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6 Courageous OFWs Offer Advice On Pursuing A Career Abroad

Define your purpose, plan your action, and hustle hard—outside your comfort zone
by Justine Punzalan | Jun 3, 2018
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We have all heard that one of the key strategies to achieving success is to go out of our comfort zones. In his viral TEDx Talk “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life”, leadership expert Bill Eckstrom discusses how this philosophy actually works in our lives. He explains, “When you feel discomfort hit, that means you’ve entered the complexity ring. Complexity is nothing more than changed order. But when your order is changed, outcomes are no longer predictable and it is unpredictability that makes you uncomfortable.”

He advises that in this state of unpredictability and discomfort, it is best to choose complexity over order. He clarifies, “I know choosing complexity seems odd and not many people do it, but you have to learn to embrace it because it’s the only environment where sustained or experiential growth can occur.”

Although there are only a few who choose discomfort rather than convenience, this article from denotes that there were about 2.3 million Filipinos who ventured this path last year. These courageous souls are our Overseas Filipino Workers.

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Personal growth, besides financial support for the family, is a common reason why OFWs prefer to work outside our homeland. And the data that WorkAbroad.PH shared to FHM substantiates the idea that many people are indeed, willing to step out of their comfort zones to attain growth.

According to the nation’s leading overseas jobs board, a total of 113,545 employment ads were posted on their site from January to October last year. 61,534 of those who applied were sent to Saudi Arabia, 16,083 to Qatar, and 7,233 to the United Arab Emirates.

And it’s not just in the Middle East that the demand and deployment for OFWs are high, but in Asia Pacific and USA, too. WorkAbroad.PH reports that 3,145 workers flew to Malaysia, Taiwan, and New Zealand last year. Most of them signed up for in-demand jobs specializing in general work, engineering, and manufacturing or production operations. 3,017 employees, meanwhile, traveled to the USA. Some were recruited to the continent’s highest-paying roles for OFWs: sea-based masters, chief engineers, chief officers, and nurses.

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The records are high because these OFWs dared to jump into their complexity ring and grow with the unfamiliar. And as in most unfamiliar situations, things can really be challenging.

FHM interviewed six self-trained OFWs on how they soared through these challenges and continuously fly steady with their jobs abroad. Learn from their tips that could help start your career overseas and know why jumping aboard is worth every effort.

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I’ve been working in New Zealand for two years and six months.

What motivated me to book this trip was my long-time dream to work for Weta Workshop. It’s a studio hailed for making costumes and props for cutting-edge films like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Avatar, Chronicles of Narnia, District 9, and a lot more. 

The steps I took pre-departure involved acquiring as much experience as I could in the Philippines. I amped up my portfolio. I worked for a post-production studio that creates visual effects for local TV shows and films. After that, I moved to being a 3D animator and modeler at a gaming studio. And I took all the lessons with me when I decided to venture overseas.

I landed this job by studying a ten-month course here in New Zealand that earned me a diploma in computer graphic design. While studying, I was also applying as a graphic artist in Weta Workshop. I was fortunate enough to win my dream job.

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Fitting in to foreign culture taught me a lot of things. New Zealand’s culture is very different from ours, but I was able to cope just fine. One thing I learned is that everyone addresses each one by their first name. You can only address a person as “Sir” if he is knighted by the Queen. For the language, I had to learn slang words so I could understand what my friends were saying. But in general, the people here are really kind and trustworthy to the point that banks don’t even have security guards!

Adjusting to the weather was quite a challenge since I came from a tropical country. Here, I had to gear up for the freezing weather during winter.

The cost of living is expensive and taxes are really high. Yet the good thing is that your hard work is well-compensated. No matter what your job may be, if you give it your all, you’ll be able to sustain yourself.

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The ride can be rough because of fdiscrimination. I haven’t experienced it in my workplace yet, but it’s inevitable when you migrate to a foreign country. Second, homesickness. Third is the language barrier. The main language here is English. However, with half of the population being immigrants, it’s still hard to understand some people. You’ll get used to it as times goes by.

What makes the journey worth it is that I’m doing the job that I love, I can provide ample financial support for my parents, and I get to visit breathtaking spots that one gets to see and experience only in New Zealand.

My advice if you want to take a flight overseas is just do it. If you feel like you need to go out of your comfort zone, do it! And remember to equip yourself not just with skills, but also a good attitude. No one wants to work with a jerk, you know.

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I’ve been working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for a year.

What motivated me to book this trip was that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I was hungry for a challenge and I had this burning desire to test how far I can go. And more importantly, I knew it was time to give back to my family. They are getting old. I wanted them to retire early.

