand, the seeming inaction by Philippine President Benigno Aquino Jr. was attributed to his busy schedule campaigning for allies in the freshly concluded Philippine mid-term elections.

The three day deadline lapsed, which was hardly enough for a full-blown investigation. Rejecting the apology conveyed by the Philippine envoy as not sincere enough, Taiwan froze the hiring of prospective OFWs and sent back Manila's top consul. A second wave of sanctions ensued, including a red alert advisory for travel to the Philippines, suspension of economic and cultural exchanges, and navy drills near Taiwan-Philippine borders. This despite some $6.7 billion in trade deficit between the two country in favor of Taiwan.

Two-way street

Filipinos abroad and at home took to the Internet to protest. Some were angry at the Philippine government for being incompetent in dealing with the crisis. Some congratulated the Aquino administration for taking a stand against perceived intrusions to Philippine seas. But mostly, people were worried for the safety of OFWs based in Taiwan. We ourselves had relatives and friends calling or messaging to ask if we're OK.

Freeze hiring of Filipino workers was the knee-jerk reaction from the Taiwan government. It seems that as a receiving host, it forgets that labor migration is a two-way street. Taiwan with its zero percent population growth needs workers from other countries to man its many factories and to care for its aging population. Aside from having a reputation for being hard working, Filipinos possess basic English skills that enable them to figure out labels in complex machinery - a task that other counterparts in Southeast Asia couldn't master so well. Some observers claimed that the tech industry in Taiwan will suffer from the exodus of Philippine labor.

Sooner or later, the diplomatic row will probably be resolved and dialogue between the governments will resume. What's unacceptable though is the abuse of overseas Filipino workers. Violence against migrant workers - both physical and emotional - must be condemned. The threat of financial instability faced by those whose contracts are just about to expire and those who are yet to be deployed is also damage already done.

But for my wife and I, the issue is much more than employment contracts. Our first daughter was born in Taiwan three months ago. If we stayed long enough to see her grow up and probably study here, we fear that our daughter will be labeled as an unwanted foreigner - among our other worries as migrant workers in another land. This is not to say that our problem is bigger than the hopes anchored by prospective OFWs (especially those who've paid agency fees) to a job in Taiwan. For us, the issue just got closer to home.

Haters Gonna Hate? How to Deal with Racial Discrimination


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Derek Valencia, a Filipino-American in California, received curious mail. When he opened the letter, it basically rants against Filipinos in the town as "filthy" and "unwanted". He posted a photo of the printout on his Facebook and asked: "Anyone else in American canyon get this letter in the mail?"

But while Valencia received mailed-in letter, Filipinos based in Singapore were flamed online when popular fast-food chain Jollibee opened its first store in the city-state a few weeks ago. Filipinos were variously described as "cockroach", "prostitute", and "retarded" among other insults by some local Singaporeans in online comments. There was even a "Boycott Jollibee" Facebook page to collect the hate.

This just proves how prone overseas Filipinos are to racism on a daily basis.

What is racism - and is it a crime?

According to RacismNoWay, racism is "offensive or aggressive behavior to members of another race". Overseas Filipinos are vulnerable to such discrimination, with around 10 million Filipinos scattered across the globe. It's a pretty serious issue that don't seem to be addressed squarely enough: some Filipinos have been driven out of communities, while more unfortunate ones have even been framed up for crimes they didn't commit.

If you're an OFW, racism also covers being rejected or fired from a job due to your perceived "strangeness". In most countries, it is illegal if someone treats you differently just because of your skin color, creed, or accent. Some instances are subtle enough yet still exact a chilling reaction. At its most extreme, racism could turn violent.

Immediately report personal threats and untoward incidents to competent authorities. Valencia did just that - and in a follow up by the Huffington Post, the area's police chief described the letter as "an unusual event" and promised to investigate whether or not the letter could be considered a hate crime.

What to do if you're a victim?

Racism is a deeply emotional issue - it is unreasonable and hateful. So respond to it with caution: keep your cool, be confident in your own skin, and either walk away at the moment (and plan your next move) or assert your right to be treated with due respect. For milder forms of racism, seeking out a dialogue with the offending party under the presence of a more objective mediator (such as in work or school contexts) might help bridge an understanding.

