Filipina in America · Starting Over Again

The Smart Immigrant: 15 Things to Know If You Want to Migrate Abroad

Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.

Hannah Arendt

I think everyone should try living abroad-  at least once.

More than the logistics of buying a ticket , and having a place to stay,  moving to a new country  requires a whole new set of skills.  The experience can be amazing.

I see these changing murals when I’m waiting for my bus in Downtown LA
Beautiful mural by a parking lot in Downtown LA

When you make a midlife move – like I did- you can’t leave a lot of things to chance. There is so much at stake. Family. Career. Money. And most importantly, time.

Successful migration is a combination of game plan, skills, time and chance.

It requires thorough planning. There are questions you need to ask yourself before jumping to this big move. Whether you are moving for a few years or for the rest of your life, the key is to be proactive. I am sharing what worked for me.

THINGS TO DO FOR SUCCESSFUL MIGRATION

  1. Do a test drive-literally and figuratively. Spend time in the new country several times before you decide. America is not just one location. The real America is in between the airports. It is experiencing the diversity of people, landscape, and culture. My original job offer was in Omaha, Nebraska. When I checked it out, it was too cold for me.

2. Learn the taboos. Make sure you know what is and isn’t acceptable.  In a culturally diverse country like America, we need to be extra careful. It was very embarrassing when I told one of the paralegals that I liked her chinky eyes. I didn’t realize that the word “chinky” as well as “oriental” are considered derogatory!

3. Be curious. Don’t be scared of nontraditional jobs. There are so many industries in America we have not even heard of. I came to the US to join the insurance industry – a job  I had for 16 years. But I saw an opportunity in medical-legal marketing. In a new country we need an open mind and curiosity.

I now work as Relationship Manager for Guldjian Fasel Law

4. Forget your fancy title in the Philippines.  You may have to start at least a rank lower. If you work hard, it’s difficult not to be noticed.

5. Shine! Know what you are good at and aggressively market yourself. This is not the time to be modest.

Our law firm’s ad reaching out to the Filipino community

6. Be careful of employers who will take advantage. Know your worth. One employer was paying me a thousand dollars less than a new hire after I’ve been with the company for more than a year. The irony was, I was asked to train the new hire. Oh well, that’s just the reality. I walked away.

Filipino co-workers in LA

7. Don’t stick with the familiar. For goodness sake, don’t keep looking for Jollibee! Embrace the new culture and create new traditions such as Thanksgiving, Superbowl weekend, Fourth of July, and try all the different menus that go with each occasion.

I learned to enjoy ice hockey!

8. Learn to live with the seasons. I learned that there is no bad weather only bad clothes. Walking to the bus stop on cold winter mornings, I use pocket rice pillows from Daiso. I heated these in the microwave before I leave.

My husband always tells me, I am bundled like an Eskimo.

9. Make new friends outside your ethnic group – in my case the Filipino group. This is the best way to assimilate. I initiated friendships in my industry that went beyond work.

Maria was a client but became a very good friend.

10. Relearn English. While we may speak English in the Philippines, native speakers pronounce words differently. I listened to podcasts and paid more attention to how words were said, even words that I already know. To this day, I still ask my husband  (and Alexa!) how to pronounce words.  I want to know how Americans say it.

11. Manage your money well. I was very smart with my money. I read about credit score and how it works. I learned how to use coupons which saved me tons of money.

12. Manage your emotions. Find a support group. I was blessed with friends who helped me. When loneliness and homesickness hits, my two eldest sons would remind me of our big picture. They were my cheerleaders.

Friends from high school in the Philippines who helped me get settled

13. Make technology your best friend. We do video calls almost every day. We have a cctv at home in the Philippines, that allows me to check what’s going on any time.

14. Be ready to miss home a lot.  In my first two years, I slept on  Christmas days so I won’t feel too lonely.    I also developed insomnia. How can I sleep when Manila is just waking up?

Finally… 

15. IT IS OK TO BE DIFFERENT. America is a great country because it embraces diversity. Yes, we need to assimilate. Yes, we need to blend. But there is value in maintaining your identity. The values that I bring from my country makes me unique and that is my value add to the great American culture.

Life is an adventure

If I were to live my life all over again, I would do everything the same- in a heartbeat. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, gave me a new perspective about life and myself. I learned to embrace change which made me more adaptable.

I also found hidden strengths. Grit to keep going. Courage to face a new life. Resilience in face of rejections, loneliness and doubts. These are all good life skills to master.

And if we can do this, it’s like having  superpowers. We become unstoppable.

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