Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Journey in the Land of Smiles

By Eunice Barbara C. Novio and Josemari V. Cordova

Thailand was never our choice of country if ever we would emigrate. But fate brought us here and eventually our dreams are becoming reality. Khap khun ma khap, Thailand.

Embarking on a Journey


On May 2009, I received an email from my organization that I needed to go to my placement – Thailand. I arrived on June 1, 2009 and was assigned to work with the Policy and Planning Bureau of the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) under the Ministry of Education in Thailand.  My organization had a Memorandum of Agreement with OBEC regarding the documentation of migrant children from neighboring Southeast Asian countries. It was supposed to be just a short-term volunteer placement but it was extended for another six months. When my work was about to end, some Thai friends encouraged me to stay and look for a teaching job, upon knowing that I was an educator in the Philippines.  After six years, I am still here, teaching. 

I first worked for the PTT (an oil company) education project with ties to Kamphaeng Phet Rajhabhat University in Kamphaeng Phet province.  The placement was in a village school in Lankrabue where I taught high school or Matthayom students. This is also the site of Thailand’s biggest oil field, Queen Sirikit.

Though part of Kamphaeng Phet, Lankrabue is approximately 60 km from the city but only 52 km from Phitsanulok. We decided to rent a house in Phitsanulok since there is a large concentration of Filipinos there and the area is more progressive. It was a tough decision which entailed daily motorcycle rides to and from Phitsanulok since my wife and I were both working in Lankrabue.   At the same time our youngest son, Kairos, who lived with us,  was also studying kindergarten there.

When my contract ended in 2013, I applied in some schools in Phitsanulok and nearby provinces, but to no avail. One time, while visiting a friend in Nakhon Ratchasima I applied at Vongchavalitkul University.  Fortunately, I was called for an interview in May and started teaching the following month.  

Although I was accepted, one of the most difficult things I had to deal with was my separation from my family. I commuted seven hours every week to visit my family in Phitsanulok.  In 2014, we decided to move to Nakhon Ratchasima or Korat. My wife resigned from her job at one of the top public universities in Thailand, Naresuan University, giving up her huge salary so we could be a family again. This affected the remittance we would send to our son who was then studying Geology in Bicol. Luckily, my wife’s family provided additional support.

I am still with Vongchalitkul University with my wife. Kairos is now in grade 4. 

Emigrating to Thailand 


In 2009, I was in the middle of my masteral studies, under scholarship at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Our relatives took care of our three children - Malcolm, who was then aged 11; Karina Thyra, aged 10; and Kairos Luther, aged 4.  It was difficult taking care of three growing kids even with the help of my aunts and grandmother. While Josemari was in Thailand, we decided to take our kids there for a one-month vacation. We then realized that only Kairos could readily adapt to the environment. 

After I finished my Master’s Degree, Kairos and I migrated to Thailand on May 3, 2011. Karl and Karina were already in their second year and first year of high school, respectively.
We enrolled Kairos in a Thamada (regular) school, where all subjects were taught in Thai. Government and private schools are mostly Buddhists. Temple visits and meditation time every morning form part of school activities. Aside from learning the language and the scripts, Kairos survived the Thai way of life and embraced Buddhism.  He is now fluent in both Thai and English, an advantage he will later use in life, particularly because of the forthcoming full integration of ASEAN.

Raising Kairos in Thailand

While in Phitsanulok, we were lucky to find an apartment owned by Ajarn Sunee, a retired teacher,  and Uncle Woody Chom-in, a retired military officer.  They treated us like family. Ajarn Sunee became Kairos’ “grandmother,” who even tutored and took care of him when I was at work. We stayed there for two years.  (Since we moved to Korat, we would make it a point to visit them during long holidays.)

In Korat, we would cook Filipino foods, like adobo, sinigang, tinola, or menudo during weekends to expose Kairos to his Filipino heritage.   But food sets him apart from his classmates. One time, Kairos told me that his classmates did not want to taste his food because it is Filipino; not spicy, not “aroy” (delicious). Despite mingling with Thais five days a week, Kairos could still not eat spicy foods. In spite of his looks, his ability to speak and write in Thai, he is still considered a “farang” (foreigner).

Personal Struggles and Success

When Filipinos get to know that I am a partner of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, many seek my help - from debts to visa problems and off-loading. Until now, I continue helping and facilitating matters for Filipinos in distress and link them to the Philippine Embassy. Since 2012, I also started writing regularly for the Global Pinoy Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Because of my efforts, I was nominated by the Embassy to the Migration and Media Advocacy in 2014.

In Korat, we rented a townhouse and bought a secondhand car. Ever Sunday, we would attend mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church to meet other Filipinos. There is a strong Filipino organization in Korat but because my husband and I both work in a University, we hardly have the time to participate.

In the latter part of 2013, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and took medication for a year. (This was also the reason why we moved to Korat.) But these years were also my most productive years. I did a lot of research and my papers were published in journals. These were accepted in international conferences but limited funds allowed me to participate only in those held here in Thailand. 

Nationalism and Challenges 

In 2015, our daughter also joined us.  At present, we are into another phase of our family life.  While communication with our daughter during her high school years were only through Facebook and Skype,  the dynamics now are different since we are living together. We are all adjusting to each other’s presence.

In the case of Kairos, we hardly have time to tell Him about our heroes, like Bonifacio and Rizal, because we are too occupied with work. His heroes are Lady Yamoo of Korat and King Naresuan the Great, who fought the Burmese. One time I caught him waving the Philippine flag while singing Thailand’s national anthem. My husband and I taught him “Lupang Hinirang” to let him know the anthem that is associated with the flag.  We realized that it is time for him to know Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, and not only Manny Pacquiao (the famous Filipino boxer).

We are raising him in an Asian country, similar to ours, yet also very different. Our people may look the same, but we are still divided by our different beliefs. In this milieu, Kairos and the hundreds of Filipino children in Asian countries are facing similar situations, adapting to the cultures of their host countries, yet still considered outcasts. Thus, it is important for them to build their identities as Filipinos.  They need to know our heritage, be it through food, or by simply telling them “Tayo ay Pilipino.” 

Eunice Barbara C. Novio and Josemari V. Cordova, teachers, Thailand. Our Journey in the Land of Smiles, is the story of the wife and husband. The couple tells about their struggle raising their kids while living away from them to earn for the family's upkeep. They also relate the challenges of having their son appreciate Filipino heritage and nationalism from the culture and tradition which are now strange to him.

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