Cyber-racism - a form of cyber-bullying - is another matter. In Singapore, for example, there are no regulations yet for cyber-bullying although some existing law may apply especially if there's a death threat. Guard yourself from fanning the flame by responding with more negative things to say (check if you have racist tendencies too!). Stick to the issue at hand if you're compelled to reply.

If an incident leaves you fearing for your safety, alert the local police. Recall and record what has transpired so you can reference it when you give your formal statement. If it involves violent behavior and someone witnessed the scene, ask for their contact information to help you out. You should also let friends and family know about such threats and incidents.

Have you been a victim of racism? Tell us in Hay Pinas! forums or in the comment section below how you dealt with the experience. To learn more about racism, the BBC provides a fact sheet on important things you should remember.

Runaway migrants chasing dreams: a call for support


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

We've had countless Filipinas, some of them our school teachers, secretaries, and midwives go abroad to work as domestic helpers. They trade the comfort of family and loved ones for higher salaries than they could find locally. Their remittances in turn become the lifeblood for their homes, putting food on the table, sending off their kids to good schools, and pooling money for future investments.

They start jobs with foreign employers prepared to devote their time and care. But soon enough, many would find out that their contracts - as caregivers, babysitters, or live-in helpers - demand much more. From dawn to dusk, they take care of minors and the elderly, and at the same time clean, cook, and run various errands. A 24/7 commitment indeed - and sometimes without a day off. Call it slave labor, but they may also be "shared" by their employers' family or friends to do as much in extra settings too. To top it off, they are also prone to threats, abuse, and violence.

Domestic helpers can only take so much before reaching a breaking point. No wonder, many of them would rather "run away" from their employers than finish their contracts. This is not without legal and financial ramifications - these domestic helpers borrowed money for placement fees with manpower agencies to clinch employment contracts. Poor as they were when they went abroad for jobs, they now also become potential renegades from law.

What policy changes are needed to protect domestic helpers from this tragic situation? Alex Wolfgram and Nick Vaky take off from this point in their documentary project "I Have it Maid". They have started research in Taiwan, which is host to thousands of domestic helpers. But their work is not yet complete as they need to capture the perspective from domestic helpers departing the Philippines and Southeast Asian nations. They need support for their project through their KickStarter page. How to also take care of domestic helpers - the answer is up to us to piece together.

Online Simba: Catholic Mass via YouTube


(Click the banner photo for the Sambuhay TV mass link.)

For most overseas Filipinos, it's not always possible to take time off at work to attend religious events and practice the faith. Also, churches and places of worship are sometimes few and far between where the overseas Filipinos stay - such as in the Middle East. With the Holy Week approaching, plan to spend a few hours to relive the Catholic tradition - right on your computer.

With overseas Filipinos in mind and other people who can't otherwise be present at Mass due to circumstance (the sick), the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines makes possible an online Visita Iglesia. Be awed by grand Philippine Churches - from Batanes to Marinduque - through video walk-throughs and virtual tours. You can even perform a "Way of the Cross", complete with recorded prayers. You can also access YouTube-recorded Lenten sermons to reflect on this Holy Week.

Meanwhile, back in Manila, the Society of St. Paul, who also run TV Maria, hold (and upload) Catholic Masses for a YouTube audience. Watch the Sambuhay TV mass from this YouTube channel.


The Masses are shot in a chapel complete with choir and lector volunteers. Unlike some TV broadcasts, the camera work does not distract and help maintain the solemnity of the event. Also regularly recited in each Mass is a special Paulinian prayer for overseas Filipinos. Learn the words here:
Prayer of Overseas Filipinos
St Michael, the Archangel
I am about to leave my family
and the physical and emotional
distance affects me.
The physical distance means
I will be living in a totally different
culture where everything will be new.
The emotional distance implies that
no longer will I be able to embrace
my loved ones when I want to.
You have done special mission
for God and you did it confidently,
trusting that everything will be
alright because our Creator has
everything in His hands.
Share with me the same faith.
Make this travel a part of my
mission here on earth.
I have to leave for the good
of my family and lvoed ones.
I have to leave to do God's will.
While I am away from them,
protect them from dangers.
Let them feel my presence through
my letters and calls.
Make us a strong family even though
we are far from one another.
St. Michael, through your
intercession, may Jesus be the
Light of the family and
Mary be our Mother, too.
Amen

