Industry Talks: OFW – Meet our interview panel and read what they have to say about being an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker)
The Philippines most well know export around the World, are workers. Commonly referred to as an OFW, or Overseas Filipino Workers. Working abroad they get to experience living in a different country, its cultural differences and working practices.
Did you know, as an example, that in Canada companies are not allowed to charge employees for any transaction mistakes made?
What are the requirements to work abroad, how do you find jobs, what difficulties could you face?
Our guest interview panel is here to tell you the ins and outs of being an OFW.
Meet the OFW panel:
Vergil Ryan Gaanan Marketing Assistant Inter Continental Dubai Marina, United Arab Emirates. Duration in Country of Residence: 3 years
Shela Cahilig-Berger Manager Rose Bakery Paris – Le Bon Marché, France. Duration in Country of Residence: 4 years
Rocel Ortega Ling In-charge of Accounting & HR Park Inn by Radisson Houston USA. Duration in Country of Residence: 5 years
Maricar S. Gustilo Assist. Front Office Manager Grand Sultan Tea Resort & Golf, Bangladesh. Duration in Country of Residence: 5 years
Koji Cervantes Guest Relations Associate/Administrator, Lead Concierge Holland America, Located in Philippines/USA. Duration in Country of Residence: 5 years
Bianca Faith Obrique Senior Marketing Manager Averyx Group, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Duration in Country of Residence: 5 years
Arlene Pimentel Assistant Front Office Supervisor. Carmana Plaza-Peterson
Canada. Duration in Country of Residence: 6 years (Citizen)
1. How were you able to find a job abroad as an OFW?
Maricar: I was referred by a friend
Arlene: My husband is citizen of Canada and he sponsored me
Bianca: Like a lot of people who come to Dubai to work, I applied through online job sites.
Shela: I moved to France with my husband. It was hard at first to find work because I didn’t speak French. With my basic French I started working as a Sales Lady in a tourist souvenir shop on Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Rocel: I found it via Linked-in
Vergil: I came to Dubai on a 3 month visit visa with the help of my brother who is also working here. It was not easy to look for a job, as an OFW. Especially if you are new to Dubai since most employers look for people who have UAE experience, which means you’d have to start from scratch. I had Digital Marketing experience in the Philippines but since I’m new to Dubai, it didn’t really matter. My visa was almost about to expire so I had to take whichever job I could. Otherwise I’d have to exit the country and apply for another visa. As luck would have it, I got a job offer as an In Room Dining Waiter at a 5 star hotel, just 2 weeks before my visa was about to expire.
Koji: A colleague in the Philippines used to work for United Philippine Lines and she referred me.
2. Why did you choose to work as an OFW in this country?
Vergil: Before going to UAE, I worked as a digital marketing/party captain, and receptionist in Boracay. I had so much fun living there with the parties and all, but I realized I can’t do this forever and I wasn’t getting any younger. My brother and sister-in-law offered to be my sponsor to come to UAE as an OFW. So I decided to take the risk and took it.
Maricar: Cost of living here in Bangladesh is low plus the prices of commodities are reasonable.
Rocel: My husband lived here (USA)
Shela: It was a call of love that had me migrate to France, with my French husband. Sometimes I can’t believe that I am living the dream and having the best of both worlds. From the island vibe of Boracay to the famous “City of Love”.
Koji: I have always wanted to travel the world but couldn’t afford to do so. Working onboard a cruise ship as an OFW, gave me that opportunity.
Bianca: Working here is marred by many doubts. But for me, the good outweighs the bad and so I chose to work in this country. Dubai is a global financial & trade hub offering tremendous opportunities to those who dare to dream big. This country brought me one step closer towards achieving my goals and dreams.
One of the perks of living and working in Dubai is that you get to know various cultures. Dubai is home to over 200 different nationalities living together, in peace! The best part is, apart from your daily tasks at work, you get to mingle with your international friends and taste different cuisines too during lunch breaks!
