Saturday, August 23, 2014


Roger Pe
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 24, 2014 issue

Who says public schools can't breed good English communicators? She does it like her second language. She, too, was like a chameleon. She adapted easily,

Evlin Fuentes-Jankoff practically lived out of a suitcase for several years. Her international jobs took her to different countries in Europe, Asia, US and Australia. Her last job before migrating down under in 2003 was as Asia-Pacific Regional Manager for a British multinational company.

Her migration to Australia was a drastic transition. From an independent, single, career-focused woman living alone in her own Manila flat (with a maid and driver), she became a mum in a new country, with a non-Filipino husband, without her own income, relatives, and no external support network. Tough start.

But she is now a Professional Lecturer at prestigious Victoria University in Melbourne, reaping the fruits of her hardships.

In her early 20s, when several of her high school and college friends were leaving one after the other to either work or migrate overseas, she said: “I want to travel but I do not want to pay for it. I want to work overseas but I refuse to apply for it.”
Her friends thought she was nuts. But she always thought that it was good to have a dream because it won’t cost anyone anything.

Jankoff grew up in Project 8, Quezon City with her eight siblings. Being the eldest, she learnt to be independent very early, a good foundation for her future travels. Going through public school her whole life (GSIS Village Elementary School, Quezon City Science High School and the University of the Philippines) perhaps toughened her up a bit.

As a little girl, she wanted to be a brain surgeon and a fashion model. Her dream to become a surgeon got quickly nipped in the bud by her father who reminded her that they do not have unlimited funds to send them all to college.

“My having a boyfriend then did not help as Tatay was scared I may end up eloping before I even finish my studies,” she says. As for modeling, she did not grow tall and skinny enough, (she was too voluptuous) to be one.

Jankoff initially got into accountancy course at UP Diliman though her first love was economics. She decided to shift to Hotel and Restaurant Administration. “Why HRA? My friends in engineering asked. I said “it’s the only degree in campus where you are legally allowed to organize parties and drink alcohol, and get marks for it.”

Jankoff’s first taste of travel and independence was her internships at the then Hyatt Terraces Baguio. “There were five of us students from UP. When we met at the bus station in Baguio, little did we know that we all gave our parents the same assurance – yes, we have a place to stay, all organized. We looked at each other and realized we all told a lie,” she happily remembers.

Starting a career

Jankoff was among those in the pioneer team when the West Villa chain of restaurants opened. She then worked at Cebu Plaza Hotel where she said: “there was never really a dull moment in the hospitality industry. There was always something happening. I met a lot of fantastic people but did not like the work hours.” She moved out of the industry and worked at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) after.

She got along well with her boss while working at AIM but the latter would soon receive an offer to work in Jakarta. “I was sad that she left. What to do? I enrolled in the MBA program at Ateneo. As I was about to start the course, my former boss convinced me to come over for a holiday and stay with her.” Jankoff withdrew from the MBA program, got her money and packed her bags.

Little that she know, she would be staying for five years at the AIM representative office in the Indonesian capital. It was one big adventure for her where she met wonderful people and great friends. The job also took her travelling on a regular basis and did not have to pay for it.

“My first year living as an expat came with dose of culture shock. I was lucky to quickly learn to speak Bahasa Indonesia within three months. Good enough to convince a taxi driver to take me to Tanah Abang (like our Divisoria) from my landlady’s place in Menteng (like our Forbes) and get to practice my haggling skills in time. My adventure scared the wits out of my landlady who discouraged me from doing it again.

Life as an expat can be as easy or difficult depending on how one wants it to be, according to Jankoff. “The most punishing part for me was learning to eat spicy food. I was able to get over it with a lot of bravery and tears,” she says.

Learning the local language was the best thing that worked for Jankoff. It helped her better understand the local culture and how the locals think. “I was curious about why the Indonesians do things the way they do them. I respected the difference and made it work for me in my dealings with the locals. Having great support from my fellow expat Filipino friends was extremely helpful especially when we share our day-to-day experiences and learn from each other’s mistakes and wins. I was lucky that my job allowed me to regularly visit my family in Manila,” she reminisces.

Goodbye, Jakarta

Before Jankoff left Jakarta for good, she went on a holiday to Sydney and Melbourne with two Indonesian female friends. “We all stayed with a classmate of mine from UP who was based in Sydney. I did not realize that my friend had plans of breast enlargement surgery while I was there, so I ended up looking after her, which I did not mind. I did not expect the shock in her mother’s and brother’s eyes when they got home from a holiday: I looked like the accomplice in crime!”

Other than her brief ‘nursing’ stint, Jankoff found Australia a place that she could live. “I love the culture and art scene of Melbourne than Sydney that I actually declared to my friend “I would like to live in Melbourne” while we were staying at her brother’s place in Yarraville.”

Jankoff then tried to check all immigration possibilities to move to Melbourne but couldn’t get to pass the required ‘points test’ to migrate. Back in Manila, she started to focus back on balancing career and single life. “I was happy to be back home. My stint as an expat opened doors for me to get roles that required frequent international travel.”

