Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted on August 2, 2008

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Author’s note: This post was originally written for the Young Public Servants website.

Now I understand what some young Filipinos abroad feel when they are exposed to life outside the country (and its accompanying efficiencies and lifestyle upgrades): they are torn between helping their country here, being with their family and friends, and being where all the needs are; or becoming productive members of more affluent societies so that they can make their money, enjoy a certain lifestyle, and still manage to help the needy back home.

I used to think MY personal answer would be certain and clear-cut—“Stay, of course!”—but now I’m not so sure.

Staying stuck

The idea of studying or getting short-term professional exposure abroad came to me while I was watching a good friend and colleague conduct a one-day workshop on sustainability and CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs here. She was sharing case studies and best practices from firms she had personally come to work with in Hong Kong and in London, with an audience coming from some of the Philippines’s top corporate names. What had struck me most about that session was that there was such a great disparity between the level of thinking here and that of firms and consumers abroad. While consumers in first-world economies, especially in the United Kingdom, were already factoring in fair trade and best practices when choosing brands and companies to patronize, here we are still basing our decisions on the cheapest products available (despite poor compliance with health, safety, and ethical standards). While corporates in other countries already had long-term, sustainable CSR programs in place, we here are still stuck to the same old medical missions, tree-planting activities, and relief operations. I’m not saying that we should stop conducting medical missions, relief operations, and the like—especially when and where they are needed, like now—but I am sad that, until now, we’re still STUCK with and to the same old situations, the same old paradigms. (Even Vietnam and Brazil are getting “un-stuck” faster than we are.)

I thought of getting out so that I would get un-stuck from the intellectual rut I was in and learn to think out of the box, out of the Universe, all of the time. I remember thinking, I cannot learn to innovate and develop creative solutions to today’s problems if I myself do not get out of my comfort zone and become exposed to an environment that nurtures innovation. Albert Einstein’s words came to mind very often: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

Future perfect?

Fast forward to a month later, when I got accepted into a prestigious university in Sydney, Australia for a one-year masters program. Everything pretty much fell onto my lap and fell into place (with the help of a lot of continuous discernment and “listening”, intuition, and good ol’ impulsiveness), making me believe that “this is where I should be.”

My initial plans were simple: finish my course in the allotted time (10 months), go home in time for Christmas 2009, and go in deep with voters’ education and the campaign come 2010. For whom I should campaign and as what, I didn’t know yet, but it was clear to me that my only reason for leaving was to get the education and exposure that I said I needed and then come back to serve my country.

And then the inevitable question was asked: But what if you get a really good offer from a good company in Australia?

(So I did my research: mid-level corporate communication/PR managers in Sydney get around 90,000 to 120,000 (Australian) dollars a year—roughly 3.8 to 5.1 million pesos.)

WAIIIIIIIT….

I can’t just say no to that, can I? For that amount, I could: live a comfortable life in Oz, set up some social enterprises here in the Philippines (with the power of Web 2.0!), send a couple of scholars to school, and have my occasional travel sprees. That’s having my cake and eating it, too. And since my entire family is also considering migrating to Australia, then what’s the point of staying?

REALLY. WHAT IS THE POINT OF STAYING?

Still searching

To be very candid, I used to think that I would someday serve in government. If not directly, as an elected or an appointed official, then perhaps indirectly, as someone’s “first lady”—or something to that effect. I used to think that I wanted to spend a good number of years serving my country by being part of the action, being involved in policy-making, being “one with the people,” and helping make things work. But, right now, I don’t yet see anyone in the current political arena whom I could work with (or work under). I don’t yet see anyone who inspires me enough to make me want to give up a potentially wonderful sum of money (and a life lived by the beach!!) to stay here and work within a system that will only breed frustration.

I am an incredibly naïve person; in many instances, it is my naïveté that has allowed me to be this involved—and this in love—with the idea of serving my country. But when you’re thinking about your future, the life that you want to live, and the life that you could possibly give to your future family, then you stop and wonder: maybe the best thing I can do as a person is to live a good, honest life; raise good children; and give back to humanity (and not just be limited to your own country). There are other countries out there who desperately  need our help more than the Philippines does; there are other people who deserve to be helped more than these scoundrels in government do. Why can’t I just help them instead?

At the end of the day, my bottomline is this: I am still searching for a reason to stay. And I have six months (eighteen, max) to find it.

Copyright © 2008 Niña Terol

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