I suddenly remembered to look for my “missing” passport as I lay sick in bed last weekend. A trip back to the Philippines is fast approaching and I needed all of my travel documents- old passports included. After a few minutes of rummaging through different drawers, I finally found it stuck in the back end of a compartment. It seemed so neglected and forlorn. I began to leaf through the small booklet and when I reached page 9, I paused in disbelief. I have officially been in the United States of America for six years!
The untold story a.k.a. this F.O.B.’s origin story
Wow, six years! I never thought I would be here this long. Seriously. The plan was to move to Holland to be with my Dutch boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend). I was in the middle of a transcontinental love affair when I set foot in the US back in 2005. Mind you it was not my first time as I have been on vacation with my family in different states a couple of times in the past. What was different about this trip, however, was that it was unexpected. You see I traveled as an air courier.
It was the summer that I just quit my job after a month long sabbatical in an island paradise you may know as Boracay (where I coincidentally met Dutch Boy). I was 25 in a quarter life crisis trying to figure out what I wanted to do. That’s when I got the call. Apparently, my dad’s friend’s friend wanted to ship a couple of boxes of some goods to a Filipino supermarket in California (we later found out it was full of skin whitening products!). They needed two people with US visas to fly-out in the next few days.
So I enlisted the help of my best friend who happened to be as ready as I am to go on a FREE two week trip to the US. A quick call to my Aunt provided us with FREE accommodations while in Los Angeles. Armed with only a carry on luggage and with barely $1000 bucks in my pocket (my total life savings- I was 25!) we braved customs and immigration to start our impromptu vacation.
How a two week trip turned into six years
Let me tell you, it was SO nerve racking going through customs and immigration with all those boxes! But once we got through we were free to do as we pleased. My best friend and I went travel giddy in those two short weeks. We went up and down the west coast- San Francisco, Seattle and Las Vegas. We were happy and free.
As the end of the trip drew close, I began to dread the uncertainty that was going to greet me when I got home. I had no job and almost no money. It was a problem that got me confused and somewhat depressed. Believe it or not it was my dad who came up with the solution. He said: “Why don’t you just extend your trip, have fun and then look for a job in the US? If you don’t find one then you can always come back home”. Genius! Immigration gave me a six month period to legally stay in the US so I was golden.
My best friend thought I was kidding when I told her that I was NOT going to fly home with her. Until this day my friends back home still talk about how “I just disappeared”. Nobody else aside from my family knew about the trip. Frankly, I did not have the time to tell everyone.
So what happened next?
A LOT! The simplified version: I became a bum. I lived with my Aunt for a few more weeks which drove me insane because I didn’t like being unemployed. Then through some connections, I landed an under the table job in Vegas which allowed me to save some money (a whole other story and no it was not in the casinos). All the while I never gave up applying to different companies even though I got rejected a lot of times. It was a VERY difficult task due to the fact that not a lot of American corporations were willing to sponsor work visas.
My lucky break came when I got a response from an online ad from-of all places- a Philippine job board which I applied to. They were looking to sponsor professionals in my field that had specialized skills sets. It was a one in a million opportunity! I interviewed for the job which was based in Michigan and I got it!
The rest was history. Please know that being an F.O.B. in America is NOT easy. I actually thought it was going to be. Funny how people think that you automatically are “living the dream” or “grazing in greener pastures” when you are in America. What they don’t know is that being an immigrant worker is a road which can be filled with heartaches, headaches and hard lessons in cultural assimilation. Some people will try to take advantage of you but thankfully there are more out there willing to lend you a helping hand.
Now lovin’ the F.O.B.bylicious life
Yes, I now love being a F.O.B.! Living and working in the US has made me a stronger person. It has made me a better version of myself. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would end up here. I must admit that life is much better now than when I started. I think the initial difficulty in working or living abroad lies in uprooting your life and starting it from scratch. It also does not help being away from family and dear friends. But if you are a fighter, a survivor or an enterprising soul it can turn into an experience which will break through personal barriers and self-imposed limitations.
Six years ain’t no joke. Here’s to all you F.O.B.s out there!
10 Things I Love about the U.S. of A.