NOV. 18, 2017

It Would Have Been Good Too


Many Filipinos want to come to America. I didn’t.

It was my mother’s dream, not mine, to come to America. She was a nurse, and she was supposed to move here when she graduated in 1978. But she got married and had children, and she and my father decided to stay in the Philippines. However, she never lost sight of the American dream.

When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college. So my mother suggested I take up a course that would give me an opportunity to come to America: Occupational Therapy. She didn’t even know what Occupational Therapy was. But my brother and two cousins were already taking up Physical or Occupational Therapy, so I might as well join in. In my second year, I switched to Physical Therapy.

I actually enjoyed studying P.T. Then, in my fourth year of studies, I had an epiphany after discovering Filipino writer Jessica Zafra. I realized what I should have studied in the first place: Literature! I’ve always loved reading and writing.

Of course, my parents didn’t approve. Reading and writing? Where would that take me? Not to America. It wasn’t practical. It wouldn’t bring me success, as they and the world define it. Besides, I was a year away from graduating P.T., which was not an easy feat and I was doing well in class. Furthermore, they had spent a lot of money to send me to P.T. school. They said I could always pursue Literature after I completed P.T. So I finished P.T. and took the long road to work and live in the U.S. And here I am.

What would have happened if I stayed in the Philippines?

I wouldn’t make a lot of money, that’s an obvious fact. I wouldn’t get to travel to all the places I’ve traveled to. I wouldn’t be able to afford all the possessions I have now. I wouldn’t have my own car.

P.T.s here in Hawaii (and note that we make much less than P.T.s on the mainland) earn about $3,000-$4,000 a month, say about PHP 200,000. PTs in the Philippines make about PHP10,000-20,000 a month.

It’s a big difference. But then we must remember that the cost of living is lower in the Philippines, while living in the U.S. (particularly in Hawaii) is higher. Rent alone in Hawaii could cost around $2,000 a month.

My older brother, who had also earned a Bachelor’s Degree in P.T., decided to stay in the Philippines and study Medicine. Today, he specializes in Pulmonary Medicine and is living a comfortable life with his wife. Occasionally, he travels around the world for free to attend medical conferences, sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. He’s not living an extravagant life, but they have everything they need.

Yes, one has to be a successful businessperson, executive, a doctor, a lawyer, or Sharon Cuneta, to have a comfortable life in the Philippines. But you don’t have to be any of these to be contented and happy.

I have lots of friends who live in the Philippines and are happy. They are educated and middle class, and I see them being able to travel and own homes and cars and raise their children comfortably. They’re not doing bad.

So I’d like to argue that staying in the Philippines, and doing something I enjoy, would have been good too. I wouldn’t make as much money. I wouldn’t own a lot. Perhaps I’d be a physical therapist; perhaps something that involves Literature and writing. It would have been a different life, but it would have been good.  

But that’s the thing with life…you only get one. The choices you make impacts an entire cascade of events. If I didn’t pursue P.T., would I have met my husband? Would I get to travel? Would I get to live in Hawaii? I chose to pursue P.T., and that has led me right here. And I’m happy to be here.

Oh, I haven’t turned my back on Literature. I sent myself to school, studying Literature online while working as a P.T. Thanks to earning as a P.T., I fulfilled my dream to study Literature.

I don’t regret coming to America. I’ve come to fulfill my dreams here, even though I’m confident that staying in the Philippines would have been good too.

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