FACTalk 4: “Turning a Place into Home” – On Settling Abroad with LA and Leo Celino

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Whether you’re a fresh graduate, a seasoned employee or a newly-wed couple, where to settle for good is always a serious decision you have to make for your life. More often than not, the choice is drawn by the lure of better career opportunities and higher standard of living for yourself and your family.

While many choose to settle in the urban city like Manila, many young professionals are enticed to settle abroad for the same reasons. However we look at it, building a career and starting a family in a place away from your loved ones and friends is always a challenging yet a thrilling experience.10441193_10152361681973110_8483552445588909693_n

Loraine Anne Rabago and Leo Celino take something fresh out from the closet as they share their journey towards taking chances and finding their place in a foreign land; alongside with the challenges of starting a family and rearing a young human being, their son Les Paul, who is turning two years old this year.

In our interview (via Skype), they delved into how circumstances led them to work in Singapore and eventually settling there after wedding. Most interestingly, they shared how they are able to find a sense of home in the heart of a bustling cosmopolitan city.

On Decision to Work Abroad

Unlike many young professionals who actively seek for job opportunities abroad, Leo and LA decided to move to Singapore by chance. Prior to this, Leo was working as a Software Engineer (IT) with a BPO company in the Philippines while LA was connected with an insurance company.

They both were faring well with their work until the opportunity came to Leo when he was offered to apply in Singapore for one of the vacancies in the company where a Filipino friend was working. With uncertainties of what kind of life awaits him, he went there at his own expense and fortunately got the job.

It was almost the same story for LA: “I felt like I was having a quarter-life crisis. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I came here just to try it out.”

Like many Filipinos who take chance and try their luck abroad, LA went to Singapore first as tourist: “I came here in 2009, few months after Leo came. I toured around and then successfully applied for a work pass with the Ministry of Manpower.”

They revealed that a lot of Filipinos still do the same only that it’s much stricter now compared to how it was before.

Opportunities in Singapore

Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, Singapore commands an enormous economic presence and a flourishing hotspot for employment. No wonder that many young professionals like Leo and LA prosper in this city together with a number of immigrants from diverse countries that make up Singapore’s multi-cultural and cosmopolitan nature of population.

Besides its organized public transportation system, one of the notable trends in Singapore is the lower taxing system among its labour force. On their personal notes, they said that “one of the things we like about Singapore is the low tax system they have compared to the Philippines. You get the whole of your salary. There are taxes but very minimal and reasonable.”

To date, Leo is working in the IT field for five years now while LA works in a conference (events) industry, which has become their bread-and-butter to survive the life in an expensive city.403652_10150517834028110_734393755_n

In 2011, they had their civil wedding in Singapore and later a church wedding in the Philippines. In 2012, they had their beautiful exchange of vows by the beautiful sunset of Boracay, which I was blessed to have personally witnessed.

All these were made possible by the opportunities they have in Singapore. Yet at a closer look, there’s more than just achieving their dream wedding that made Leo and LA decide to settle there for good.

Starting a Family Abroad

“Our married life now is 99% about Lek. We decided to bring him in because we wanted to personally take care of him. We wanted to see him grow. You know, days are long but the years are short,” speaking about the challenges of having a baby abroad and the importance of doing the parenting themselves.

Admittedly though, the coming of their son affected their lives and lifestyle compared to when they were still single. But they noted that the opportunity they have in Singapore affords them a better living compared to the Philippines: “It’s more competitive here. It’s very safe and very convenient. The problem is because it’s too convenient, it’s difficult to let go. If you go home to the Philippines, you don’t know if you’re going to earn the same thing. Or if you move to another country, you would have to start anew.”

Although it’s more likely for them to stay there in the next three to five years, they said that they don’t have any concrete plans beyond that just yet: “We don’t know. Of course, you will consider the type of environment where Lek will grow. That will be a major consideration.”

As for spending time with their son: “Weekend is always for Lek. We share responsibility in taking care of him. During work days, there is someone looking after him.”

A Home Away from Home

The presence of Filipino community in Singapore made it easy for Leo and LA to adjust with their new environment: “My office-mates are the same people that I worked with in the Philippines. There’s not much adjustment. It feels like it’s just in the Philippines,” Leo recalls the days when he was just starting out.

They also make sure that they spend time and stay connected with friends and get to go around the city to enjoy themselves on their free times.

995061_10152407896193110_4639766679581835248_nAnother thing that made them feel at home was attending in a Filipino church congregation in Singapore, which serves as their support group. The church always has a special place in their lives especially for them who had been actively involved in the youth and student ministry at a church in the Philippines where they met.

“We also stay connected with family through social media,” stressing out the importance of keeping a regular communication with family in the Philippines made easier by digital technology.

It seems to be an easy journey for LA and Leo, you may say. And while they are fortunate to have found good opportunities in a land far away from home, their story remains a reflection of the exodus of many Filipinos who choose to venture abroad for the hope of better prospects.

They share the same hope with countless of young professionals and couples whose only dream is to attain a better quality of life. It is the same hope that separates many families – a young mother or father – so that they can secure a better future for their children.

Wherever they are, they learn to build homes of their own so that they can stand the anxiety of separation. They find refuge and comfort in the thought that they can uplift the life of their own family so their children don’t have to go through the same fate. And as they do, they bring along with them the hope that maybe someday, just maybe, the Philippines would be a better place so they don’t have to drift away from where the real home is – in the heart of their families and loved ones.

Beyond the economic opportunities, higher standard of living and the conveniences that it can offer, there is one thing that makes Singapore and the rest of the world a home – that is the presence of Filipino spirit everywhere.