Welcome to April 2015’s #TrailingSpouseStories! This month, we played with April Fools and asked each other “What got you “fooled” into being a trailing spouse? What myths did you start out with and what did you discover in the process?” Here is my take on the matter.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
– J.R.R Toklien, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
This quote from a book of biblical proportions properly captures the trailing spouse-expat life.
It is no secret that I was” fooled” into jumping ship from my home country, leaving behind a life that I’ve worked long and hard to build. It was a more than decent life, but I had to leave it behind to be with The Husband.
The Husband never failed to prep me about Dubai. We had numerous email exchanges, chat sessions, phone calls when he told me about the life in Dubai – the good, the bad and, of course, the ugly.
Yes, he was earning more than what he was earning back home, but it wasn’t without challenge.
He never left any stone unturned. He discussed the blatant racism, the clash of hundreds of cultures, the tension between Muslim tradition and progressive global lifestyles, the adventures of gastronomic exploration, the pangs of homesickness, the paradox of Dubai luxury, the then recent Dubai debt crisis, dealing with the unique desert heat and humidity among many others.
Cliche as it is, love does make you do crazy things. I was a race horse with blinders; all I wanted was to make a mad dash to be together with my love, whom I have been away from for three years. I missed the days when he was just an easy call or ride away for a date. I didn’t have to think about the time difference or the costs of long distance calls (there was still no Viber or other VoIP apps then) or an Internet connection on the go. I just missed him badly. I knew I was ready to be together with him, no matter what.
But I never lived nor worked abroad; the Philippines is all I’ve known. Despite The Husband’s constant reality checks (he is as pragmatic as they come), I was blindly optimistic, a trait somehow instilled by my sheltered, upper middle-class life and sensibilities. I was very hopeful that things maybe different for me. Maybe I’d get lucky. With my education (I’ve got a Master’s degree to my belt) and work experience (around 7 years of working with multinational companies), I’d be able to get a job easy, maybe in a month’s time; and for sure, I’d be able to make much more than what I did back home. It was logical, since Dubai’s cost of living was 3x that of Manila. I should just multiply my latest salary by three. I’d pick up where I left off, but better – together with my love, continuity in my career and a boost in my financial goals, to be financially independent and extend a helping hand to my family.
The grass is greener on the other side as it was built up by numerous encounters balikbayans and OFWs, family, friends and lover.
They always managed to put on a show for all of us back home, generous with their blessings that were received from years spent abroad.
After seven months into a bleak job hunt with no definite prospects in sight, I was clearly a fool to believe that Dubai was a gold mine of employment opportunities. I was a fool who was wondering, what the hell I got myself into. I created accounts in all the job websites and submitted my CV, tailorfitted my CV to fit the job description, maximized my contacts, made cold calls, walked into offices, asked for openings and dropped off my CV. I’ve never encountered such difficulties in Manila. No, I was not lost, I wandered, but knew my end goals. I already achieved one; I was with my love. Yet there was the other goal of employment looming over.
I questioned myself everyday.
Was the education my parents worked so hard for even remotely useful? Were those years of slaving away, sleepless nights, working weekends and holidays all a loss? Did the Philippine work experience even mean anything out there? How come job hunting was so much easier for others?
I tried to lower my expectations of getting the same level of employment that I’ve had back home. Or did I? I asked myself if I was willing to become a supermarket clerk, a fast food cashier, a secretary or what not. I was, but whenever I remembered my education, my work experience, I recoiled.Then I finally swallowed my pride and tried a couple of times, but I was told I was over qualified.
At the 8th month, I finally got a real job offer. It was a temporary, 3-month, entry level position in the same industry I left back in the Philippines. The data entry job was beneath my level of experience, the interviewer and potential boss told me. She felt sorry offering such meager pay for someone like me, but that was all that they could give me.
The Husband and I debated about the offer. I deserved to be compensated so much more, he said. But its been 8-months before I got this and I don’t know if I’d get anything like it. Maybe this is the reality check of the Dubai job market. I couldn’t take agony of job hunting anymore, so I resigned to take the job, which was better than nothing at all.
My temp job turned into a regular position in which they gave me a 25% increase in my salary. I was extremely grateful. But, to be honest, it still did not match my expected salary, which is 3x what I earned back home to commensurate to Dubai’s cost of living. Though I was clearly not financially independent, I was able to save a little, take care of a few of my personal expenses and share some blessings with my family. All in all, I somehow made it work and I think I wouldn’t have made it without The Husband.
I still am a lucky gal.
Remember the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin“, the miller’s daughter, who bartered the little that she had – a necklace, a ring and her first born child – with a magical imp, to spin plain ol’ straw into gold? I was that miller’s daughter, and maybe all of us have a little of her in us. We can so besotted with the glitter, the premium value of the gold, that we forget that before gold can get into our hands, it is a trade off.
We trade something that is of value to us – our pride, our relationships, our comforts – to have something as plain and paltry as straw, be pounded, spun and worked into a precious metal.
After that experience in Dubai, where I was pounded, spun and worked in ways I never expected, I now carry a more pragmatic, grounded expectation and view of life abroad in this second chapter of my trailing spouse-expat life.
Expectations of epic proportions could mean equally epic disappointments should those are not met.
My once naive, upper middle-class, sheltered ass was whooped so hard that I have grown in wisdom and am now no fool to glittery exteriors and can see through behind the smiles of expat family and friends and the bursting care packages sent. It is not always easy, not always fun and games, not always rolling in the dough. There can be a lot of frustration, homesickness, and, most of all, brain bleeding, heart and back breaking work.
So does one need to experience the same to have a fool proof trailing spouse life?
I don’t promise it will ever, ever be fool proof as you and I will stumble here and there once in a while. Hopefully. Fingers and toes crossed. But it will help a lot to ask questions to the right people, ones who sincerely care for your well-being, listen with your heart AND head, heed any advise given (Because they are given for good reason! The Husband’s stories were gems of advise, but again, I was blinded with optimism) and have a supportive partner.
Dear Mr. Tolkien, my roots may not be as deep to be reached by the frost. I will still feel the frost, but, at least now, I won’t die of frostbite.
Read more #TrailingSpouseStories here:
- Clara of Expat Partner Survival thought she knew what it would be like – she didn’t – she wrote a book to help others not to get fooled too. Read more in Trailing Fools?
- Elizabeth Smith of Secrets of A Trailing Spouse says that the reality of life as a trailing spouse does not live up to its image, but is so much better. Read more in You Could’ve Fooled Me: Common Myths About Trailing Spouses.
- Jenny Reyes of MyMommyology asks Are we foolish enough to think that the trailing spouse life gets easier over time? Read her answer in #TrailingSpouseStories: The Irony of It All.
- Shakira Sison chats with Didi of D for Deliciious We chat with Palanca winning essayist and Rappler columnist Shakira Sison to share stories of her foolhardy decision to leave for NYC. Read more in A Conversation on the LGBT Trailing Spouse Life in NYC with Shakira Sison.
- Tala wonders if being a Trailing Spouse was her escapist dream come true, or not? Read the verdict in Ambition: Expat’s Wife.
- Yuliya Khilko of TinyExpats says that quite often it’s not about being ‘fooled’, but about ‘fooling’ yourself. Read more in Assumptions and speculations – beginning of the trailing spouse journey.