Whatever time of the day I step out, I can freely walk on the streets without the fear of getting mugged or attacked. I can leave my phone, purse or camera on a public area and no one would dare touch them. Crime-rate in Dubai is close to zero.
3. What are the requirements to work abroad?
Maricar: well experienced and should be flexible, because they believe that Filipino’s can do multi tasking
Rocel: To work in the USA, you have to have a Work Permit
Bianca: Courage! Making such a big decision to work abroad as an OFW is a monumental leap. Many people dream of doing it, but are not aware of the kinds of pitfalls and obstacles that await them. So, having enough courage is crucial for you to survive.
Shela: For France an ability to speak French is a must. Most locals set a higher standard for expats when speaking their language. You have to apply for ‘admin papers’ but you can find some organizations willing to help you with your papers.
Vergil: To be honest, I’m really not that knowledgeable on this. But what I do know is that you have to get a sponsor so you can come to UAE on a Visit Visa. A Visit Visa lasts from 30 days to 90 days and can be sponsored by either family or a friend. You can do a quick Google search about this and find loads of articles.
Don’t forget to check out our Industry Talks interview with Philippine Travel Agents
4. What are the living conditions like in your place of residence?
Bianca: Living in Dubai is comfortable for me. I live in a 2-bedroom flat with my friends in Sheikh Zayed Road, the busiest road in Dubai. It is spacious enough for us and even has enough space in the living room to host parties. It’s close to the metro and bus stations, restaurants and grocery shops. I’ve always wanted to live in the area and soon enough I got my own space.
Arlene: In Canada the living conditions are great; food is affordable although housing expenses are high
Rocel: Conroe, USA is a great city with home town and big city values. It is big enough that you don’t know everyone in the town, but small enough to connect with family and friends at community events.
Koji: I come from a poor family so the living conditions onboard the ship are not shocking to me. I have lived in worse conditions. Four crew members share one bathroom, no big deal. What does not make sense to me is how Americans, Europeans, generally people who are not from a developing country, have better living conditions. My job position required me to have a Bachelor’s Degree and some non-college educated crew members have their own bathroom and even have access to the bar and room service.
Vergil: When I first got to UAE I lived with my brother and sister-in-law in a 2 bedroom apartment, with 12 other people. We had a small makeshift room in the living room which had a bunk bed. The apartment had a small kitchen and 2 bathrooms which meant in the morning you’d have a lot of competition for the shower. This is like the typical living situation in Dubai for most of our Kabayans.
Most hotels in the UAE provide accommodation for their staff. However, the living arrangement differ depending on the job level. When I was still a waiter, I was placed in a 3 bedroom apartment with 5 other people. I shared the apartment with 3 Nepalis and 2 Indians. At the moment, I share a 2 bedroom apartment with 3 other people: a Filipino, a Salvadoran and an Egyptian, and each room has its own bathroom.
Maricar: We are situated in the rural area of Bangladesh. The lifestyle of the Bangladeshi people is simple. As an OFW here, we are respected and the place is safe and secure.
5. How do you immerse in the culture there?
Maricar: It takes months to adopt to the culture and the behavior of the Bangladeshi people. You have to ride on some of their cultures, which we don’t practice in the Philippines.
Koji: Fake it till you make it.
Arlene: Canada is multicultural country. It protects and promotes diversity, thus we’re are still able to live in this country with our Filipino ways or practices. At the same time, we learn about and discover different cultures, through friends and co-workers
Shela: Working in a new country can be more enjoyable when you find new good friends to hangout. In Paris, most locals love to stay connected with their own kind of people; although there are lots of Expat groups that are nice and friendly as well.
Bianca: I’ve been working for the same company in Dubai for more than 3 years now and the majority of my colleagues are Muslims. They are, if not, the best people that I have ever worked with. Personally, as time goes, I have learned to look beyond what is negatively portrayed in the media regarding Muslims. In fact, I also observe Ramadan (the holiest month for Muslims) by fasting. It’s my way of showing respect to their religion the way they respect mine.