In one of her work assignments, she was sent to her company’s regionall office in New York for a few meetings. On her first stop was a meeting in Albany before she headed off to her World Trade Centre office on 12 September 2001.

“That was a close call. It was scary being in New York watching the 11 September disaster unfold and our office building collapsing. I felt so alone, shaken and did not know where to go. That was my first US trip and had not been there since,” she remembers.

Hello, Australia

Through work, Jankoff met her future husband Cyril. They were both working with the same British multinational company. He was based in Melbourne but was sent to Jankoff’s office in Manila for training and orientation. “It was a long distance office romance. We finally spent more time together after he left the company. On my first visit to see him in Melbourne, I felt it was surreal that Cyril actually lived in Yarraville, a few blocks away from where I declared I wanted to live in Melbourne a couple of years back!” Goosebumps.

“Cyril loved Manila and he did not mind settling down in the Philippines. After long and thorough decision process, we decided to move to Melbourne where his elderly mum is based. We got married in Melbourne and we now have two children, Carl and Erika,” Jankoff says.

Jankoff said she did not expect being a new mum in Australia could be tough and challenging. She arrived in Melbourne with her five-month old Erika. “One day I had a full-time nanny looking after her and the support of my family, the next day I was on my own looking after a baby in a new country. I felt alone. I thought being an English speaker, having worked internationally and been an expat would have given me an advantage in having an easier transition to my new life in Australia. Wrong. Being a migrant mother in Australia requires a different skill set – driver, nanny, cleaner, housekeeper, gardener, etc.”

Australians love their English slang. “When baby Erika cried, Cyril said: “give her the dummy”. I wondered, “what dummy he was talking about. He could not figure out why I gave him a blank stare when he asked me to “put the jumper in the boot”. I also did not quickly get it when the nurse said: “Your baby’s cot looked like a dog’s breakfast”. When I asked an Aussie friend how she manages to juggle work and motherhood, she says she usually just “chuck a sickie” whenever she has to attend school events.

Jankoff’s impressive credentials did not fail her. She was very lucky to land a job within five months of migrating to Melbourne. “I got a sessional lecturing job at a local university teaching international students. It was great to get the mind working again after singing too much nursery songs and watching an overload of the Wiggles, Playschool and Sesame Street.”

But work and motherhood do not come easy in Australia. As her mother said when she came to help her out when her youngest was born, “the quality of life of the poor people in the Philippines is better that yours here’. “Ouch. She was right. I barely had time to scratch myself. Even my maid in Manila before who had her young children staying with her in my household had time to rest and relax.”

With all demands on working moms and minimal support compared to what they get in the Philippines, many women experience post-natal depression, according to Jankoff. It is not uncommon for new migrant mums to just want to go back home with their babies. “You have to reach out for help and support at a time when you feel alone and may not want to reach out.”

Australian culture

How does she describe Australians? Australians are very individualistic in contrast to Filipinos and other Asians whose culture is very enmeshed, according to Jankoff.

“People are polite and are happy to extend a hand. But life is just so busy that you have to make it a point to reach out and connect, otherwise it can feel so isolating especially if you do not have your relatives around,” she says.

Multitasking in Australia is common and the people take on other roles all the time, at work and at home, she observes. “You can be left out if you do not reach out. My family regularly attends the St. Albans Filipino Uniting Church. It feels good to be connected to fellow Filipinos and for our children to learn more about the Filipino culture. The congregation has also been very supportive to newly arrived migrants,” Jankoff says.

How is it like living far from home? Jankoff says raising children in a different country with a non-Filipino partner has its own challenges. “Erika and Carl (her young daughter and son) have a good understanding of the difference between their Filipino and Australian heritage. Cyril and I agreed that we should raise the children by taking the best out of the Filipino and Australian culture, keeping in mind the children will grow up in a very multicultural world.”

In recent years, there are more skilled Filipino migrants arriving in Australia, mostly in the healthcare and aged-care industries. “I think generally, Filipinos are very adaptable which makes it easy for us to blend in with other cultures. Having the Spanish, American and Asian mix in us makes us very western at the same time eastern in our mindsets.”

Jankoff has also not heard of many negative remarks among locals now that their calls are handled by Filipino call center operators, compared to all the angry complaints when the calls were handled in another country prior.

When she first arrived in Melbourne, Jankoff wished that she could work at the Victoria University, which was walking distance from her home. She went over to one of their offices and asked if she can apply to be a sessional lecturer.

“I got the job and I now work as a full time lecturer in Supply Chain and Logistics at the university. I am lucky to be working in a very multicultural environment that embraces diversity. Like in any country in the world, discrimination can happen in Australian workplaces. It is up to us how we handle it. The best lesson that we Filipinos may have to learn is to be assertive, learn how to say no and stand our ground in a nice way,” she says.

Planning to migrate or work overseas? Jankoff gives some valuable advice: “Be adaptable. Be open to learn about the local culture and connect with the locals. There is nothing like establishing friendships with the locals who can be able to guide you around local practices, and where and how to get support. Understand the thinking behind why they do certain things. Lastly, being adaptable does not mean that you have to compromise your own belief system. It is about establishing mutual respect.”