A tale of global Filipinos

Stories of global Pinoys

By Jill De Dumo-Cornista

Many stories have already been told on the struggles and successes of Filipinos living abroad. The Filipino diaspora, now deeply ingrained in our nation's history, is not just a personal story—it is a story of connecting people and building communities.

Adapting to new cultures and environments

Caroline B. Ong (Photo Courtesy of Carol Ong)

Caroline B. Ong, or "Carol" to friends, once thought of going to Shanghai to touch base with her roots as a third generation Chinoy (or Chinese-Filipino). She has acknowledged early on that being in a foreign country without work or means of support is not sustainable. She then decided to enroll in Mandarin classes and improve her resume to make herself competitive in the Shanghai job market. Years of job hunting (and getting rejected) were just initial stumbling blocks because Carol eventually received an offer to work as the first Filipina creative at Bartle Bogey Hegarty (BBH), one of the world's leading advertising agencies. In her role, she ushered BBH into not just doing the usual global adaptations, but also to lead global campaigns that got exported to Europe, U.S., Asia, and other global markets.

Dr. Ariel and wife Jesalyn finished their Masters degree in 2017 in Seoul Hanyoung University and graduating with outstanding remarks despite all the challenges as a missionary and Overseas Filipino family (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ariel Bernardo)

Dr. Ariel Bernardo, although without the initial cultural connection to South Korea, also decided to leave the Philippines for greener pastures. He thought that being an overseas Filipino worker would be a temporary arrangement only and he can go home once he has saved enough for his family. But he says God had a different plan for him. Once part of the corporate ladder in the Philippines, Dr. Ariel (or Pastor Ariel to the community) moved to South Korea as a factory worker, and found his way to a ministry of teaching, preaching, and counseling fellow OFWs. Now an ardent resource speaker on leadership, Dr. Ariel successfully juggled work and finished his master and doctoral degrees, published six books, and founded the Philippine Organization of International Ministers Evangelizing Nation.

And yet their stories do not end there.

Theirs is a story of flexibility. Both Carol and Dr. Ariel believe that adjustment is just the bare minimum. In the words of Dr. Ariel, living in a different country requires internalizing how to adapt to new people, culture, language, food, environment, and even to the weather.

Knowing that time, for example, is an important commodity in foreign cultures is different from imbibing it as a way of life. In a country where everything can be practically managed by a smartphone, China’s and South Korea’s culture of valuing time is manifested by working fast and efficiently.

Carol shares that she has experienced working days and nights to handle priority projects and big brands like Sprite. Time, in this sense, means immediately responding to queries, arriving early and on time, and fixing things as you go (instead of having the perfect plan). Working with a team so diverse yet excellent made her realize that there is no room for any sloppy work.

But such preciseness and diligence must be balanced with setting limitations in a professional environment. Here, Carol cautions on “glorifying martyrdom” because the Filipino mentality of “suffering” is not a value shared by other cultures. Instead, she encourages Filipinos abroad to also learn their value and not sell short their talents and skills, in the same manner that other cultures value their own competencies. Carol says “e are valuable because we are good, not because we are cheap.”

Carol Ong with Rajesh Mirchandani, from the UN Foundation. Ms. Ong and Mr. Mirchandani were fellow jurors at Cannes Health Lions' Grand Prix for Good

Being a Filipino, of course, also has its advantages. Apart from being known to communicate well in the English language, Dr. Ariel says that Filipinos abroad are known to be hardworking, flexible and fast learners. When it comes down to choosing between a Filipino and other nationalities, Dr. Ariel experienced being chosen by his foreign employers—a testimony to the skills and talents of Filipinos abroad. Even in Shanghai, there is a similar high regard for Filipinos, who are known to be “citizens of the world,” in the corporate ladder.

Eventually, through time and persistence, struggles can be overcome. Carol says that as talent fuels success, tenacity also adds to it. And tenacity comes from having a clear purpose and plans from the onset.

Here, Carol leans on the practical. One must know the cost of living abroad; and ask the difficult questions in terms of budget and savings, conditions of employment and quality of life. She encourages those who dare venture outside to have a goal: instead of merely aiming to leave the Philippines and survive, aim to thrive and succeed.

Dr. Ariel takes on a similar approach. He agrees that preparation is the minimum requirement for success, but counsels Filipinos to also be open to opportunities and change, including plans from the Divine, to ultimately succeed.

A vision for global Filipino communities

Perhaps what distinguishes Carol and Dr. Ariel in the Filipino communities abroad is their shared passion for the collective.