Rocel: Connect with people and involve yourself in the community
6. As an OFW, how do the locals treat you? What are the common traits of the locals there?
Rocel: The Conroe locals are friendly. The community hosts great events and makes everyone feel at home.
Bianca: We often hear that Arabs are rude, disrespectful and they smell! These are the common misconceptions, and this is what we call the Arab stereotyping. One thing that people don’t know is that the Emiratis are very family-oriented, and hospitality plays a key role in their culture. In fact, Emiratis are one of the most hospitable people I know. Both men and women are very clean and elegant and wear a lot of perfume, enough to recognize them even if you are meters away from them.
Shela: Just like anywhere else, it’s very important to build your network of friends as these people will surely open more windows for you to land a good job.
Koji: Onboard the ship, people are generally nice but there are some people who are condescending because they come from a more developed country compared to yours.
Arlene: Canadians are known for being polite, tactful and peace loving.
Maricar: Local people here respect foreigners a lot especially. They are hospitable, friendly and accommodating to us Filipinos.
7. What is the work environment like? How is it similar or different to the Philippines?
Maricar: compared to the Philippines, employees here are the big difference; because Filipinos are flexible enough in working. Most of us OFW’s working here are well experienced and cannot be compared others which has a ratio of 2 is to 1. We can adopt easily the working environment here.
Arlene: The work environment in Canada is totally different to the Philippines. There is no supremacy, everyone work’s equally including your own boss. There is no discrimination with regards to gender, age, height, marital status etc. As long as you have the ability and potential to perform the job requirements then you will be qualified to get the job. In addition, the companies here are not allowed to apply ‘chargebacks’ on employee’s, for any mistakes or errors made during a transaction.
Vergil: Having worked in Boracay, where there are a lot of foreigners, there wasn’t that much of a difference for me coming to UAE. However, working in a 5 star hotel is quite tough but fun. When I was still in In Room Dining, the team was composed of mostly Indians and Nepalis, and there were 2 Indonesians. I was the only Filipino there, so it’s apparent that language is an issue. Although everybody spoke English, they would most of the time converse in their own language and sometimes I felt left out.
Right now, I work in the Sales & Marketing department with a diverse group of people. We’re a total of 16 amazing people composed of Lebanese, Kenyan, Pakistani, Indian, Malaysian, Serbian, Egyptian, Spanish and of course Filipino. The working environment is a mix of fun and professional so there’s not a dull moment in the office.
Koji: It’s a floating hotel. You get free time and get to live “normal” for a couple of hours when the ship is docked. That is, if you’re off. Bless the kitchen staff lol
Rocel: There are always challenges as an OFW but if you love your job, it will love you back. Working at Park Inn is love. For me, working here is pretty much similar to the working conditions in the Philippines. The only difference is that everyone around you is taking in English, no Taglish.
Bianca: There is quite a big difference when it comes to the working environment. Every day, there is always something new. It’s not just the local lifestyle I get to experience here, but I also get to interact and work with people from all corners of the world. The mix of nationalities mean that cultural influences have been introduced. I learned to be flexible with differences, appreciate diversity and I had a deeper understanding of other cultures.
8. Do you miss home? What keeps you from getting homesick?
Bianca: Oh yes. A lot! It takes work and effort to get through it. Homesickness is one of the very real issues that many OFW’s face, but I didn’t let it hold me back. I focus on the positive. I always have in mind the very reason why I left home. I go out, explore, make friends, embrace whatever come my way and made it part of me.
Vergil: Even though I’m very independent, I actually do miss home especially my family and friends in Davao, and in Boracay. Video calls are banned here in the UAE , so I only do weekly phone calls to my mom and dad. I’m quite lucky that I have my brother and sister-in-law here so that when I get homesick, I can just run to them.
Rocel: Of course I miss home! Especially the food. FaceTime helps a lot.
Maricar: Yes we miss our own home town, as an OFW we are getting homesick especially at times of celebration (Christmas, New Year and of course fiesta Masskara festival).
Arlene: I always miss my home, my family and friends. I miss Filipino food.
