Headlights

Paula Ramon in Australia Headlights

 

This post is an entry from Life in Australia Story Writing Contest by Paula Ramon.

 

“Enroll NOW! UPCAT Review: Ateneo, De La Salle, UP, UST. Application for entrance examination SY 2005-2006 now open,” said the signage I passed while walking home. It was that time of year when all graduating students face the pressure of where to go and what course to take up.

 

I didn’t feel any pressure at all. All I could think about was, “Where will I be after high school graduation?”

 

I always imagined myself as part of a crowd cheering for the Blue Eagles, the Green Archers, the Fighting Maroons, or the UST Tigers, and there were so many courses I wanted to take up- Journalism, Mass Communication, Accountancy, Law, but attending a prestigious university in Manila was so far from my reality. I was a candidate for top honours in my high school graduating class, but I came from a poor family. Iginapang lang ng mga magulang ko ang pagpapaaral sa akin ng high school paano pa ang college? (My parents almost died working so hard to send me to high school, how much more would they have to do to send me to college?)

 

Ray of Light

 

It was during the rehearsal for our graduation rites when the head of our registrar announced that our university was offering full scholarships and were accepting applications.

 

Ting! It was a lightbulb moment for me. This could be my chance to go to college. My friends and I then went to the registrar’s office to get an application form.

 

First Choice That Is Not a First Choice, But God’s Choice

 

We had to fill out what courses we wanted for our first and second choices. Our university at that time didn’t offer courses like Journalism, Mass Communication, or Law, and I wasn’t confident enough about my skill with numbers, so I wasn’t too keen on Accountancy. I then tried to think of the best course that would lead me into a rewarding career.

 

Paula at Sydney Opera House Headlights

 

Nursing was a booming career then. America and Canada were hiring nurses from the Philippines, and those who got in were earning in dollars, equivalent to millions of pesos. Many of them eventually brought  their families abroad to live with them. That sounded nice for me even if meant an intense study of science, human anatomy, and having to work with blood, poo, and pee. I thought I could definitely handle it, so I wrote down Nursing as my First Choice.

 

Until that moment, I never imagined myself as a nurse in that white uniform, but in that moment, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could be one. It was the first choice that was not quite the first choice, but maybe, God’s choice.

 

Just In the Nick of Time

 

We applicants were required to take an IQ test and we also had to undergo personal interviews with the Dean of the College of Nursing afterwards. My interview was scheduled weeks after my high school graduation and it was nerve wracking because it was the first formal interview of my life.

 

I arrived early, so I was the first to be interviewed that day. I stuttered at times, but I made a great effort to maintain my composure. After the interview, I saw the other applicants as I was leaving the office. They all looked so smart and self-confident, and my self-doubt crept in, but I just took a deep breath and thought, “Lord, Ikaw na po ang bahala” (Lord, Your will be done). I then went home and enjoyed the rest of my vacation.

 

Two weeks before the start of the new school year, the results from my scholarship application still weren’t released. I hadn’t enrolled yet, and neither did I have a uniform, shoes, or school supplies for the upcoming school year because we were waiting for the result of the application. I kept thinking, “Ako kaya nakuha? Makakapag-aral kaya ako?”

 

My mom and I then went to school to follow up the results, and found that I got the scholarship! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! I made it! We then rushed to fill up the enrollment form at the nursing office, followed the rest of the enrollment steps and then submitted the form to the registrar’s office, where they stamped that one magical word (“ENROLLED”) atop the form, just when they were about to close for the day.

 

My journey as a nursing student began just in the nick of time.

 

The Domino Effect

 

I didn’t go into the course with a special love for nursing, but I was committed to give it my best because I didn’t want the opportunity to go to waste. The scholarship was amazing; we were exempt from paying tuition or processing fees and the school provided us with an allowance for books and transportation.

 

It was tough sustaining the energy and especially the drive to keep going. I had to read volumes of books and write and present a lot of reports. I got calluses on my finger from taking so many notes, and there were times when I just felt so exhausted and I didn’t how I could possibly go on.

 

Paula at Sydney Bridge Headlights

 

But because my constant goal was to maintain my scholarship, I just kept doing what I needed to do and things followed the domino effect. I was always on the Dean’s List, received academic excellence awards, and even graduated with Latin honors. Finally, I passed the licensure exam and became a full-fledged nurse and even grew to love the profession until it became second nature to me.

 

When God puts you in a place you never thought you’d end up in, He will work within you to turn you into someone worthy of it.

 

Many Are Called but Only A Few Are Chosen

 

When I finally became a nurse, employment opportunities in first world countries came to a halt. Demand for nurses in the Middle East remained high, but they required at least a year or two of hospital experience. The problem was, Philippine hospitals do not have the capacity to hire new nurses while offering them competitive salaries. New nurses were accepted only if they were willing to acquire hospital experience as volunteers, and those who did were lucky if they were granted a meal allowance.

 

Most new nurses like me opted to do volunteer work in hospitals in the hope of winning a spot on their payroll. We were told that the period of volunteer work would only be for three (3) months, but those three months quickly got extended by another week, and then another and another, and so on. Some nurses grew frustrated at not being able to help their families or at least provide for their personal needs despite having a degree. Many nurses resorted to being call center agents because the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry was booming back then.

 

I almost ended up like them. I only agreed to do volunteer work for three months, but after that period, our Chief Nurse asked me if I was interested to wait around for a vacancy. Except no one knew when one would open up.

 

I started to get frustrated. I was the eldest in the family, and I was supposed to be helping them out by this time. I began to regret taking up nursing, and I often cried when I thought about how I would have to endure the consequences for my entire lifetime.

