International students bring in £10 billion to the United Kingdom each year, according to estimates from the British Council. I am part and parcel of that economic drive, thank you very much. It is what I remind myself everyday as an immigrant living in post-Brexit UK.
I feel a sense of pride for five minutes before I transition to anxiety. What was I doing giving my third world money to the world’s fifth largest economy? They certainly do not need it, and I definitely do not have it.
Even though I have been living alone since I was 13 years old, between puberty and college and the measly beginner paychecks, I have never felt lost; journalism was my ultimate clarity. Until it began to feel it wasn’t.
To be a journalist is one thing, to be a journalist in the Philippines is another, and at the risk of misrepresenting my generation, to be a millennial journalist in the Philippines proved to me the worst. I was financially reckless, overly ideal and resigned to the thought that I didn’t need money nor tenure to be happy. I was telling stories, that to me was enough.
Again, until they weren’t. I don’t know how or when I started to feel lost, but the fear of seeing myself loving journalism less and less sent me running back to England, surrendering my independence, and my patriotic license.
I don’t know what’s more daunting, that I am back living with my mother for the first time in 12 years, and financially dependent at 25, or the fact that I can never again say that I didn’t turn my back on my country. Because I did, I left, I am now part of that statistic, and that haunts me every now and again.
Studying Abroad Is Expensive
International students in the UK pay twice as much as Home or European students. I was able to get a part scholarship but even then I still had to pay so much.
But that is the correct policy. They have built a reputable educational system and outsiders need to pay to enjoy it, which keeps the machinery running long enough for their own to enjoy it for less. Because our economy is so much weaker, we are doing the exact opposite. Foreign students come into our country precisely because we offer education cheaply — it’s better to have them cheap than not have them at all.
So I respect this policy. But it doesn’t make it any less stressful to know that I’m the poorest in my class, yet I’m paying the most. And not only that, I am paying with just family support while my classmates are paying with state support. Most of the Western governments loan money, but there are others like Denmark who shoulder the tuition of students on top of a monthly stipend.
According to Germany-based research firm International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF), there were five million international students in the world last year, a 300% increase from 1990. They have observed that much of this growth was coming from Asia, noting that “emerging economies are investing heavily in the expansion of their higher education systems; creating scholarships to help their students acquire education abroad – and then bring it back home.”
Such is the case for one of my classmates from Indonesia. In the Philippines, there are external opportunities like UK’s Chevening Programme or Australia’s Awards Scholarships or USA’s Fulbright who commit to supporting a limited number of Filipino students every year. In Indonesia, it’s their own government who sends hundreds of young people abroad to sustain this cross-border exchange.
That we are behind is an understatement. Because I was a practicing journalist back home, there was an assumption that I made good money, which should cover part of the tuition. So often, with the help of my calculator, I would find myself explaining the massive income gap between the world they know and the world I come from.
In the Philippines, the national minimum daily rate is £6. And not everyone is lucky to find a job that pays minimum. An entry level journalist is paid £15 a day. In the UK, £6 is also their minimum rate — but not per day, but per hour. Entry level white-collars could earn as much as £15 per hour.
Then we come around to living expenses. The cheapest room in a shared house in London would cost £500 a month, that’s P30,000 or double the monthly salary of an entry-level journalist. A day’s train fare within London would cost around P200, or 1/5 the daily salary of the entry-level journalist.
I explain this for a bit and summarize it unglamorously to ‘No, my money is worth nothing here.’
I have had my time to dwell, but heartache notwithstanding I had to move on. I had to get a job, and I had to get a job fast.
You Can’t Be Choosy with Jobs
I thought I had built a competent resume in the Philippines. I graduated from a reputable university and have been with a top news network for six years. At the very least, I thought that these credentials would be a shoo-in to a simple writing job.
I wasn’t disillusioned that I would make it to the BBC or CNN — I set my standards extremely low. Anything remotely related to media would do. But I could not even get interviews. Then I set them even lower. I’ve always had dreams of moving to the development sector; I thought that my understanding of newsroom decisions would make me a good communications liaison for NGOs. But as I said, I did not expect to be thrust into that job readily in my first months here.
So I applied to be an office clerk for NGOs. Evidently, I was not good enough for those jobs too; my resume couldn’t make the first cut.
UK’s underemployment rate in 2015 was at 6.2%, and very luckily for me, I tick off all the boxes of what makes a person a great candidate to be underemployed.
7% of the underemployed were women, only 5.7% were men. 20.6% of the underemployed were young people, aged 16-24. (I’m 25 and adamant I still fall into this statistic). And lastly, according to the think-tank The Work Foundation, UK’s underemployment rate shows a “startling difference between ethnic groups” — White (5.3%), Asian (10.6%), Black (18.3%).
This even though statistics suggest there are more educated migrant workers than UK-born workers. According to UK-based Migration Observatory, “nearly one in two recent migrants was in the highest educational category compared to one in four UK-born workers.” Employment rates for migrant workers were also lower than for UK-born workers. Moreover, Migration Observatory noted that “migrants from some Asian countries experience significantly lower employment rates than the UK-born.”
One reason for that may be a recruitment bias against foreign names. Research have shown that if you’re an applicant with a name that is hard to read or pronounce, you are less likely to get a job interview.
But there is no time to waste to be bitter. This world is tough and I chose this world.
Say Goodbye to Luxuries
Currently I have two jobs, one would cover my living expenses, and the other I hope to save. To achieve that I have to re-adjust my lifestyle. I can no longer enjoy the luxuries I had in Manila. No more eating out, no more watching movies, and certainly no more traveling. There’s just not enough money to, and anyway, there is no time in the week to spare.
I’m in school three days a week, the remaining two weekdays I go to work to teach writing to adults with learning disabilities, and on the weekend I take calls for a startup’s customer service line. Hopefully my income from these two jobs will help me survive London’s expensive ways.
It remains to be seen whether my Masters degree will be worth it in the end, or if I would have just incurred massive debt from paying the tuition. Will my post-graduate credentials earn me better wages and a tenured position as a returning journalist in Manila, or would I have to stay in London to earn more money and forego being a journalist for God knows how long?
Sometimes I wake up in the morning still not understanding why I took this incredibly high-risk leap.
But for what it’s worth, it’s a humbling experience that is continuing to test my character as months pass by. I’ve learned that you can never be too good for anything, and that there are jobs you take for granted that are actually really difficult to do.
It’s also a test of my commitment to journalism, to see if one year in post-grad Journ school could restore my once unbridled belief in the goodness and value of telling stories.
To also test how much I love the Philippines, whether I can see past all the reasons why I left and stay here in England just long enough to realize they are the same reasons why I would need to come back.
[Entry 174, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Lian Nami Buan is the Managing Director and the European Bureau Chief of SubSelfie.com. She also leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She was a news producer for GMA News for six years before she moved to England to take up her Masters in Digital Journalism at the Goldsmiths University of London. She wants to shift focus to human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.