Money pitfalls to avoid: advice to new OFWs


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Since joining the bandwagon to work abroad, you’ve been earning four times as much than when you’ve stayed in the Philippines. Your pay slip proves this fact. But why then are you more cash-strapped and debt-ridden as ever?

Many new OFWs fall trap to the promise of a bigger salary when they set out for overseas jobs. But what most OFWs don’t realize is the equally huge money challenge that may accompany this deal.

If you’re a new OFW or planning to become one soon, don’t fall trap to these pitfalls.

Cost of living blindside

In the Philippines, some things are arguably cheaper: rent, groceries, and even cab fares. Eating out and occasional movies won’t break the bank either. But if you find yourself in other corners of the world, be prepared if the price tags suddenly skyrocket.

A studio apartment might already halve your salary if you relocate to a big city, such as Hong Kong. Then there are the standard service charges and taxes that come with purchases. Even a simple haircut might cost you a few thousands in peso-terms.

Check the proportion of your income against your new place, and adjust your lifestyle according to what you can afford.

Double household shortfall

While tending to your expenses abroad, you’re probably also juggling financial obligations back home. If you’re raising a family or have dependents staying behind, their spending is intertwined with yours.

This means utility bills will always come in two, as are other basic necessities. Do you have a budget list of your regular expenses? If not, you have to make two of such right now. It’s also equally important that your family knows how to value the money you send so that your budget is met both ways.

Cash cow dilemma

Since you’re earning dollars, some friends and distant relatives might have no qualms in designating you as the go-to person for emergency (or not) appeals for cash. Especially if it’s a matter of life and death, such as medical predicaments, most OFWs would oblige to foot the bill. The long list of common SOS to OFWs includes tuition fees, home repair, to business capital.

When doling out loans, remember to only lend an amount that you can write off. It’s also good to have a fund for these kinds of requests. Don’t be guilt-tripped if you set a cap to what you can offer as help. Far too many relationships have been strained by money issues, which could only get worse because of the long distance.

Wallet drainers

Many OFWs succumb to the temptation of buying the latest gadgets, designer bags, and custom jewelries (sometimes charged to credit). And some are constantly stuffing their balik-bayan boxes with sundry items from rubber shoes to canned goods. It’s partly shopping therapy from the stress and overwork they face.

Having spent a huge part of their income compensating for their absence in the form of material goods, it’s no surprise that many OFWs head home with little to no savings at all. They then sell or pawn expensive items they’ve purchased at a fraction of the cost. So goes the cycle especially for those who have to shell out placement fees.

If you’re prone to impulse buying, hold tight to your wallet and ask yourself why you decided to work abroad in the first place. If it’s to secure your children’s education or to fund a small business, then bid adieu to that flat-screen TV for now.

Big-ticket commitments

You might think that a pre-selling two-bedroom condominium unit might be the perfect investment for you. After all, the interest rate is waived and you have ten years to complete the payment. Or not – if you’re only on a three-year work contract abroad.

If there’s uncertainty that you would be getting the same income that you have from your overseas job in the long-term, it’s best to forego big-ticket investments if it’s going to cost you future headaches. You can focus on mutual funds or the stock market rather than commit to resource-straining investments such as real estate.

Far too often, money matters sidetrack OFWs from enjoying what living and working abroad can offer aside from fatter paychecks. Guard yourself from these common pitfalls – peace of mind is priceless.


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This article was previously published by Angat Pilipinas Coalition for Financial Literacy, of which HayPinas.org is a supporter. Angat Pilipinas is a coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to improving the financial literacy of the Filipino youth, artists, and overseas Filipino workers (OFW's) by providing advocacy, research, standards and educational resources.

Baby on Board while Abroad: 2nd 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. (Read first trimester post here.)

