Friday, September 12, 2008

The Perils and Challenges of Working Overseas

by Romulo L. Panganiban
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
This article was originally published in Color and Visions (Volume II / Issue 5), official corporate publication/newsletter of Astra Polymers ( as a feature article from one of its (former) employees, Mr. Romulo L. Panganiban. Mr. Allan V. Adan, Editor-In-Chief of Color and Visions, has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach Mr. Adan at
Considering the sagging economy and high level of unemployment in most South Asian and South East Asian countries, the job market in the Middle East has proved to be a lucrative alternative for those aspiring to break free from joblessness and monetary insufficiency. Not only that the Middle East offers employment opportunities for many blue-collar workers, but it also contributes in generating economic rewards for many third-world countries through dollar remittances. Thus, many have left behind their loved ones with hopes and expectations that working in the far away desert would make their dreams come true – a better life.
Risks and Uncertainties
However, working in another country in favor of greater economic gains has enormous risks and uncertainties. Stories have been told about men and women who lost their psychological balance for not being able to handle the pressures of the new environment. There have been many accounts of maltreated workers who had to find desperate means and run away from abusive employers. Similarly, one cannot ignore the sad tales and tragedies about broken marriages, disintegration and moral degradation among families of overseas workers.

Being an overseas contract worker is certainly not easy. It takes a higher level of maturity and emotional strength to tackle the many issues besetting the home, relationships, financial needs, survival at the workplace, and cultural differences. People who opt to work in a far away region are compelled to relinquish the direct and close supervision of the household, child-rearing, family affairs, and family budgeting, among others; and go through the complicated acclimatization process as they set foot in a foreign land.
Emotional Balance and Open Mind
Working in another country does not solely revolve around going to work every day and sending remittances home at the end of each month. Psychological and emotional readiness in living independently and combating homesickness is necessary, as overseas workers should be able to conclude each working day without losing sanity. Hence, a high level of self-determination and self-sufficiency is essential.

It is likewise important that migrant workers possess an open mind to survive the demands of the new job. They must unlearn stereotypes and outdated points of reference and adapt to the new work environment with due consideration to certain factors such as power distance, organizational hierarchy and corporate culture to keep themselves afloat. They must find ways to battle through political bickering, departmental frictions, hostilities, leadership styles and many other challenges, which they will surely encounter within the four corners of the workplace. It is easier said than done. But capitalizing on humility, dexterity and flexibility will surely make them travel far minus the bruises and pains.
A high degree of socialization and interaction with people in the new environment could help manage homesickness and yearning for loved ones. Peer groups and companionship are means by which an overseas worker could establish connection with people, from whom he could seek assistance and company. More importantly, bonding with peers and friends through activities of common interests such as hobbies, sports and recreation expands horizons and enhances social development.

Although overseas workers should remain proud of respective ethnic origin and cultural heritage, they should recognize that thriving in a foreign land requires understanding and respect for other cultures as well as opening their minds to learning and adapting to a few local customs and traditions. The concept of ethnic superiority has long been discarded by modern social scientists. Instead of building cultural fortresses, overseas workers should recognize cultural diversity and assimilation. Instead of passing judgment based on other people’s cultural practices, they should try to look through the intricacies of the interwoven behavioral patterns until they understand the assumptions and beliefs that define them.
Commitment to Marital Fidelity
Working in another country is often more complex for married people. While the covenant of marriage is said to guard couples from infidelity, husbands cannot be certain of their wives’ quandary and private actions. Similarly, some men are quite weak in handling intrinsic physiological desires and end up having extra-marital affairs.

Although fidelity is indeed a challenging vow, couples could survive long distance relationships by centering on commitment, communication and self-control. Overseas workers should remain wary of being hooked into affairs that could lead to marital separation, unwanted pregnancy, and even health troubles (i.e. sexually transmittable diseases). Quite intricate, but such could be achieved through periodic priority checks and keeping one’s focus on the motivations of working abroad – the family. Equally significant, however, spouses back home should exert the same effort in battling momentary separation and support their husbands’ or wives’ quest for economic advancement.
Being Absentee Parents
The harsh reality of not seeing their kids grow is a far more taxing emotional burden among parents working abroad. Though some children have grown normally without the physical presence of their father or mother, a strong parental relationship would certainly have a more positive impact on any child’s psychological and social development. Hence, it is essential for the spouse back home to keep a constant reminder and memory of the father/mother to the kids as well as establish regular communication and interaction with the distant parent. Information technology and modern telecommunication devices are of great use in this aspect of remote parenting.
The Challenges of Returning Home
Returning home to family, friends and community is another challenge for those who have worked abroad over a long period. Some overseas workers find it hard to re-integrate themselves and experience a feeling of detachment and indifference from families and old pals. There is also the pressure of living to the high financial expectations and impression among relatives and friends thereby creating more strain and pushing them to further distress.

These perils and predicaments are just a few of the many challenges that baffle the spirit of overseas workers each day. Additionally, there is the demand of achieving the financial target and reaping the payback of long-term separation from the family.
Frugality and Financial Prudence
Material wealth is fleeting and no overseas worker is spared from the spiral relationship between income and spending. The increasing costs of living, growing demands of family members, and the desire for personal gratification are forces that constantly shake the hard-earned wages of overseas workers.

Overseas workers must imbibe frugality and prudence in their way of life. Financial stability is achieved through efficient management of limited resources and regular assessment of net worth. One should learn the art of spending within reasonable means and channel a portion of his/her income into a savings account or sound investment venture (e.g. real estate, entrepreneurship, marketable securities). Otherwise, the sacrifices invested and the opportunity costs incurred in working abroad will simply lose their essence.

It is likewise advised that they savor the fruits of hard labor by allotting a portion of their income for personal consumption purposes. Youth and time are irreversible occurrences and engaging in reasonable recreation and leisure activities are equally important in living a balanced life.
Employers’ Role
Employers also play a vital role in helping overseas workers survive and thrive in a foreign land. They (Employers) should have a good grasp of the psyche of overseas workers and respond accordingly by providing support mechanisms in the form of proper and adequate job orientation, organized social activities, adequate time for rest and recreation, and coaching and counseling. All these would increase the chance of survival among overseas workers as well as induce efficiency and long-term commitment to the organization. Likewise, empathy and encouragement from supervisors and co-workers would augment the longing for family affection and care.
The Invisible Costs of an Overseas Job
These challenges, uncertainties and risks are the invisible costs of any overseas employment contract, which a number of workers fail to realize and consider when accepting job offers (as they are often fixated on the monetary reward).

Whatever overseas workers make out of their life abroad depends on their personal agenda, priorities, coping skills and way of life. And although the majority’s standard measure of success is centered on tangible and financial accomplishments, overseas workers might consider looking at these priceless indicators whether working overseas genuinely results in a “better life”: relationship stability, family cohesiveness, peace of mind and self-worth.

1 comment:

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