I came to Penang from Manila via Kuala Lumpur exactly a week ago with 18 other Pinoy doctors to work as a lecturer in a huge medical college here. Most of them are my batchmates from med school; including one of our former professors and the others are medical consultants from all over the Philippines whom I met only on the flight. Eight more physicians will be coming in next week to join our teaching force with the hope that we can blend well with our foreign counterparts from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Australia, Myanmar and Malaysia.
Thank God my first week in Penang as an OFW has not been dreadful. I didn’t set any great expectations but to earn and save for Tina and Gabby thus I am not disappointed yet. It has been so far so good.
Here are some decisions I’ve made and some things I encountered and experienced in my first week here that I’d like to share.
1. Initially, I planned to bring Tina and Gabby here after a month or two because they ‘re eligible to have “calling visas” as my dependents. I was told that Tina can also work here if she finds an opportunity. However, after a few days of touring the city and going to 3 International Primary Schools in Penang mainland and Penang Island, I found out with the rest of my colleagues who are married with kids, who also plan to do the same, that the cost of private education here soars to the heavens.
Schooling in Penang is like in the western countries, it’s trisemester; they open September, January and April and ends in July. Facilities, staff and environment-wise, almost everything is at its finest except the fees. Since Gabby’s age falls on their Year 1 level, I will be required to pay a term fee of RM 3500 (PhP 49,000) and another term advance fee if he enters IS here. Plus, there are admission and registration fees amounting to RM1500 that should be settled upon enrolment. All in all, the cost per term enrollment is RM 8500 (PhP 119,000 or USD 2587), then add another 2 term fees to complete a school year making a grand total of PhP 217, 000 for Year 1 alone and fees escalate per level of course! Is that logical for grade 1? Granting that my minimal salary can afford it, isn’t it still too much for a primary education?
It’s not that I and my wife would like to deprive our preschool son of the best education but we’re just being practical. After all, it is because of my son’s future that I am here abroad. By thinking so, we decided that Gabby will just continue his schooling as a prep student back home with my wife’s guidance. I will just find means to bring them here for a week-long vacation whenever our schedules permit ; perhaps either before Gabby’s birthday on the first week of October or at the end of the same month during their semestral break. This will give them a chance to experience life in Penang and probably if God wills it, I may enroll Gabby here on September next year, still depending on how we test the waters. Another option is for me to go home on Christmas for the holidays.
2. Penang is a beautiful city. The mainland boasts of colleges, industrial areas, freeways and countryside, while Penang Island cradles George Town, Malaysia’s own UNESCO World Heritage City.
After George Town, we went to Gurney Drive where upscale hotels and hawkers meet before their glorious bay area.
One would take an hour or so to fly to Singapore or Thailand or other Asian countries from Penang. Travel is more accessible now rather than a luxury because of availability of cheap airfares from low-cost carriers.
Would you believe that an overnight stay on a cruise ship that departs from Penang Island costs only RM100 (PhP 1400) ? I can’t wait to experience it hopefully soon.
3. I embrace being in a multicultural community. I’ve travelled a few times but it wasn’t this long that I’ve been breathing same air with other nationalities, colors, cultures and religions.
There are Chinese and other Asians, Indians, Pakistanis, a few Caucassians and others that peacefully thrive in Malaysian soil.
4. Food in Penang came from diverse communities too. Mild to moderate spicy foods predominate the choices that are very apparent in halal dishes. I don’t have a choice but to enjoy every bite. What’s best with it, food is so affordable here that one can buy a Nasi Lemak for only RM 1 (PhP 14). How I wish the same scenario is true in the Philippines.
5. Buhay-OFW is totally new to me. Every minute has been nothing but a mixture of homesickness and wonderful experiences. I just pause and think the reason for my being here; then when the faces of my child and his mom flash on my mind, everything seems surreal.
To quote my fellow doctor here, “for OFWs, sacrifice is synonymous to remittance.”