 

Then my mom came up to me and said, “Ni sa hinagap hindi mo nakitang magiging nurse ka. Para kang natulog at nang magising ka, nurse ka na. Diyan ka inilagay ng Panginoon, sa paraang yan mo matutupad lahat ng mga pangarap mo” (Never in your wildest dreams did you see yourself becoming a nurse. It was as if you went to sleep, and then simply woke up as a nurse. God put you in this position because this is how He means for you to achieve your dreams).

 

It struck me to my very core. I decided to continue for one last month and if nothing changed, I was going to call it quits. I was even preparing to turn my back on nursing and to face a new career as a call center agent. But God seemed to pull me back, saying “Oops, oops, teka lang, halika dito,balik dito. Hindi ka para diyan”. (Oops, oops, wait, come back here. You are not meant to be there). When my fourth month was nearly over, one of hospital staffers resigned to go overseas. The hospital now had a vacancy and it was offered to me straight away.

 

God called many to become nurses by profession but only a few were chosen to practice the vocation, and  I considered myself blessed to be among them.

 

Detour

 

I got a job as an operating room nurse, and was excited about the possibility of applying for work abroad once I got enough experience. After a year, I tried my luck applying for overseas nursing jobs. I gave updated copies of my most recent resume to balikbayan neighbors and friends who went home for a vacation so they could submit them to their employers when they went back to work. Yet I had no response from any of them, so I moved on.

 

I then posted an online resume and received offers for jobs in the Middle East, but I kept getting rejected. Why? Not enough years of experience, they said. At the back of my mind I was shouting, “What’s wrong with the world?!” I knew of some overseas nurses who got their gigs using counterfeit employment certificates from Recto, while I, a nurse with a solid year of experience and genuine supporting documents, kept getting rejected.

 

Paula at the beach Headlights

 

I swore that I would develop myself professionally so that all these agencies that rejected me would come running after me one day.

 

I took up a Masters degree, and it kept me pre-occupied for a while. A year before graduation, I sought opportunities to work abroad again and found them in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Best of all, they only required at least three (3) years of experience and a passing mark on an English test.

 

It was another lightbulb moment. The timing was so perfect that I assumed it would be a walk in the park.

 

It wasn’t.

 

The Agony in the Garden

 

I enrolled in an English language review center to prepare for the exam. I was too confident, so I only took a crash course. I initially thought about applying as a caregiver in Canada, but changed my mind when I learned that you could become an Australian registered nurse in just three (3) months’ time. However, Australia required a very specific score on the English exam.

 

“No stress. This is just English,” I thought, “Maybe it is not that hard.”

 

So I took the exam and boom! I flunked. My dream of working overseas went down the drain again.

 

I felt devastated, but I went and took the exam again. And for the second time, I did not make the cut. I tried to look for other ways to work abroad with the scores I got, but the only option was to get a student visa. This was out of the question because it required a humongous amount of money.

 

I felt so drained from all the failures and rejections that came my way. I read all the uplifting Bible verses that I know of, but I kept bursting into tears when I read them because I felt so weak. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I kept praying, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what You want.” (Matthew 26:39)

 

Rest If You Must, But Don’t Quit

 

Shortly after I graduated from my Masters, I saved up to enroll in an English language review class. For six long months, I did what I had to do, and this time, I took no shortcuts.

 

I also prayed to Mama Mary, St. Jude, Padre Pio, St. Augustine (the patron saint of our parish), San Lorenzo Ruiz, San Pedro Calungsod, Saint John Paul II, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus (whose relic I was able to touch when it was brought to the Philippines). I regularly went to Quiapo Church on every first Friday despite how crowded it often was. When I look at the Black Nazarene, I am always reminded of how Jesus Christ  carried His cross to fulfill His purpose and I should also work hard to fulfil God’s will in my life.

 

True enough, my combination of hard work and faith paid off. When I took the exam again, I got the scores I needed. It was the most joyous moment of my life! Hallelujah! I was going to Australia!!!

 

So Close Yet So Far

 

I met a group that sponsored qualified nurses to study a three month bridging course to become registered in Australia. They offered a fly now, pay later program, and it sounded too good to be true, but I didn’t want to waste any more time, so I grabbed the opportunity to apply for it.

 

It went well at first, but then came another blow that brought me to my knees. Australia revised their requirements, policies, and procedures for overseas nurses who would like to practice there. They stopped processing all applications, and mine was indefinitely put on hold.

 

In life, one of the most difficult things to do is to wait. But when God tells you to wait, there isn’t really much you can do about it.

 

Finally, Reality is Better than my Dream

 

After one year, Australia opened its doors once again. This time, things went smoothly. I handed my resignation to our Chief Nurse, and bid goodbye to everyone from the hospital that had been my second home for the past five years. I packed my bags, bid farewell to my family and friends, and boarded the plane to start a new chapter in my life.

 

I cannot put into words the overwhelming feeling I got when I finally set foot in Australia. I was so teary-eyed as I stared at the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge because I only used to stare at photos of them on my vision board every night before going to sleep.

 

Paula crossing Headlights

 

I became an Australian registered nurse after a month after my three month bridging program, and I am currently working as an operating room nurse in one of Australia’s biggest hospitals. If my life was a Waze app, it would probably say, “You have reached your destination!”

 

My journey was like driving a car through the night with God as my headlights. I only saw the next hundred feet of the road and He only showed me the rest whenever I was ready, until I eventually reached the destination He planned for me.

 

So friends, listen carefully to where God is calling you. Is He calling you to be someone or to be somewhere or to do something you cannot imagine yourself being or doing? Keep calm, be still,and just follow. You don’t always need to know the “how” behind it, because He will show you. Just keep driving and turn your headlights on.

 

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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