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Balikbayan: What to Expect When You’re Coming Home

Finally, you’re homeward bound. You’ve packed your bags, prepped your travel documents, and now waiting for your flight to the Philippines. You’re coming home as a balikbayan, a hero. It’s an exciting thing, but at the same time you can’t help but worry. What if you don’t have enough pasalubong for everyone? What if your wife hasn’t been frugal with the money you sent or hasn’t been faithful? What if she finds out you haven’t been faithful? What if your kid doesn’t recognize you anymore? What if there’s so many changes back home and you don’t like it?

We have here at least ten of the things you’ll likely encounter when you come home. This isn’t to scare you or discourage you, but to help you prepare for the worst, but teach you to remain hopeful that everything will turn out better than you expect them to be upon your return.

  1. Expect Paying for Excess Baggage

Sure, you’ve been away from home for too long, and you’ve accumulated a truckload of good stuff you all want to bring with you upon your return. A Pinoy never forgets the “pasalubong” or souvenir give-away. But bringing so much load means paying so much, too. You’ll have to sort out carefully what you need to bring and what you can leave behind. If you’re returning abroad to the same foreign address or the same apartment, this may not be a problem because you can always send your folks a balikbayan box and hope that the crocs would leave some for your family after the customary pillage or bring them with you on your next trip home. If not, exercise utmost discretion unless you have the money to pay for the extra load.

  1. Expect a Family Reunion

As a balikbayan, you are a hero of this nation and definitely THE hero of your family who you have financially supported while toiling in a foreign land, beating homesickness and culture shock. So when you come home, expect a reunion of the entire clan. No matter how much you want to keep your homecoming a secret, someone from your immediate family will spill the beans and voluntarily stage a meet-and-greet for you, inviting all of your relatives up to the 10th degree of consanguinity. Or maybe the reunion won’t be as grand, but still prepare to meet many of your long-time-no-see relatives.

  1. Expect Catching-Ups with Friends

Of course, after the family reunion comes the obligatory catching-up meets with your barkada – classmates, former officemates, members of your frat or sorority, drinking buddies, boardmates and even your most favorite landlady who became your instant stepmom. By this time, you’ll be needing a planner or a scheduler so you can plot your activities for the short time you’re home and meet with all the people close to your heart. There’ll be plenty of names wanting to see you, and you might have to sort them according to priority. Besties, close friends, and friends – these are the ones you really need to meet. Acquaintances – not really. Enemies – maybe, if you can outshine them this time.

  1. Expect Revisiting Familiar Places

How long has it been since you left – one year, two years, longer? The Philippines isn’t a very poor nation, so expect industrialization to paint a new image of your beloved Motherland. Still, some things never change, such as that giant, sturdy Mahogany tree in your backyard that stands as a silent witness to how much you’ve adored your neighbor’s son/daughter, praying he or she is still single when you return. Well, the tree can’t speak, but the etchings you’ve made on its trunk remains legible . . .

  1. Expect Seeing Unfamiliar Places

Unless you’re constantly on the lookout for what’s new in the neighborhood, you’re sure to be surprised at how much your neighborhood or city has changed over a span of one to two years. It’s amazing that capitalists can put up humungous skyscrapers in a few months, but the Phillippine government can barely complete a mile-long concrete road project in three to six years. Anyway, when you come home, you’re in for a big surprise because hey, a huge mall is now just a stone’s throw away from your house!

Drunk and unconscious businessman lying on a counter

  1. Expect to Get Drunk for Days

Either you go on a drinking spree, on binge eating, or both. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve got hundreds of reunions with family and friends (remember your drinking buddies?), and these reunions won’t normally happen without chitchats, food and booze. You’ll have to break your healthy regimen perhaps for a week or two.  Anyway, you can go back to your fitness routine when you fly again or when the money runs out.

  1. Expect to be the “Talk of the Town”

Whether you like the limelight or not, you’re a balikbayan, and perhaps the only one who have gone so far in your village, came home alive, and hopefully a tad richer. That’s really something. So you’ll make a great topic for those women who know nothing except gossip about anything and anyone; for those parents who only has you they can use to encourage their kids to yearn for OFW life; and for those people who like to paint either a good or bad picture of you. People like these don’t mind if what they’re spreading about you is true, so long as they can spark an interesting conversation. If you’re that famous, people will like to be associated with you, and they’ll establish this by telling others how much they “know” you.

  1. Expect Royal Treatment

You’ve just come home from a long trip, you’re bringing several pasalubong with you, and maybe some cash, too. Some people will receive you with the best hospitality they can stage because of what you can give them. Sad, but don’t feel bad. There are still people who genuinely miss you and want to be with you without expecting you to grace them with pasalubong or a treat. It can be tricky at first to distinguish the real deal among your folks when you’re a balikbayan, but it won’t be long. For now, enjoy the faux royal treatment while it lasts. The dust will settle soon.

  1. Expect to Go Broke

After the parties, reunions, tours and shopping sprees, if you’re not mindful, you might go broke all too suddenly. It can be very fast and easy to spend all your hard-earned money in a blink of an eye, especially when there’s many people willing to help. It’s common to find OFW’s applying for loan so they can fund their return overseas. Where did all their money go? Check out the list again.

  1. Expect Emotional Turmoil

You’re a Filipino, and the Philippines is your home country, and yet you can’t avoid the feeling of becoming a stranger in your own land. This is partly because you’ve grown accustomed to life abroad, have become comfortable living there or have adapted to living away from your family. Plus, the many changes and new things that happened while you’re away.

You like coming home, but you also like or need to go abroad. You now experience being torn between leaving and staying. You like to stay, but your family needs you to go abroad, work and feed them. You think of settling down, perhaps work or do business here, but is it feasible? When you leave, you fight the roller coaster of emotions you go through during departure. What about your kids? What about your newly wedded wife? What about your ill father?

It’s no easy feat to work abroad and be away from your family. OFWs like you sacrifice the time they should’ve spent with their loved ones in order to give them a better future. Some of you may fail – not finding financial success overseas and worse, coming home to a broken family. Some of you may succeed only financially, but suffer emotional strains of long-distance relationship. Some of you may prevail and enjoy both financial blessings and family love.

All in all, working abroad is a gamble. There are no sure winners. You can only hope for the best, but expect the worst and be ready for it.

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