9. What advice can you give to people who want to apply for work abroad, in terms of applying and living conditions, especially in the country you are working in right now?
Maricar: Working abroad is not an easy task to deal with. First, you have to be strong enough to handle the consequences, when you are far from your family and love ones. Secondly, be patient in terms of working conditions. You must be ready yourself for whatever challenges you may need to overcome because no one will help you out. Lastly, as an OFW you have to save money for your future because we never know when we can able to work healthier.
Arlene: Working and living in Canada is not hard. Workers are compensated fairly, and companies adhere to the guidelines set by the government. The only worries of living in Canada is the climate, as some of the provinces have a very cold winter.
Koji: Know what you are getting into. Once you have decided you think you can do it. Hold up your end of the bargain, do your job and stop complaining.
Vergil: It’s never easy being an OFW. You have to make a lot of sacrifices and it’s going to be so hard especially in the first few months. Sometimes you’d have to lower your pride when you are looking for a job, and Dubai is very, very competitive so don’t be picky. Chances are, you’ll be starting at the bottom but with patience, hard work and dedication, you’ll be able to work yourself up the ladder.
I do honestly recommend working for a hotel as transportation, food, insurance and accommodation are provided. The salary may be a bit lower than other industries but once you deduct the rent, transportation, etc. it’ll actually be quite the same. What you earn is actually what you get to take home, you won’t have to worry about paying rent on time or squeezing in a packed train during rush hour (which smells so bad btw). Also, don’t convert Dirhams into Pesos when buying groceries. Trust me!
Shela: It takes lots of courage and perseverance, when working in a different country; build your network of friends. In France, most available jobs for expats are not published on the internet so referrals from friends are definitely the way to go. It was a former colleague in the Tourist Souvenir shop that referred me to Rose Bakery. Applying for ‘admin papers’ while finding a place to rent is definitely not a joke. I was lucky to have a family here, they helped me understand how the bureaucracy works but there are organizations available to help.
Rocel: Do not be afraid. Believe in yourself and connect.
Bianca: My advice is to be prepared for everything. As everyone would expect, Dubai is a city built to impress. A city famous for superlatives. The tallest building in the world, ultra-luxury hotels, high-rise buildings, super cars, you name it, Dubai has it. I think this is one of the main reasons why a lot of people dream of working here. And I don’t blame them. I had the same reason after all.
However, one has to look beyond Dubai’s glitz and glamour. Not everyone gets lucky. It’s a tough world out there. That is why you have to bring a lot of courage with you and be prepared for everything. Do your own research and do not listen to stereotypes. Dubai is not a scary place to live in as long as you respect their laws and embrace their culture. If you have family and friends in the country you’re applying to, communicate with them because they’re the ones who can help you until you get settled. When it comes to applying for jobs, it can be tough in the beginning, but don’t be discouraged. If you work hard for it, you will get it eventually.
10. What do you wish you’d known before you flew to your new country as an OFW?
Rocel: Career wise I did not expect anything.
Koji: I think I knew everything because the agency was very honest about it. I was prepared. They did not sugarcoat it.
Bianca: I don’t really have anything that I wish I’d known because I had family and friends who answered all my questions and I didn’t really expect to have a comfortable living situation as soon as I got here because I was still starting out. If there was anything that I didn’t know, it made my experience here even more valuable.
Vergil: I knew Dubai would be hot during summer but I did not expect it to move right beside the sun! I swear even at 1 in the morning it feels like 12 noon! Temperature rises to 45 degrees and you could actually cook an egg from the heat! The shower would be boiling hot so if you’re going to take a bath, I suggest saving water in a bucket at night so it can cool down for your morning bath. It’s quite the opposite during winter season though as it gets freezing cold and sometimes early morning, you’d find Dubai covered in fog.
Maricar: extend help to my family and save save money
Shela: If there was something I wish I’d known before living in Paris, that would be the importance of having a very good level of speaking French. Filipinos are known for having a great heart for service but it is a great advantage if one can learn the “real know-how” of living in a new country before flying in. This will ease up the adaptation process and avoid culture shock to some degree.
