I was, in a short while, an immigrant in a far off country. The warm humid air I was accustomed to was now cold and dry. The sky was bright and clear much like one back home, yet it was not hot and sultry. The frost brought a strange chill to my lungs. My bones chilled to the core. It was a beautiful deception that laid before my eyes, the clear blue skies were mixed with the cold brisk winds. Everything seemed so strange, so distant from the world I knew. I was an alien in a far off world. It was not dismal, but it was different, enthralling, and exciting. But my story is not the one which I want to tell; the stories I wish to convey to you, dear reader, are not mine, but they are worth telling nonetheless. Ahmer was from Pakistan. He
was in his thirties, married, but had no kids. He drove 50 kilometers every day to work for three years, and had been paid the same meager wage for years for the same job as I was just recently hired for. He had two jobs, and he was always in search for new ones; something better and more worthwhile than what he currently had. Back in Pakistan, he was a college graduate. Even more so, he had a Master’s Degree in Finance.
Yet, that meant nothing, not to anyone there at least. His degree only had as much worth as the paper it was printed on. This was how the country worked. Only homegrown professionals were highly regarded. He told me his woes; his struggles supporting his family, his rented home, and the gargantuan hurdle of the career limbo that he felt he was stuck in. It seemed like a bitter life. I seldom saw him smile.
Dilip was the same. He was a Pakistani in his late twenties and had been on the same dead end job for two years. His youthful and animated vigor emanated from his smile and speech. He used the F word as much as I did. And like Ahmer, he had a college degree that had no worth as well. He had a good job in a mortgage company before. He had lost it when he went to marry his wife who had been waiting back home.
But when he came back, his job was no longer waiting for him. Yet, with all his troubles and sudden downturns in life, he was trying to do good, enrolling in part time courses in some college and trying to climb the steep and perilous wall that have blocked so many like him. But oftentimes he ranted of the dismal state of living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet. There was a façade of happiness hiding the pain and frustration of his current state in life.
Most of us, if not all of us, dream of an adventure of life abroad. These stories, though may be true, are not meant to scare you, or diminish your wanderlust. Rather, it is a caution to you of the reality of things: going abroad is an opportunity, but it is also a sacrifice.
Millions of Filipinos become OFWs simply for necessity. They go in the hopes to uplift themselves from poverty or take an opportunity to finally become something in the world. This has always been the case for Filipinos. Back in 2014, 11,000 Filipinos chose to stay in Libya than face unemployment back home. They would risk staying in a war torn country than lose means for a living. Even with terror gripping at their heels, most have chosen to stay.
Worse, some have said it would have been better to be in Libya than back home. Thousands take risks in countries in the Middle East, where news of abuse, rape, and exploitation against migrant workers is prevalent. To us, going abroad may be an adventure. But to people like Dilip, Ahmer, and the 2.2 million OFWs around the world, it is a painful necessity, full of hardships and suffering.
The most important thing I have learned from this however is the sad reality of our perception in education. Though in our own country our degrees, diplomas and awards hold great value, it is not so in the outside world. We may think that attaining a degree from the top universities of our country holds great merit, but the fact is we are but small fishes in a vast ocean.
Abroad, it would not matter what you graduated with or where from. Your actions will speak louder, your talent and skill will shine its true luster, and people will see it. As students and as aspiring graduates, you will bear a great sacrifice: to be judged and scrutinized without remorse or pity. But sacrifices do not come without opportunity. You have within yourselves the culmination of all the knowledge and skill you have gained and developed through your education.
A degree is not the diploma you are given, or the prestige of the school you hailed. It is the knowledge you have gained, the insights you have been given by your teachers, the experience you have garnered, and the foundations you have built around you for the sake of your career and future. Your degree will only have as much worth as the paper it is printed on… so give worth to that paper instead!
Forge it from the sweat of your brows, from the stresses and strains of the years spent towards enlightenment.
Strive not to pass exams, or get good grades; strive to learn and perceive the world with the knowledge you have gained. Only you can give worth to the paper you hold.
The time will come when you must prove yourself to the world, may it be here at home or in foreign shores.
Show them that you carry worth, that your paper is more than just paper, that it is the result of years of knowledge and wisdom imprinted to you by your education.
This is your opportunity, given by that sacrifice so that you may prove your worth against all adversity and all obstacles that come your way.