4th month: Dream book (financial goals) rewritten


In another post, I mentioned that my husband and I keep a dream journal where we scribble and write our plans for the years to come. Two months after our baby news, we were dumbfounded to realize that most of the dreams and plans written no longer fit in our new roles as parents.

So, we flipped a new page and started planning again with these objectives in mind: Scratch out the travel plans and delay it for a few years. Trim down our holiday wishlists. Strengthen our investment portfolio for our baby's future. Stick to what's essential.

It sounds painful. But it isn't, really. As expectant parents, it's automatic for us to think of only the best for our baby and family. Planning isn't the hardball task. What's more difficult is when we're preparing our monthly budget and resisting temptations to mis-spend or overspend. That's why I believe so much in putting our plans in writing. It helps us stay focused and, most of the times, on track.

To tell you the truth, because of overwhelming expenses lined up in the coming months, we've been revisiting our dream book more than we ever had.

Preggie tips
  • Reassess your financial goals and adjust it with the baby in mind. If you haven't written anything down, now would be the best time to create your own dream book.  
  • Consider these types of questions when planning: Where do you plan to give birth and how much will it cost you? Does your employment contract cover maternity benefits? Can you file your hospitalization bills for SSS reimbursement (for OFWs with voluntary coverage)?
  • After giving birth, are there other financial instruments that you should explore to help you save for your child's future?

5th month: Family Emergency


They planned to keep this secret from me. My mom told Raymond that my dad had a minor accident yet high-risk repercussion. It remained a secret until my sister unintentionally Facebook checked-in from the hospital (yeah, Facebook check-ins are easy giveaways). This got me asking so they had no choice but to tell me that dad had a bad fall, and the pain caused very abnormal elevation of his blood pressure and sugar. We were all scared that he might undergo another angioplasty due to his heart condition.

Dealing with family emergencies like this makes the OFW life very much difficult to handle. Fortunately, Taiwan is just a few hours away by plane unlike other overseas Filipinos living thousands of miles from home. The news made me overly emotional that I had to discuss with Raymond the possibility of going home to be with my family for the leg surgery. However, I made it a point that we won't be spending the money we don't have for last-minute plane fares. We used our emergency fund and part of our anniversary celebration fund to cover our expenses. Raymond agreed and went on to book our tickets two nights before the surgery.

Dad's operation was successful plus we also get to celebrate our baby news with all of our families. Raymond's lola even cooked my favorite Pancit canton.

Preggie tips
  • Set aside a monthly budget for emergencies like hospitalization and last-minute trips to the Philippines.
  • Plan and discuss all financial matters with your partner, especially if it will affect your pregnancy budget.

6th Month: Child-care planning


Our boss asked us about our plans on raising the baby in Taiwan. Without a blink of an eye, we told her that, after my two-month maternity leave, we're going to hire a overseas Filipino caregiver to help us.

We were so clueless.

Little did we know that getting house help in Taiwan wasn't as easy back in the Philippines -- it also wasn't cheap. For the locals, they have to undergo a point-system to hire a foreign domestic helper. For the foreigners, we would either need to be part of the managerial workforce of big companies, be expecting for triplets, or each earn an annual gross income of $NT 3 million. My husband and I were so floored that our only choice was to look for Plan B, C, and D (we're still looking these up until now).

On the other hand, this experience also taught us to appreciate what we have back home. Our household help may be one of the most neglected workers in our country even though they play important role in keeping our homes intact.

It also brought us at the crossroads that majority of OFW families have to decide on. Who will take care of our child? Should one of us give up the Opportunity to earn for her future or should we give up our Time together as a family, take her to the Philippines, and let the grandparents raise her until we have enough savings? I also belong to an OFW family for several years of my childhood where making voice tapes to talk to Daddy was one of our weekend activities. The thought of "online parenting" is just nerve-wrecking.

And so, my husband and I decided that we'll try our best to make it work as one complete family. We really hope everything turns out fine.

Preggie tips
  • Start thinking about baby care options, especially if both parents are working.
  • Ask around for baby care services that the government provides, such as accreditation of day care centers, registration of babysitters, and the like.