Last year, Rica of Out & Abroad invited me to contribute a post about my experience of studying and living abroad. I’d been in and out of Manila for grad school since the mid-2000s, and here I was finally transitioning to a job in the field I’d been preparing for—so maybe I had something to say about it.
At the time, I was back in Singapore for a postdoc research fellowship, having finished (i.e. survived) my PhD. Though I’d been based there for five years and had built up a whole network of friends, routines, and favourite places in that time, it felt very different to be there not as a student, but as a contractual academic. I was very unsure about whether I could stay in Singapore any longer than was possible—I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to. And even though Manila would always be home, I felt weird about the prospect of moving back there permanently.
I told Rica I’d think about what I wanted to say. It took me a whole year to figure it out, and put it into this post:
After years of being away, I’m back. Back in my hometown and back in my family’s house where I grew up. It is the place I’ve left and returned to numerous times over the last 13 years, after a series of sojourns for graduate studies abroad interspersed with spells of work and study here in the Philippines: a year and a half in France as an exchange student of language and political science, a year in Norway and Sweden as an Erasmus Mundus student of applied ethics, and almost six years in Singapore as a PhD student and postdoc of human geography. (I was fortunate to be around at a time when scholarships were more plentiful and borders less exclusionary.)
“Are you back back?” old friends ask me these days, because I am not on vacation and I am here for more than two weeks. “Well–” I hedge. They’re used to this ambivalence. It’s different this time, though: I’ve finally gotten a job, teaching at a university in Hong Kong later this year. But yes, here I’ll be for the next few months: working on a book, being with family, jamming with friends, and plugging away at the never-ending writing of journal articles. To be blunt, I’m back because this is the best place to wait out this spell of unemployment, here where my basic right to move and stay is uncomplicated, taken for granted.
That this unemployment should be finite–and that I am spared the predicament of undocumented workers, refugees, and many others living in a suspended state of exile–is a rare boon that I can’t help but hold in my heart every day, wondering as I turn it over in my mind.
What does it mean to be home?
I don’t just mean my current physical location or my present state as taong bahay (literally “house person”), rarely going out unless I absolutely have to. Even when I relocate to start a new life later this year, I know I won’t lose this sense of enduring orientation, like a homing pigeon whose brain is permanently wired to return to the same place, no matter how far and often it flies—and how long it stays—away. I keep coming back to Manila.
No matter how the next chapter abroad turns out, the geography of my future is already set. Sooner or later, at some point, I will be back here, sleeping in the same bed, shuffling through the same corridor, eating at the same table, looking out the same window.
Read the rest of the post here.