The Harsh Realities I've Realized from Being a Working Filipino in America

I've been meaning to write about something in my head for the past 4 months but I think now is the right time to do it.

This blog went on an accidental hiatus because of a) me not having the drive to write and feeling rusty about it and b) just busting my ass off to find a marketing job since I got my green card last July.

In this job-hunting time, I've realized many things that I've never read about in the news or on social media because they are too negative to be focused on. I've always been that kind of person that tries to focus on reading positive things on the internet so my mood in real life will not be dampened.

But, this time, it's real life that dampened my spirits.

Not Everything Is What It Seems on the Surface

I got an unusual Youtube video recommendation today about transgender people regretting about their sex change. I got curious since I wrote a research paper about transgender people and the process of sex change for our Ethics class way back in 2010.

I realized after watching this that this is the side of sex change that many people don't talk about. We celebrate the success stories of those who seem happier after getting it done but not the lessons learned of those who had to go back because they regretted the decision.

That's the same with OFWs and Filipinos migrating to another country. We're so focused on the Facebook photos of their travels and the stories of what their family members left in the Philippines got for Christmas because of their hard work.

But rarely is the ugly side talked about. I'd like to think we all focus on the positive because of survivor bias.

She's So Lucky to Be in America

One of our friends has been chatting with a woman who's living in a rural area in the Philippines. He mentioned that the woman said that I'm so lucky to be here and to have gotten out of the country.

Like most people, she thinks immigrating is a magic spell that will solve all our struggles of finding jobs and earning enough money in the Philippines.

Maybe for some, it is. For me, that wasn't the case but I got over it. I had to.

I've been here for over a year and it's been a constant struggle to be self-aware that I am not inferior and I will get back on track with building a career.

It's not easy to look for listening ears with that sentiment because the reply is always "Just be thankful that you got to move there."

So instead of just keeping these all in, I'll just write this for you. I assume that you are planning to be an OFW / immigrant or you are already an OFW / immigrant who is looking for that feeling of not being alone.

The Realities That Did Not Match My Expectations

After graduating from a well-known university, I've always been hyped up by the people around me because they knew that getting out of there was hard. I got to work with popular companies and accounts that, if you had them plastered on your resume, helped me establish my credibility in certain things like getting hired and promoted plus sharing my knowledge through talks and co-authoring a book.

I thought that my 7 years of professional experience was enough to land me a marketing job as fast as how I get them in the Philippines.

I was wrong about that. 

I've tried doing many jobs over the span of 1 year.
  • bookkeeper for a caregiver matching business
  • food delivery through ridesharing 
  • editor for a content agency
  • content management for a podcast
  • transcribing for a podcast
  • seasonal box scanner in a warehouse (current job)
Only 2 of them was related to marketing and they were just short-term gigs. 

I've been looking for a full-time job for over a year now. Nothing has come out of this. I'm not kidding when I say I've sent out over a thousand applications so I can't say I didn't try getting into marketing here.

Some of my realizations from all of these were:

1) It doesn't matter that I'm from the top university in my country because the US is a global arena

From being regarded as a smart person, I am now regarded as a dumb immigrant most of the time when it comes to personal/professional settings. It doesn't happen all the time but the time when it does is what will get to you.

Some of the dumb questions that have been asked to me were:
  • Do you know Easter?
  • Do you have fireworks there?
  • Are your sample articles in English? (after talking to me in English for the past 30 minutes)
I was too naive to believe that being hardworking and having my professional credentials were enough. It's not because I'm an immigrant.

2) Job availability is dependent on location

I thought it would be easy to find jobs here because the US is the "land of opportunities." What the media didn't relay is the part about living in the right location for the jobs you want. My field has more job openings in Silicon Valley and New York. Most jobs in Michigan are focused on assembly line work, retail, and automotive-related ones.

You might be saying, "But there should be something that you can get out there." Yes, there are plenty of jobs related to marketing here but who would they rather hire... Someone who got into massive student loans to graduate from a top Michigan university and has local work experience... or me?

3) The cost of living is really high so the net pay we thought is actually lower

There's no denying that the USD-PHP exchange rate is massive and earning dollars is valued higher than earning pesos. That is if you're living in the Philippines, but it's not the case in the US since $1 is just actually $1. 

I never understood those penny-pinching Americans I used to watch on Youtube that would limit their shower time per week and dumpster dive. I understand them now because everything here, especially the utilities, are so expensive. 

Most of the people I know back in the Philippines think that we're loaded here and they're entitled to get free things because of it like they're entitled to the money we're earning here.

It's a struggle to find a full-time job and part-time gigs and when you tell them that you can't send money back, you'll be labeled as kuripot (stingy).

4) Handling taxes is more complicated because you do it yourself

I was so used to my Form 2316 being handled by the HR and Accounting Departments of my previous employers so it was so shocking to me that Americans handle their own taxes regardless if they are a full-time employee or not. 

Because I was a noob in handling taxes here, it cost us Php40,800 and a warning from the Department of Treasury that they would place a lien in our house (that we own) if we don't pay it. I was furious when I got that letter because I knew I already paid that in August but turns out I paid in a federal government website and not at the state government website. 

So if you're moving here, be prepared for that. They're way faster than the BIR in collecting overdue taxes and running after you if you don't report it on time.

5) There will be many Filipinos you'll meet that you won't connect with

There's not a lot of Filipinos here in Michigan so this is a different case from warmer states like California, Florida, and Texas.

I've tried many times to chat with Filipinos here but they were all snobbish. I was trying to be friendly so even if I'm frustrated with the job-hunting then, at least, I'll have people to talk to. 

You'd think your own fellow Filipinos can be turned to for advice or even just some simple small talk. Nope, that wasn't the case. 

Turns out the whites and blacks are friendlier.

I really felt like this popular Filipino expression was saying:
Nakapag-abroad lang, kala mo kung sino na. (You just got to work abroad and you think you're some big shot now).
I also tried connecting with the alumni association chapter of my university here but nope. They had this exclusive circle of old people who knew each other and let no one outside the circle in. I reached out to the national chapter in California and in the first week of volunteering, it just felt like they're snobbish elitists who just needed someone to make their Google Docs.

They were really WTF moments but I just accepted it. 

The Continued Drive to Thrive in a Foreign Territory

Despite all of these, I never take for granted my privilege of being here. Things get hard and expectations are not being met but I just continued on keeping a straight face and tackling whatever comes my way.

Instead of just moping around, I got a seasonal warehouse job with a decent salary. This should give me money to shop for hosting and domains this coming Black Friday. I'm planning to set up an LLC with my husband focusing on content marketing and content production. 

I've been knocking on so many doors and they don't seem to want to let me in. I'll just build my own door that will lead me to the right direction in my career. 

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