There’s something about living abroad that instantly bonds you with other people who have done the same. I recently found myself at the same lunch as Corrine Abalos. The 24-year-old ended her journey with Miss Universe Philippines last year, placing within the top 10. Over the course of that meal and a fun conversation, Corrine was able to prove she’s so much more than just a pretty face.
Prior to joining Miss Universe, Corrine was living in Spain as an English teaching assistant, which allowed her to see more of Europe while earning a little bit of money.
The Spanish government hires hundreds of auxiliares de conversacion or conversation assistants every year. They are assigned to over 300 public schools in Spain where they help students practice conversing in English. They are given a stipend, support to move to Spain, and health insurance. With only 16 hours of teaching a week, Corrine, along with a lot of young auxiliares saw the program as a great way to do some extended traveling in the continent.
“The program also takes into consideration that people who joined want to travel so we would all work from around Monday to Thursday,” Corrine said. “We have Friday and the weekends off, making it perfect for short getaways.”
It was through that program that Corrine made new friends and fully immersed herself in the Spanish way of life. “I was very close to the local teachers,” she said. “I even met some of their families and they baked a cake for me on my birthday. Spanish people are really warm and welcoming.”
Coming from a family of politicians and businessmen, Corrine admitted to growing up quite sheltered. When she first told her family that she wanted to teach in Spain right after college, it wasn’t taken seriously. “I told my family and they didn’t think it was a great idea. I knew nothing about what people called ‘adulting,’” she said. After telling herself that she would learn the skills she needed along the way, Corrine proceeded with the application secretly and when she got in, she convinced her parents to let her go.
And there was no turning back. Turns out the best way to grow up and embrace adulting was to jump—head first—into the water. “I was suddenly handling my own finances. I had to pay my phone and electricity bills,” recounts Corinne. “I even did my groceries and I learned how to cook. I truly felt independent.”
Independence isn’t something we learn in school or in the comforts of our own home where parents and (sometimes) even helpers are around to pick up after us and help us correct mistakes. A lot of times, what people need to be truly independent is just the space that will allow them to be.
I told Corrine that I left the Philippines when I was just a few years older than she was when she did. At 25, I had to join my husband for a diplomatic posting. While I had the basics of chores, I was raised to focus on school and a career—I had no idea how to run a household. So, I also had to learn everything on the fly. Aside from handling finances, one of the most adult things I ever had to do abroad was sign contracts while my husband was at work, something I was always deathly afraid to do without the presence of a more experienced adult. Multiply the pressure by at least 10 when the country’s main language is something that you don’t speak.
It’s when we find ourselves out of our comfort zones that we grow the most. Being forced to make new friends, learn the basics of an entirely new language, and even doing the groceries while translating labels on your phone. For the most part, adulting is about winging it and what better way to teach young people flexibility and resourcefulness than by putting them in an entirely different world?
Adulting is about winging it and what better way to teach young people flexibility and resourcefulness than by putting them in an entirely different world?
I highly recommend traveling and even staying abroad for an extended period of time for young adults. Apply for further studies (there are a lot of grants available) or even spend your gap year as an auxiliar or working in a café. Be independent elsewhere then come back a whole new person.
There’s so much to learn from different parts of the world. Some of the things we learn when far away from our comfort zones we can bring home to improve our own lives. Get inspired and start changes that can work here as well. Sure, not everything that works abroad will work for the Philippines but those who will can start changes that may just improve the lives of many more people.
Corrine’s teaching journey was cut short when the pandemic forced Spain into a lockdown in early 2020, and they mostly did school online and travel wasn’t possible. Going home, however, has always been in the cards for the international relations graduate. “Before Spain and before Miss Universe, the plan was to take up law and maybe join the Department of Foreign Affairs, work for our embassies abroad,” she explains.
Currently, Corrine is taking her time. After the stress of the pageant, she found herself helping in the family business and doing a bit of modeling, something she seems to be a natural in. “I was painfully shy while growing up,” she intimates. “If I didn’t do the program in Spain, I probably wouldn’t have the confidence to join Miss Universe.” She may go back to the original plan or she may stick to the path she’s currently on but the best thing about it is that she’s the one deciding for herself as a young and independent adult.