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The steps I took pre-departure were done in a rush! I wasn’t prepared when my employer applied for my employment visa. My travel visa was nearing its due date and I haven’t used it yet. They told me that if I can’t beat the deadline, they would have to cancel my application. As a turnaround, I booked an unplanned tour to Singapore. Glad it worked! I learned from that experience that prior to applying for a job abroad, you must keep your documents and other requirements ready.

I landed this job through two of my friends who were working in Dubai. They told me that they need more manpower and asked if I wanted to work here. I grabbed the opportunity and sent my resume.

Fitting in to foreign culture requires some hardy attitude. In order to blend here, you must have enough patience to understand other people’s moods. Learning basic Arabic words is a must since most of the time, they speak in a mix of Arabic and English words. In terms of people, most of them are our kababayans. So, it’s still like being in Manila.

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Adjusting to the weather had me staying indoors most of the time. There are only 2 seasons in Dubai: summer and winter. During summer, the heat can reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius. The best I can do during those times was just stay at home.

The cost of living is very expensive compared to our country. I live in a partitioned room with 3 people. The place is comfy, yet still costly. I’m good with it though, because renting other spaces would be more expensive. My priority was not to live comfortably but to save for my family and my future.

The ride can be rough because I often felt homesick. To be honest, I used to cry despite having many friends and a high income. It made me realize that indeed, nothing can replace being with your family. But I also had to carry on for them. I kept my focus on my goals instead.

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The journey is worth it because being abroad can be challenging yet fulfilling. I am compensated with a high salary and I have the freedom of making my own responsible decisions.

My advice if you want to take a flight overseas is to prepare yourself well. Equip yourself with the right reasons and stay focused. Dare to take risks and believe that you can do anything. And of course, have faith in God. He will keep you company.

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I’ve been working in Los Angeles for three years.

What motivated me to book this trip was that I wanted to accompany my mom abroad. We were actually petitioned by my aunt and grandmother way back when I was twelve years old. I moved with her to LA last 2015. The change of environment gave me relief as well because during that time, I was experiencing emotional stress.

The steps I took pre-departure were to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of the city through research. It’s helpful to gear yourself up not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

I landed this job only after working various low-paying jobs all at the same time for two years. There came a time when I had to juggle three jobs. I had to do it because my full-time job pays only a little above the minimum wage. And I wanted to be financially stable. I was lucky enough to have been offered the position I’m currently in, five months after I applied for it.

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Fitting in to foreign culture pushed me to be diverse. I had to learn what were the no-no’s and what was acceptable. I also had to integrate my cultural background to the ecosystem, so I could stay rooted in my identity. Making friends is still a challenge for me because I’m an introvert. If you’re the opposite though, it wouldn’t be hard because the people here are open and friendly.

Adjusting to the weather was fun at first. I migrated here during winter and I enjoyed the snow. After that, there’d be times that I consider it a headache. Winter can be immensely freezing. Summer could reach temperatures of up to 43 degrees.

The cost of living is easy. Since the US is a developed country, I get to buy things for a good price. I was able to buy a gaming rig during my first year here. Living with a relative helped me save, too.

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The ride can be rough because I’m still having a hard time finding friends. I am an introvert who might be suffering from social anxiety. I do other things to make sure I don’t succumb to it. The good thing about Los Angeles is the availability of various recreational activities. It’s also best known for amazing food. For now, my coping mechanism is to try these things in order to cope with the loneliness.

The journey is worth it because the employment benefits here are good. If I wanted to earn extra, I can opt for easy part-time jobs like being a dog walker or a babysitter. I like the people as well. Los Angeles has such a diverse population that I get to meet people from all walks of life. It’s amazing.

My advice if you want to take a flight overseas is don’t be afraid to take the leap. Developed countries have a lot to offer. It is because I’m here that I have this financial stability that I just earned in three years.


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I’ve been working in Qatar for three years.

What motivated me to book this trip was that I wanted to be financially independent. I knew that it would provide me enough means to satisfy the needs and wants of my family.

The steps I took pre-departure were done with the drive to upgrade my portfolio. My mindset was no matter how big or small the project is, it should look like it has been done for an international channel.

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I landed this job after two years of working in Manila. I made a good professional online profile and started applying for jobs there. I searched for art directors and designers at the companies I was interested in. 

Fitting in to foreign culture taught me to be open-minded. The people here are also more serious compared to people back home. I had to keep my jokes to myself at times. It’s alright, though. What’s important is you know how to respect other cultures. 