11. What food or drink treats do you miss the most?
Maricar: SMB below 0 and Lechon, because here in Bangladesh liquor and pork is prohibited.
Rocel: Pancit, Adobo and Buko juice
Bianca: Comfort food of course!
Arlene: For me it’s Lechon, BBQ and Banana Q
Vergil: PORK! UAE is a Muslim country so pork is not as accessible although there are groceries who have a pork section. But to a person like me who does not know how to cook, you’d really miss it. I also miss my dad’s home cooked meals especially his chicken Pastil. To be honest, you still find a lot of Filipino food here in Dubai, heck you’d even get a Chippy or a Mang Tomas at the nearest grocery store.
Koji: I do miss different kinds of local food from all over the world.
12. What local cuisine to you like there?
Maricar: Beef Curry and Katchi Biryhani
Rocel: Fajitas and Quesadillas
Arlene: Smoked meat and salmon. And Poutine; a Canadian dish of French Fries topped with lots of cheese curd and gravy.
Bianca: Lebanese food is by far my favorite! I also love Persian cuisine too!
Koji: I like Spanish and Italian
13. Do your family or friends send you parcels? What do they include in your parcel?
Rocel: Yes. I get sent Tuyo, Danggit, Cornic, Palileng, lucky me! I also get dried mangoes, sticky rice, frozen veggies and seaweeds
Koji: They don’t. I sent them a parcel once. I am not your typical OFW.
Bianca: Yes. They usually send me my favorite food. I would always ask my Mom to send me my favorite home-made peanut butter. It’s everything to me!
Arlene: Unfortunately no, I don’t get parcels from home but I always send a parcel/package to them.
Vergil: I get Pasalubong from my family when someone goes back home, usually Tuyo, some Durian, Ube and Mangosteen candy made by my Tito. Yema spread made by my cousin and the best one yet, Chicken Pastil made by my awesome dad!
14. How often do you get to go home and what do you do when you are here?
Bianca: I go home at least once a year, or once every 2 years.
Arlene: Same; at least once in two years or once a year. I visit my family, spend time with them and go out of town mostly to the beach.
Maricar: Once a year. Visiting our parents in Bacolod and Boracay. And spend time with friends.
Koji: Every 10 months. I catch up with family and friends, eat out, go clubbing, watch movies and TV series, and more.
Vergil: The hotel provides a flight ticket home once every 2 years. So far I’ve only been home once and I try to make the most out of it. I’ve mostly spent my vacation with my family in Davao eating all the food I’ve missed. I also make it a point to visit Boracay but unfortunately it was closed when I went home last year so I went to Palawan instead.
15. Do you think you will return to the Philippines to live? Or will you always be an OFW?
Maricar: Definitely yes! It’s my country and home town, I can’t compare Philippines to any country.
Arlene: I love the Philippines! I would still go back there but probably for vacations only. Income wise, I cannot earn and save money in the Philippines by being an employee only. But, on the other hand, I am considering retiring in the Philippines.
Shela: I always consider coming home to the Philippines when I retire. I guess, nothing beats the charm of our hundreds of islands and the tranquility they bring.
Rocel: I would love to.
Bianca: Not now… Don’t get me wrong. I love my country but living outside the Philippines made me realize that there is a whole world out there waiting for me and it gave me amazing experiences that I would not have otherwise.
Koji: Probably if my pension and social security are not enough to sustain my lifestyle here in Boston
Vergil: To be quite honest, I’m not sure. I love living in a different country and I don’t see myself going back home to stay for good anytime soon.
16. What’s the first thing you do when you come back to the Philippines for a holiday?
Maricar: Drink a cold SMB and eat Lechon and Pork Sisig (now I’m craving)
Bianca: The first thing I do is spend time with my family and friends. That is the reason I come back every single time. I have a close-knit family so it’s important that I spend time with every single one of them.
