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“I was a Topnotcher in the Philippines, but I Cleaned Toilets Abroad”

Confessions of a Filipino Nurse in Australia.

What are you willing to do to make your dreams come true? For Jao Jundam, whatever it takes – even if it means scrubbing toilets.

If you looked at Jao Jundam’s social media accounts, you’ll see an image of an accomplished young man. At the age of 25, he has travelled the world, completed his master’s, and found a stable nursing job in Australia. But Jao recently revealed that that’s not the whole story.

Five years ago, Jao decided to study in Australia to earn a globally-recognized degree and have a chance at a greener pasture. “When I topped the nursing board exam in the Philippines, I took a year off to conduct outreach programs in far-flung elementary schools. I even aspired to be a doctor and work in the barrios. But when reality hits and shows you how hard it is to live comfortably in the Philippines while working as a nurse, you would choose to be practical.”

So Jao went to IDP to process his documents and applied for a master’s program at Griffith University – Australia. “IDP helped me have a smooth application process with the different universities in Australia. When I submitted by application, I received 3 offers from different universities. They aren’t just agents, they’re also counselors as they provide legitimate advice to students,” he shared.

When Jao arrived in Australia, he realized that he needed to work and earn enough money to help his family pay for his expenses while studying abroad. “During the winter, I had to walk for one hour in the snow to sell fish at the Belconnen market. In the summer, I fried liempo at Canberra’s Noodle Markets.” He revealed that he accepted many other jobs to make ends meet. Aside from being a fish vendor and barbecue boy, he also experienced cleaning toilets, becoming a waiter, a personal care provider, a cashier – among other things.

When it comes to food, Jao had to be creative to save money. “I had to be mindful of the number of meals I can consume on a daily basis. I cooked 2 ulams a day which were often sinigang and tinola because they’re the easiest and cheapest to cook. I would separate them in containers and make sure they would last a week,” he said.

“I also remember buying a $5.00 cake and slicing it in 7 so that I can only eat one slice per day,” Jao recalled.

Aside from financial challenges, he also experienced “culture shock” that affected his studies and self-esteem. “I failed is some of my subjects which really affected me, especially because in the Philippines, I was considered an “above average” student. I had to work hard to finish my studies and reclaim my self-confidence.”

There were times when Jao looked himself in the mirror and asked: “Kaya ko pa ba?” [Can I still do this?] and every time he did, the answer was the same: “Kaya ko pa.” [Of course, I can.]

Jao claims that while he worked extremely hard, he wouldn’t have made it through without his family’s support. “My family was the driving force behind my success. I am lucky to have many “moms” who supported me emotionally and financially. I am very grateful to my Mom, Mama Jinky; My Tita, Mommy Yaya who encouraged me to study abroad; my other Tita Mommy Didi, and my Lola, Mommy Ina for the long-distance support I got from them.”

Jao’s inspiring story touched thousands on Facebook. “You are a great example to many. Thank you for shedding light to the struggles of people working or studying abroad,” one person commented.

“I don’t personally know you but reading your post brings tears to my eyes…God bless you!” said another.

Jao advises other Filipinos who want to take a leap of faith and study abroad to believe in their dreams, no matter how difficult it may seem.

“Studying abroad is hard, that’s the reality. It would take buckets of tears, sweat and even blood to live in a country that is different from ours. The longing for the people you left in the Philippines will always be there no matter how many times we you go home for holidays. But all of the struggles and sacrifices you’ve made will mold you into a better version of yourself: someone who’s stronger and smarter, a better fighter. Like what I said, it will be hard, but it will be worth it.

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