After finishing the exchange student program at RMIT University in November 2005, I went back to the Philippines to be with my family. The first Christmas after Daddy died was the hardest. We missed him terribly.
I remember looking at my youngest brother Josh and scouring the internet for possible jobs for a soon to be fresh grad like me. The highest-paying jobs were those at call centres – something I definitely considered; however, we were looking at maybe Php 20,000 a month (AU$500)- not enough to support all my six siblings.
The only real recourse was to go back to Australia and try my luck there. I still had a visa valid from my exchange program at RMIT. My mama and I had a serious conversation. Mama, begrudgingly, gave me her blessing.
We bought a ticket. I rang up the Palmon’s and advised if it was possible to stay with them for a while until I was able to stand on my own. Without hesitation, they gladly said yes.
On the plane ride from Manila to Melbourne, I thought about my options.
Realistically, I knew I had three:
- Marry an Australian and get Permanent Residency that way
- Be a fruit picker/ farm labourer in rural Victoria and hopefully don’t get caught. It’s what you call being a TNT (Tago nang tago) – Hide and hide; meaning you hide from border patrol so that you don’t get deported.
- Study as an International Student.
Options 1 and 2 never appealed to me. I mean marriage? I haven’t even had a serious relationship! And manual labour and I don’t mix. I also wasn’t prepared to spend my life hiding from the authorities.
Option 3 was my best bet. Now the problem was it was also the most expensive option. I opened up to Mia and Tito Boyet and they gave me their support. We really prayed over it. And in the end, it was decided that we would definitely go for the third option.
By this time, I was living with them for a week and they both advised that I reach out to RMIT and pick the cheapest course available.
The next day, I went to RMIT and looked at the courses on offer. I chose the cheapest one – International Business. I made a direct application, spoke to the admissions officer and luckily, got a letter of offer on the spot.
Now, came the hard part. Where do I find AU$7,200 in 9 days? I needed to pay for one semester of school fees for a COE (Confirmation of Enrolment) to be issued. We needed that COE to apply for a student visa. We prayed so hard.
After a couple of days, I found a sponsor – willing to pay half of my school fees. One of my friend’s uncles offered to help and Mia and Tito Boyet offered to pay for the other half. Praise God!
By the time of my interview with immigration, I only had three days left before my visa expires. Armed with only my COE and nothing else – no financial support papers etc. I bravely approached the counter and gave my COE, visa application form and passport to the case officer. He looked at my application, looked at me, asked me a couple of questions, and before you know it, approved my student visa application on the spot.
I had a visa to stay until Feb 2009.
The early years
As soon as I was out of the building, I called my Mama and cried happy tears.
I had a visa to stay until Feb 2009. Just like that.
To say life was easy after that would be a blatant lie.
But I was thankful for all the blessings I had.
Thank you to the Palmons and to the Holy Redeemer Family, I had a place to call home.
The hole in my heart, left by my Dad’s death, never healed. However, I slowly pushed on; focusing on the positives in my life.
I had a roof over my head.
Food in my belly.
And a visa to stay legally for the next three years.
The fact that I would need to fund my studies for the next three years, find a way to survive (I couldn’t live on the charity of the Palmons forever) as well as send money to my family back in the Philippines were struggles I had to face.
Every semester, I would marshall whatever meagre resources I had and seek any connection I could. Tito Boyet and Mia would also exhaust all avenues to ensure that no stone was left unturned.
Mia would often tell me, let go and let God.
And somehow, someway, call it Divine Intervention, call it luck, but we always raised the much-needed funds every term until I finished my studies. I was blessed enough to be invited to volunteer for the Philippine Consulate of Victoria. There, I learned to do everything from processing visas to representing the Philippines during Consular functions.
After a year and a bit of living with the Palmons, I decided to move out. I first lived with the Abelgas family (thank you for welcoming me, Tita Chiquit) and then I lived with my housemate Bridget. We got most of our household items from the Holy Redeemer Community. We got everything from plates to sofa beds. By this time, I was an active member of the Youth Group and most of them helped me with the big move.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have my moments.
There were times when I felt like Sisyphus, forever doomed to rolling a huge boulder up a mountain, only to have that boulder roll back down every time it reaches the top.
During my low moments, I also lived with Tita Grace and would spend time with my close friends, Winda, Marie, and Anna. They would give me the pep talk to keep going. That failure was not an option. That struggles were temporary and to always remember my goal.
Being involved in the Filipino Community, in general, opened my life up to a lot of speculation and gossip.
Well-meaning people often say to my face, well, if it’s too hard, then just go back to the Philippines. Why are you making it hard on yourself? Or even things like, Raine doesn’t look like she needs the money. Look at her clothes.
I even got told – I should consider myself lucky. My family is feeding you.
As if I was a pet pig that needed to be fed scraps at the table.
I took all those darts and sprays with a humble heart.
I cried many nights from the injustice of it all.
But I had to push forward. There was no other way. I had to finish my degree, get my Permanent Residency and help bring my siblings here.
I have never forgotten my promise to my Dad to look after my siblings. I worked three jobs as well as went to Uni full time. Sleep was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Not when I knew that the more I slept, the less opportunity I would have to work and send money to support my siblings and help my mother out.
I came back to Australia with $100 in my pocket. Yet somehow, like the miracle of the loaves and fish, that $100 multiplied enough to put me through my uni degree (we’re talking around $20k). I am always humbled and amazed at the miracle of how I came to be in this country.
And in the three years, through blood, sweat, and tears, I finished my Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies at RMIT University.
Thank goodness for the Palmons, my MG and the rest of those who helped me and kept me going.
You know who you are. I would not be here if not for every single one of you.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
You are all in my prayers.
Thank you for helping me.
Thank you for believing in me.
Thank you for always having my back.
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