Balikbayan is a Filipino term for “returning Filipino” to the Philippines. If a Filipino is lucky to be working in Asia or some close countries, he/she can come home once a year or even twice. But, for some who are working in the Middle East, Europe or in America, it’ll take years before they can go home and be with their families. All OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) work hard to give their families back home a better future, even if that means suffering from homesickness and exhaustion. There is no better feeling for an OFW than knowing that after these long excruciating years, he/she will finally be back in the arms of his/her family even for a short period of time.
I am a proud OFW and have been abroad for more than eight years now. I get to come home and have my vacation once every year for at least eight to fifteen days (can’t get longer vacation leave). Given my vacation is very short, being with my family is still the shortest best moments and the highlights of my whole year. So, imagine my excitement when my leave application was approved! I was literally counting days from the time it was approved ‘til I hop on that plane and be with my family once again. My vacation was quite special this time, not only because my brother’s gonna get hitched but also because, after eight long years the whole family is once again complete with two additional members (my wife and the newly added sister-in-law.)
When does an OFW take his/her vacation?
Since we can only go home at least once a year, we always choose to come home during special occasions. Most OFWs are home during Christmas season or some during Holy Week. These seasons, kids are out of school and adults are on holiday, thus, an instant reunion. Some other occasions OFWs come home to are: Graduations, big Birthday celebrations (7th, 18th, 21st), Weddings, Fiestas, All Saint’s Day and Family Reunions.
In my case, it was to attend my brother’s wedding.
Aside from the usual; buying flight tickets and packing the luggage, there are some things an OFW always do in preparation for his vacation.
- Buying pasalubong (homecoming gifts) or filling up a balikbayan box (repatriate box.) Even if it is not Christmas season every OFW who comes home is becoming Santa. Usually it’ll take months to fully filled up one repatriate box full of homecoming gifts for each and every member of the family, but, fulfilling the requests of your family even if it hurts your pocket is a very gratifying thing. Then, you have to send the repatriate box at least a month before to make sure that the box has arrived before you.
- Getting OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate) or any other documents. OFWs are exempted in paying travel tax and terminal fee provided they have an OEC, and these fees are not cheap, so, getting an OEC is a must. For someone who needs special documents to come back to work after his vacation, that is an additional task to accomplish.
READ: OEC: Online Application
Because of some issues on Bureau of Customs about balikbayan (repatriate) boxes and because it is pretty expensive, I didn’t send a box this time, I just brought the things I bought, with me on my checked-in luggage. For the OEC, I applied it online and it was very convenient.
Day of Arrival
It has become customary among Filipino families that whenever someone is coming back home from abroad, the whole family (those available) will have to pick him/her up from the airport.
I remember when I was young, whenever my father or my uncles would come home from abroad, my family in Bataan province (4 hour ride to from Manila) will rent a van and everyone will try to squeezed themselves into it to pick them up and we will have our packed lunch and snacks and everyone was excited and eagerly waiting for their arrivals. That was some of my fondest memories of my early homecoming recollections.
Even before arriving, you all have the list of things you wanted and missed to do and hope to achieve to make your vacation truly meaningful. You’ll look back on the things you used to do, the places you used to frequent, the food you’ve been longing to eat again and the faces of your oldest friends you used to see every day. In short, you want to know what has changed and what was new. And in every vacation, these are things that are always on your to-do list:
- Get together with your old and childhood friends.
- Visit your relatives.
- Ask your parents to cook your most favorite local dish.
- Tuyo, Tinapa, Gata, Tinola, Sinigang, Humba, Tausi, Bulalo. (Philippine dishes)
- Go to the mall.
- Visit an alma mater and reconnect with school mates and professors.
- Street foods. Tell me you don’t miss eating isaw, fish ball, kikiam, tuk neneng, balut, taho, chicken neck, etc…
- Go swimming.
- Family trip.
- Indian Mango, Santol, Singkamas, Kasoy. (Philippine fruits)
- Drinking session almost every night with different sets of friends or relatives.
- Boodle fight.
- Tong-its. Mah jong. Bingo. (leisure games involving money)
- Local restaurants.
- And of course, Jollibee!!!
I didn’t get to do all of it due to lack of time, but I was able to spend time with my family and ate some of my favorite dishes so that were pretty enough. I’ll just make up to some on my next vacation.
The Hardest Part
Try to ask any OFW, I am sure they all have the same answer to the question, “What is the hardest part on every vacation?” It is when it’s time to leave, they will all say, definitely. You will say, that as time goes by and as the years you’ve been abroad lengthened, it will make you tough and numb to the feeling, well, you are gravely mistaken. It doesn’t matter whether it is your first time to be apart from your family or the nth time, once you see them crying, it gets to you, every single time. It is hard but you have to be strong and you just have to think that after a year you’ll see them again.