Adjusting to the weather was the toughest because it can get so hot in Qatar (45 to 50 degrees during summer). Neither sunblock nor an umbrella will help you. Your body will just get used to it.

The cost of living doesn’t affect me much since I’m the type of person who just spends on necessities.

The ride can be rough because working in a place and for a society you’re not really accustomed to is difficult. It's with this experience that I realized how strong-willed Filipinos are. I also learned to work smart, so as not to be abused or overworked.

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The journey is worth it because I get to earn a lot and practice full independence.

My advice if you want to take a flight overseas is first, research the country you are planning to go to and make sure your salary is not below the average of what the locals or other expats are getting. You are an expat, not a slave. Look for other opportunities in case they lowball you. Second, make sure you and your overseas employer sign a contract before you resign from your current job in the Philippines. Everything that will be discussed in skype or e-mail should be included in it. Their offer should have a good health insurance, too. Lastly, do not accept it if your employer intends to keep your passport.

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I’ve been working in Kuwait for one year.

What motivated me to book this trip was the yearning to experience things outside my comfort zone and earn a lot of money for my family.

The steps I took pre-departure were for processing requirements. First was the passport. Second was the medical examination. Third was the visa and biometrics at the Embassy of Kuwait in Taguig. 

I landed this job with an application through WorkAbroad.PH. Just after a few days, someone from a local agency interviewed me through Skype. After a few more days, a representative from Kuwait already came to interview me personally. And it all happened with my first application on the site.

Fitting in to foreign culture starts with one simple thing: be nice to everyone. Research on the country you are moving to, and apply those lessons along with what you have observed upon arrival at the place. Try to learn the basic language so that you’ll be able to communicate better. Smile and talk to them nicely and they will reciprocate. Refrain from doing unnecessary acts that are against their country, as well as ours.

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Adjusting to the weather was easy because generally, Kuwait has it good. October to January can be freezing, but the rest of the year is not too hot either.

The cost of living in Kuwait is high for those who aren’t practical. I only buy things that are needed. And I was able to save a lot of money because of it.

The ride can be rough because I was always homesick. I used to cry every single day because I miss my wife and kids so much. I talked to them through Skype and Facebook Messenger, but it wasn’t enough. I prayed for time to run faster so that I could go home.

The journey is worth it because, in just one year, I was already able to earn enough for my family and gain a hefty amount of experience. I also learned to befriend people beyond our race. 

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My advice if you want to take a flight overseas is to firm up your decision first. Think about your reasons through and through, and ask about the experiences of friends or relatives who have worked abroad. Based on my experience, the ratio of successful Filipinos abroad is 50-50. Pray and ask for signs. If it is indeed for you, work hard in keeping your mind and body to it.

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I’ve been working in Abu Dhabi, UAE for five years already. I was working in Doha, Qatar three years prior to moving here.

What motivated me to book this trip was the realization that this would give me a solid experience and make me independent. I was hesitant to take the risk at first. But then, after thinking it through, I decided to take the dive. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The steps I took pre-departure were all about getting my requirements fixed. I submitted all the essentials such as attested school documents, birth certificate, NBI clearance, etc. As soon as my visa got released from the Qatar Embassy, it only took me a week or so to move there.

I landed this job by doing some research about the advertising industry in Doha first. Then, I applied online. It was surprisingly easy. I just graduated from college and doing freelance at that time. After a couple of months, I finally got the green light from the company that hired me and started processing my papers.

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Fitting in to foreign culture was manageable. UAE is a big hub of cultures and nationalities. It has a very welcoming expat community with whom you can enjoy weekend brunches and night-outs with, sometimes. It would be helpful to know certain practices before moving here. Qatar and UAE are Muslim countries. They have a rich yet conservative culture. Adapting wouldn’t be hard, given that you learn about their culture well and practice respect for the locals and your fellow expats.

Adjusting to the weather can be a bit tough at times because here, it seems like summer most of the year.

The cost of living depends on your income and lifestyle. Living in UAE can be pricey, but it reciprocates your good tax-free salary.

The ride can be rough because I had to leave a good life back home. Now, everything is long distance. You will definitely miss the people in your life and the idea that they’re just there— physically—by your side all the time. I fill the gap, though, by trying to go home at least once a year, and by traveling with family and friends. 

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The journey is worth it because living and working abroad is an exciting experience. Besides learning about new environments, I also get to receive a tax-free salary, work for a culture with no work politics, and meet like-minded people. It opened a new world of opportunities for me. It was just a matter of reaching out to them and braving the challenges along the way.

My advice if you want to take a flight overseas is just go. Challenge yourself and never settle. Be a self-made man and strive to turn your dreams into reality.


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