Already, Carol founded the Philippine Chamber of Business and Professionals, Shanghai, to raise the Filipino’s brand image of being strategic drivers in the business community. Dr. Ariel, whose Diaspora International Christian Ministries continue to grow in South Korea, envisions OFWs living a very strong and well-principled life, and helping one another through various initiatives upholding the “bayanihan” spirit. He wants to equip at least 100 powerful Filipino organization and church leaders in South Korea with effective leadership skills.

Dr. Ariel has been visiting different Filipino groups in South Korea and sharing life lessons in his book ‘PABAON: OFW’s Kit—The guide to working and living successfully overseas’ (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ariel Bernardo)

Although there is not one truly homogenous Filipino community abroad, fostering community-building and volunteerism are important yet often overlooked aspects in living abroad.

Amb. Maria Theresa (“Tess”) Dizon-De Vega has been posted in countries with the highest concentrations of Filipinos, such as Hong Kong, the UK, and now South Korea. With over 25 years of experience in the foreign service and six country postings, Amb. Tess is known to be an ardent supporter of Filipino community organizations abroad.

For starters, Amb. Tess believes that all Filipinos abroad are ambassadors in their own right. Through their words and deeds, overseas Filpinos become “Global Filipinos”—proud of their heritage and history, embracing diversity and multiculturalism, are productive, and manifest concern for others beyond racial or cultural circles.

While Filipino stereotypes are indeed common—fluency in English, hospitality and warmth, singing prowess and the golden Filipino voice, being a generally happy person—Amb. Tess shares that Filipinos, herself included, must exert effort and show that they possess diverse interests and skills, as well as strong leadership qualities.

Amb. Tess Dizon-De Vega attends the General Assembly of Filipino community organization Pinoy Iskolars Sa Korea, Inc. (PIKO), the first face-to-face assembly conducted by the organization since the start of the pandemic

In one of the Philippine Embassy’s forums for Filipino leaders in South Korea, Amb. Tess said that while they may not realize it, the task of a community organization leader is necessary for the Filipino community to thrive in a foreign country. Taking on a leadership role requires investing time and personal resources to advance the causes of Filipinos abroad, promote camaraderie, and raise the Filipino image.

As the leader of Filipinos in South Korea, Amb. Tess is committed to her vision for the community. She believes that the Embassy’s work on various aspects of the Philippines’ engagement with South Korea (i.e, political, security, economic, labor, migration, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges) will all redound to Filipinos having a more productive stay in South Korea, where they are able to realize not only their personal goals but also be active players in an increasingly multicultural, inclusive, and sustainable future.

Continuing life overseas

These days, both Carol and Dr. Ariel are busy with personal projects and endeavors. Carol has a startup company focusing on family skincare, while Dr. Ariel is overseeing church activities focused on giving aid to Filipinos in distress and online leadership mentoring. Both are also active in the academe, showing that there is still much to learn despite the successes and recognition they have received in their individual fields.

Amb. Tess, who is a known polyglot in the diplomatic circle, stays true to her word and continues her study of the Korean language. While work takes up much of her time, on her rare off-days, she tries to learn more about the culture and history of the host country, such as Korean Sijo poetry. She also strongly counsels Filipinos overseas to take advantage of training programs and upskilling given by Philippine Embassies worldwide, engage with the Filipino community on worthwhile projects, and more importantly, remain connected to their families back home for a sense of belonging and a firm anchor.

As for myself, I am in a foreign country for probably the same humanly reasons as the rest of the growing overseas Filipino communities. I do not know yet whether I will thrive or fail. But perhaps I can learn a thing or two from Carol, Dr. Ariel, and Amb. Tess.

Cheers to the Global Filipinos!

Caroline B. Ong is a recipient of the 2021 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Oversees (PAFIOO) Pamana ng Pilipino Award for bringing honor and recognition to the country through excellence and distinction in the pursuit of her profession.

Dr. Ariel Bernardo is a recipient of the 2021 PAFIOO for Banaag Award for his contributions that advanced the cause and interest of overseas Filipino communities.

Ambassador Maria Theresa B. Dizon-De Vega is a career diplomat with over 25 years of serving in different parts of the world. She is a recipient of the Order of Sikatuna-Rank of Dakilang Kasugo (Gold Distinction), Order of Lakandula-Rank of Pinuno (Officer), and Gawad Mabini-Rank of Dakilang Kasugo (Commander), given by the Republic of the Philippines for rendering exceptional and meritorious performance in the diplomatic sphere.

Contributing Writer Jill De Dumo-Cornista is a lawyer, law instructor and Foreign Service Officer. She has 10 years of experience in handling legal, policy reform and operations management initiatives. Join her advocacy in supporting the Global Filipino community and share her stories.