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My Failed American Dream: A Filipino UK Nurse Story

To be honest, I've chosen Nursing as my college degree to go to America. It wasn't rooted deeply in my innate passion for caring but in my desire for a better life (although I love being a nurse now, and I'm a caring nurse, in my opinion). I believe, perhaps just like most Filipinos, that the best way to be financially secure and dip into a lap of luxury was to earn dollars...a.k.a. American Dream.

I had a lot of relatives in the US. One of them was a nurse, and seeing her life across the land of opportunities motivated me to become one. She would always tell me how my life would change once I became a USRN. My parents did not have to push me that much. I wanted that life, and I want to become a USRN!

How could I not? I consumed American media - from movies, TV shows and sports. The Philippines is very Americanized, and we just can't help ourselves patronising American products, celebrities and culture, which is embedded in our society.

After passing the Philippine Licensure Exam, I decided to dive into reviewing for the NCLEX as part of my chase for my American dream. I failed the test and thought that my goal was slowly slipping away. To make it worse, I had to retake 2/5 parts of the PNLE as our batch was involved in the test leakage controversy! Great! Everything seemed to crumble, but I must go on. I still have to follow the tracks of my envisioned future life.

I am not from a wealthy family, and I classify us as BARELY middle class. With that said, I had to find some work to help out with my family and finance my review to retake the NCLEX and PNLE. Thank goodness there were call centres! They paid pretty decently, so I only had to do that for 6 months before I dedicated myself to reviewing for both exams.

My aunt also helped me with the NCLEX fees; I was lucky to have her! Thank you, Tita! It was expensive and intensive too! After a few weeks, I passed both exams! I'm finally a Philippine RN (legitimate and valid this time!) and a full-pledged US RN. I finally whizzed through to do my English Exam to fulfil my ambitious pursuit.

As soon as I passed my IELTS and gained my nursing experience, I applied to agencies hiring nurses for America. I was hopeful and ever-ready for the next chapter of my life. Then retrogression came, and the US stopped hiring overseas nurses. I don't know for how long but definitely not at the time when I needed it the most.

I had no alternative plan and was focused on going to America. Technically, I could still apply. But with the rate of how processing applications back then, I needed to wait at least seven years. And I can't wait any longer. I have to help my family financially.

Throughout this journey, I had friends with me every step of the way. Three guys who are all goal-oriented people, we all had that American dream yanked from us just a few weeks ago. I was fortunate to have them because they opened my peripheral sight. To look further than working in the US.

We continued working as volunteer nurses in a local hospital to gain more experience. We were "volunteers" but had the same responsibilities as the staff nurses, and I thought unpaid labour was much better than paying for the nursing experience. It was a thing back then, and I hope today, nurses are given more value and recognition for their contribution.

Although unpaid, I worked hard and learned from amazing mentors and staff nurses. I knew the craft and became a competent OR Nurse. I am thankful for the experience in that hospital, but a whole year of not being paid was just not good enough.

My friends and I started looking for opportunities abroad -- KSA, the Middle East, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. But the one thing we were quickly drawn to was an ad hiring nurses for the United Kingdom!!! Employers are really keen to employ overseas nurses. Interviews back to back for each NHS Trust!

So we grabbed the opportunity! I said goodbye to my "American dream" as I set foot on UK soil. I also learned that a third of my cohort are US RNs too, but the window for UK opportunity opened first. So we just have to stop knocking on the door for our "ultimate dream".

I started working in the UK as a Theatre Practitioner in 2009 and later became a Surgical First Assistant. My life has become better and more comfortable, and I was able to reach my goals, but part of me is still fixated on going to the US. In 2015, I decided to pursue my American dream again, and I booked an interview with an agency hiring nurses from the UK to the US.

After the interview, I realised that everything I dreamed of was already in front of me. It's here in the UK. I'm happy here and don't need to look elsewhere. I have my wife, my child and a job as a nurse. It was the life that I always wanted to have. Just enough.

I recognise the difference between nurses' compensation in the UK and US, and I heard from those who moved from the UK to the US that they definitely get more, salary-wise. But it's very personal.

As an agency nurse, my monthly salary is enough for my family's needs, and our household salary can pay the mortgage, bills, food and occasional holidays. Although it's not a stable job, I mitigate the risk by ensuring proper insurance and income protection. So for those self-employed, talk to a trusted financial advisor. I have never considered travelling around UK and Europe too, which is a bonus to our stay here.

I also realised that we don't need a lot as a family. We live within our means, but we also indulge in guilty pleasures. We never deprive ourselves. We spend conscientiously with the intent that every purchase will give joy and value to our lives.

Perhaps, my priorities changed as I became a family man. I know the UK is not perfect, but I can live with that. I have no regrets about not pursuing my so-called American dream. The UK offered me a wonderful life; everything I was searching for was here.

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