this story originallly appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on October 11, 2011.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.”

In my case, and I guess for so many other Filipinos who leave the country, it is more of the latter.

I do not think that any Filipino who has to leave the Philippines, whether to study, to work or to see for himself if the grass is indeed greener on the other side of the pasture, does so willingly. Simply because this is our home and there is no other place we belong in. But somehow, some things lead us to believe that going abroad is our best option for a better life. And these are the motivations that see us through the most difficult times in our pursuit of our loftiest ambitions. It is why despite the rigors of applying for overseas work, study or whatever, or the long lines at the US Embassy, and the possibility of rejection, we push and push ourselves to the limit, even beyond, just to get what we want.

But no one tells us what to expect once we have achieved our goal. Nothing is said about the “longest” wait between the day we came to know our application has been approved and the time for us to finally leave, to begin a new chapter of our lives; or about the pain and burden of sacrifice there is in leaving the only place where our hearts have been since we can remember.

And so, just as the exit door is practically cleared of the last significant, major obstacle, we suddenly find ourselves in a sea of uncertainty and fears, negotiating through countless “what ifs,” “what could’ve beens” and “what could bes.” After all, how do we exactly say goodbye to the country that has given us more than we actually deserve? Many people view our leaving the country as a way of escaping the myriad problems that we face as a people. We are asked how we could abandon, without any guilt feelings, our country while it is in shambles and direly needs our skills and talents. We are accused of running away from our obligations to the country.

This I deny. I refuse to accept that we are turning our back on our motherland, that we have given up on her. In fact, it is by being away that we hope to see the bigger picture and to find ways to help fix whatever is wrong with the country. Sometimes, it is by stepping outside that we get a clearer view and a deeper understanding of what is happening within. And thus we are enabled to give back to our country and make positive contributions for its development.

We are not abandoning the Philippines. We may be away, but we will not forget. We will instead learn from other cultures and nations, and with our learning and experiences, we shall return better equipped to make a difference for our country.

Manila has been my home for 18 years, it will always be. But for now, I must go, no matter the pain, no matter how tough and uncertain the road ahead may seem. Shaw is right. It is a blessing to have my dream come true, but then it is also a misfortune that in order to pursue it, I must leave behind the nation that has cradled me and the people who have made my stay here worthwhile. I think that this is exactly what makes leaving bittersweet—it does break my heart, but it comforts me that beyond the separation there is so much to look forward to.

Friends and kin alike ask me if I am ready to go, and I am never quite sure how to answer them. I tell them instead that I am almost done packing and I would like to believe that I have mastered a few household chores. But there is nothing else I can add. I can’t simply find the words to say I’m “ready” to leave the life that I have always known. I do not think any one of us leaving our country is 100 percent ready to say goodbye. To be sure, there will always be a part of me that will wonder what my life would have been like if I had chosen to stay. The feeling that I might have missed out on something great if I remained here may never disappear completely. But I know I will regret even more if I did not grab these rare, extraordinary opportunities that are now within my reach.

Leaving may be difficult, but it is necessary. How else can we grow as persons if we are always in the same place, if we never challenge ourselves, if we never attempt to go beyond our comfort zones?

Yes, people leave, but they always come home.

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