Beginning a new life: Nurse’s Deedee’s story from the Philippines to Newcastle
Nurse Deedee shares her experience of moving from the Philippines to becoming a nurse in one of NSW’s biggest tertiary hospitals.
9th of January 2013. It was a 6-degree summer morning. I could still feel the shivers on my spine as I arrived at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. It was only 24 hours ago that I met a group of people who, like me, were coming to Australia to study nursing. We shared the same dream to live a different life, provide better lives for our family and find ourselves in the process.
At first, I thought I was crazy and being irresponsible taking a leap of faith and trying to escape what seemed like a stagnant life and career. I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more – I just didn’t know what I wanted to become. I knew then I was not feeling fulfilled and not moving forward. Now, I realised that taking that big step was the best decision I had ever made.
In 2013, we left Philippines with only $1000 in the bank. Our first month’s accommodation was already paid for, and school fees were loaned from the bank.
We had some fun times together once we landed.
On our first day, everything seemed SO expensive – I didn’t know what to eat. I converted every dollar to peso and ended up having a $1.50 spring roll for lunch.
Nursing School was great. I went to La Trobe University in Bendigo. But it wasn’t easy adapting to a new country, with people speaking in a different accents, and having to adapt to foreign rules and regulations. For example, I didn’t realise that buses had a stop button, so when I reached our block, I told the driver that it was our stop. He didn’t stop, so I ended up screaming “let us go! Let us go!” He got a bit cranky at me for that, and told me that I “had to press the button, mate!”
I used to stay up late Skyping with my family and friends because I was feeling homesick. I cried almost every day – I was feeling vulnerable. It was scary enough not having a family around. The fear of not being able to find a job after three months added to this. Would I have to go home before my visa ran out? How am I going to get $50,000 to pay the bank for my school fees?
My friends and I were fortunate to have found a very generous Filipino family who helped us out a lot and invited us to dinners and parties. They would even pick us up on Sundays to go to church. I feel grateful and blessed having had known them. They were my first family in Australia.
It all started to sink in when we were about to finish the lease and had to find somewhere else to stay. In Australia, you pay rent every week and it is not cheap. After our university accommodation had finished, we moved to a caravan place. There was four of us on a small, two-bedroom cabin and we paid $80 per week. I did laundry by hand as it was too dear to use a coin-operated machine. My mum used to cry on the phone after seeing wounds on my hands.
After we finished school, all of us were struggled to get a job that would sponsor us for a working visa. I sent out over 400 applications throughout Australia, and it took about two months to get any responses – most of which were unsuccessful. The waiting was dreadful. I was running out of funds and I was beginning to doubt myself. I was looking for jobs online every day. Luckily, a friend offered to host me at their place for free for a month. I was so blessed to have received help when I needed it the most. Her family was amazing and has supported me in a lot of ways.
Three weeks before my visa expired, a tertiary hospital emailed me for an interview. However, it was in Newcastle, which was two hours north of Sydney. At that time, I only had $300 in the bank.
My mum said, “No, don’t risk it, they might not even hire you.” (Oh thanks mum). My gut said I could do it though – and so I said yes. Luckily there was an $80 return ticket through Tigerair to Sydney. Then I just had to take a three-hour train ride to Newcastle and stay at a hotel (which I got on special too!).
I did well in my interview. The managers gave me a tour around the hospital, and the operating theatres where I was going to work. It was amazing! The hospital was one of the biggest trauma centres in NSW, and I felt so lucky to be a part of it!
A week before my visa expired, I got a call saying that I got the job. How exciting! However, they said that I was the first foreign nurse they’ve ever hired in the unit, so they would need to contact Immigration and process the papers. I had to go back to Philippines and wait.
The wait took about four months.
18th of August 2013. I arrived in Newcastle and started work the next day. I knew no one, and only had $700 in my account. I organised living arrangements online. I lived in a house with four students from the local university. A Singaporean girl taught me how to use the bus timeline, told me where the shops were and showed me how to use the town map. It was all complicated in my head, but I was still so excited to start working.
Two weeks after I started, I was expecting to receive my first salary in Australian dollars! However, for some reason I was not on the payroll. I had already paid rent for a month and I only had $25 left and one bus ticket that was good for ten rides. My manager offered to lend me money, but I couldn’t take it. I was scared I might be seen in a different way if anyone knew about it. I had to wait until the next pay.
The next two weeks seemed to be the longest. I had 60-cent noodles for dinner, Nutella on toast for brekkie (NOT bad at all!), and on Fridays, I treated myself with a $2 Hungry Jacks burger to celebrate being able to endure the week. At work, I would bring rice and an egg for lunch. I was embarrassed so I would eat away from everyone.
But this didn’t stop me.
It was just a bump; I knew I would get through it. I loved my job. I loved what I was becoming. I felt more fulfilled in my two weeks than in my four and a half years of being a nurse in the Philippines. Every patient gets treated whether they have money or not. We do not reuse sutures, needles, abdominal packs, and other supplies. Everything was by the book. The feeling of a nurse caring for their patients and their families became very REAL to me.
Of course, when I got my first pay – I bought myself a tub of ice cream – only a Coles brand on sale though! Don’t forget I had a $50,000 student loan!
All the hard work seemed to have paid off after six years. I don’t regret taking that BIG step, no matter how difficult and challenging things get. I’m grateful every day for what I’ve been able to achieve here in my new home.
Deedee Restar is a registered nurse and blogger. You can read some of her musings here: http://theprincessitadee.blog/2019/03/08/how-a-new-life-began-in-australia