Nov 22, 2016

Pursuing further studies is starting to become more of a necessity than an option for a professional who wants to step up the career ladder. For some, they are given the luxury of  studying abroad and while they have that opportunity to pursue greener pastures in a foreign land, a recent study made by Stack indicates that many of those who have lived abroad for the past decade are now starting to come back to the Philippines.

According to the study, the amount of balikbayans from a sample group on linkedin grew up to almost four times between 2000 and 2016.  These balikbayans, who built a stable career  abroad, have returned to take part in the growth of the country’s digital economy.

No longer called the sick man of Asia, the Philippines bears a lot of potential for growth, which is probably what’s prompting many to return home. One major contributor to this growth is the massive amount of people in our workforce mostly involved in the BPO and service sector.

We think there’s another factor: the country’s high ranking in gender equality. As a result, Filipinas enjoy access to high-status occupations such as managers, legislators, senior officials, and professionals, many of which have had access to pursue further studies either in the Philippines or abroad.

Columbia University student Clara Aseniero, Yale graduate Nicole Cuunjieng, and Harvard graduate Jordana Valencia share a similar story. To them, earning a graduate degree and building a career abroad isn’t solely about personal growth anymore.

It is also about making a difference to a country that has a lot of potential. While these women may be involved in the growth of various industries, there’s a shared dream behind their passions: nation-building.


On living abroad, and missing home

To be granted the opportunity to study abroad is definitely a dream come true. Opening yourself to a different culture and environment gives one a different perspective about the world we live in. Similar to the ilustrados - the educated class of Filipinos who were exposed to liberal ideas in Europe and thus sought to reform the injustices brought about by the Spanish colonial regime during the 19th century - these women came home realizing that they needed to contribute to our country’s development. Most of all, nothing beats the feeling of coming home.

Clara, fresh from her undergrad stint in London where she completed Anthropology and History just arrived in New York to gear up for her Masters in World and International History in Columbia University, her dream school. “I loved living abroad because of the exposure of living in a different city, having access to all these world-class museums and libraries and also just having the independence. When I finished college I knew immediately that I wanted to go back home despite everything I would miss in London,” she said.

She also shares university links with Jordana, who was just awarded her Master’s degree in clinical psychology from Columbia University. She previously completed her MBA from Harvard Business School. “It makes one more open, it is like having a flavour of the world. I’ve been abroad for more than three years. Although, it’s very tempting to stay, it’s a different world and has a different set of opportunities—not necessarily better.”  

Nicole, on the other hand, took her undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a PhD  Candidate in Yale University.  “Until a few years ago, I had been preparing to live my entire life abroad. It was only recently that I realized how important it was to me to come home, and that nothing abroad could ever mean to me what living at home in the Philippines, and actively contributing to its development does,” she said.

The romanticized idea of living far from home is not all glamour, they all had to deal with real life problems too. “Time difference is the biggest hurdle; when they are starting the day, I am ending mine,” Jordana confides. “It was also about making time to reach out to people because at the end of the day, what is difficult is that they are not physically there to catch up on work, school, or whatever I was busy with—but we managed to get by.”


Coming home

To many, those who will be heading home from an already remarkable experience of living abroad is only the beginning. What awaits when they get home was a much better story.

Nicole is currently working with the Department of Finance under the Office of the Chief Economist. Her passion, however, stems from a public policy publication she co-founded called Pampubliko.

Aside from her modeling stint, Clara was busy working on a social housing project she started in her hometown in Zamboanga. “For the next two years I'll be focusing on getting my Masters. In the meantime I hope I can dedicate whatever free time I have, maybe during my visits back home, to the social housing project I started in my province. I hope it sets the precedent for a safer and more functional standard of living for informal settlers,” she said.

On learning from the experience

With great anticipation and longing for home, they all plan to contribute to the country’s betterment, in their chosen fields of history, finance, education, psychology and sustainable development.

While it was difficult to live in a new environment, Clara admits that the international perspective has allowed her to situate herself and her experiences of the Philippines in a broader scope. “As unsettling as it can be, being in a new environment, meeting new people, or even just having that experience of being alone can teach you so much about yourself, and you will definitely come out of it with a better and stronger version of yourself.”

Jordana agrees, indicating that one should not fall short of dreaming big when it comes to pursuing further studies abroad. “Ask for help. I reached out to people. I talked to alumni. I asked them what they got out of it. I had to make sure it was the right decision. Most especially - I wanted to be sure I would be a better person out of it,” she added.