Koji: Show pictures of my travels to my mom, grandma, aunt, basically the whole family. Chat with them. Catch up. Tell them how I miss and love them. I miss them so much.
Arlene: I see my family right away then afterwards, I go to Jollibee or MangInasal or Chowking. (Missed Food is on my mind)
Rocel: Go to Boracay and Palawan
Vergil: Eat a lot of pork!
17. Was your job accurately described/explained to you or is it completely different to what you thought you’d be doing?
Vergil: Right now, as a Marketing Assistant, yeah. Although what I’m mostly doing is graphic design, I actually do what what was stated in the job. I always try to help out wherever I can in the hotel especially in F&B. I would usually help them out whenever operations gets super busy like breakfast or brunch.
Koji: I am grateful to Holland America but the time I was there I was doing front desk, admin, lead concierge and these were just considered side duties. Now though, they are all separate positions and those employed in these positions have all kinds of access and benefits.
Bianca: The requirements for my role were clear to me from the very beginning and my expectations were also in line with the requirements. But when I started my job I did so much more than what was in my job description. I have a very demanding job which requires a lot of extra hours of work. I was also involved in a lot of other projects and responsibilities outside of my role. An increase in workload is expected because we are a small company, but I enjoy my work and have learned a lot of skills along the way. It made me realize that I’m capable of doing anything.
Maricar: My job is the same that I applied for and is based on the contact we agreed upon.
Arelene: The same for me; my job is exactly what was described.
Rocel: Yes, my job was properly explained too.
18. Is there opportunity to progress with your job?
Rocel: Yes, definitely
Arlene: Yes, there is career advancement.
Koji: When I was working there, it was difficult. Now, I hear it is easier.
Shela: Earnestly working, I became a Supervisor in just 6 months and eventually became a Manager after a year in the company.
Bianca: Oh yes.
Maricar: Yes, I have been receiving a few awards
Vergil: Yes, there is. In 3 years and in the same hotel I had 3 positions. I started out as an In Room Dining Waiter for 8 months before I got promoted to Food & Beverage Administrator. I stayed in that position for a year before I joined the Marketing Department as a Marketing Assistant.
19. What is your proudest moment as an OFW in your current job/role?
Maricar: The proudest moment I’ve experienced in my current job is that unexpectedly, I was the Employee of the Year awardee and my Department was the Best Department of the Year 2018.
Arlene: My proudest moment in my current job, is being nominated for a Vancouver Tourism Award. I have been awarded Supervisor of the Year, two years in a row.
Rocel: When the owner of the hotel chose me, and trusted me enough to head the Accounting Department.
Koji: That I’ve traveled 7 Continents
Bianca: Not a single proudest moment but multiple ones. Every time I achieve my goals in the workplace, or help a client achieve their goal, is a proud moment for me. I do not want to downplay anything, because I know that everything I do, be it a small project or a big one, can make a difference to my client and my personal development too. What I learned is that if you show hard work and always give your best, it will eventually pay off. Just always be humble and success will speak for you.
Vergil: It’s when the Regional Team of IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) loved my designs and used it as an example for all the UAE hotels. That’s a little more than 30 hotels. It’s so surreal knowing that people actually like what I make.
20. What hospitality jobs are easiest to find in the country you are working for?
Maricar: The job that is in most demand in Bangladesh is Garment factory workers. Because Bangladesh is one of the countries that are highly qualified in the garment sectors export business to other foreign countries.
Vergil: There are a lot of hospitality jobs available in Dubai, since hotels are popping up left and right. But the job market is very competitive, so you really need to stand out. F&B, Culinary, Front Office and Housekeeping are the ones that have most openings right now.
Shela: There are endless numbers of restaurants, cafés, bakeries, hotels and tourist shop jobs around.
Arlene: Yes, it easy to find a hospitality job in Canada. Although the processing of the paperwork may take time.
Koji: On Cruises; front desk, bar staff etc
Rocel: Sales! I guess you’re wondering why I’m not in the Sales Department; because I don’t know how to drive ha ha