Yoon Sung-A's Overseas is exclusively showing November 25 - December 24, 2020 on MUBI in the Viewfinder series.
Between August 2014 and December 2017, I did several scoutings in the Philippines to observe the comprehensive training that Filipino women must undergo before being deployed overseas as domestic workers. Here is an extract from my logbook describing a class I attended.
May 20, 2015 - In Malina, while observing in a training center for domestic work.
(The following text does not represent the training centre that we see in “Overseas,” and the names of the people have been changed.)
In a large classroom with a white-tiled floor, about thirty women occupy the room in two distinct rows, leaving a wide space in the center of the room. Wearing a faded, pale, grayish-green uniform, Mrs. Angelina, the trainer, stands very straight behind an old wooden desk.
A young woman, standing in the middle of the room, reads a manual out loud that she is holding:
"D’, for DOMESTIC: DETERMINED, DEVOTED and DISCIPLINED. You need to work wholeheartedly."
Mrs. Angelina comments with a firm and nasal tone. Her emaciated face and her glasses with thick black frames reinforce her severe look.
"You therefore need to work with determination. How? Determined with devotion. Otherwise, how could you work abroad?!"
She considers the other trainees, who are looking out of the corner of their eyes with ironic smiles.
"You want to work abroad because it’s trendy? You told me you wanted to earn money for your family. Is that all? Without devotion, without determination, how are you going to earn this money? You risk coming back to the Philippines with NOTHING. Now read the letter ‘O’"
She points her finger to another young woman who carries on:
"'O' like OBEDIENCE: Whatever the employer might demand, do it without complaining, without any sign of disgust."
Mrs. Angelina approves the stated rule:
"Yes, obedience without complaints! Your employer might ask you to do things you don’t like. You won’t die from it, so obey!"
She adds in a disdainful tone:
"The problem is that some of you aren’t used to this, right? When your employer orders you to do this or that, and especially when this concerns unpleasant chores, the DIRTY WORK! You intend to answer with a grimace, don’t you?"
Mrs. Angelina imitates an exaggerated grimace. The atmosphere in the classroom is heavy.
"You really think your employer will be satisfied? No. So obey! And here in the training center, if you refuse to obey, I am going to mark you with a 99% 'Non Recommendable Housemaid,’ so that your recruitment agency refuses to get you hired. Why? Because I know very well that there will be a 100% chance that you will come back from abroad empty-handed. Is that clear? I am looking for the domestic workers we send abroad to be of quality!"
She goes back behind her modest wooden desk, while calling out to the assistant.
"And if you think I’m a strict trainer, I challenge you! This is part of my motivation. I come from there myself!"
She gives herself two little taps on her chest with her right hand and says with an air that combines pride and passion:
"I worked abroad as a domestic worker for nearly 20 years! It’s not only my knowledge and my expertise that I am passing on to you, it’s my overseas experience. I am sharing with you how to save, how to spend your money wisely, how to reach your goal."
Mrs. Angelina’s face has become illuminated. The trainer slowly walks around the classroom while observing the women with her piercing eyes.
"What do you think? You think I am teaching you without studying your personal profile? I very well know who amongst you has finished their 4 years of higher education. I know who has graduated from prestigious universities. I know who has already been a domestic worker abroad. And I know who doesn’t say the truth. Understood?"
She points her finger at a trainee at the back of the classroom.
"You, Mrs. Emetal. You are the one that has gone abroad for the longest time. I would like to hear you on the reasons for your departure."
Emetal stands from her seat before speaking.
Emetal: "I am leaving to earn money for the future of my family." Mrs. Angelina: "Your family again? Please, think about yourself now!"
Emetal answers with an embarrassed voice:
"It’s mostly for my children, madam."
Mrs. Angelina attempts to reason with her student in a tone that combines toughness and empathy. The student’s case seems to matter to her.
"Emetal, listen to me, you are growing old. You have helped your family for more than 20 years by working abroad! Now that you are going again, you need to think about yourself, understood? You have given enough to your family. Please spare yourself and enjoy life. One day, you will just drift on water and enjoy!"
She mimes paddling movements from right to left. Then, she resumes her lecturing tone.
"So be motivated and efficient! It is you who want to obtain the National Certificate for Domestic Work, not me! I am paid here as a trainer. I don’t expect anything back from you. But I do want to hear that you are doing the best you can abroad. It will be for me my reward. Now stand up and read after me!"
The whole classroom exclaims in unison. Their voices resonating loudly in the tiled classroom.
"MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH MY EMPLOYER NEEDS TO HAPPEN WITH A SMILE." "WHEN I ADDRESS MYSELF TO THEM, I NEED TO LOOK AT THE IN THE EYES." "I NEED TO RESPECT EVERYONE, INCLUDING ANIMALS." "I NEED TO LOVE MY WORK WHOLE HEARTEDLY, WITH ALL OF MY MIND AND ALL MY STRENGTH!" "I SHOULD NOT PUT MY HANDS ON MY WAIST." "I SHOULD KEEP MY HANDS BEHIND MY BACK, AS A SIGN OF OBEDIENCE." (...)