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  • A Filipino Family Makes Hong Kong Their Home After Five Years of Living Apart

    The mom of two quit her job as a human resources practitioner in Manila for family life in Hong Kong.
    by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
A Filipino Family Makes Hong Kong Their Home After Five Years of Living Apart
PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
  • Hong Kong may be only a short plane ride away from Manila, but it's an entirely different world and culture from home, or so couple Rommel and Sheila Martin discovered when they first brought their family there as migrants. 

    Though hesitant to leave the country, a rare job opportunity in Hong Kong came up for Rommel who couldn't say no to the company's offer of work visa and dependent visa sponsorship for him and his immediate family. He had been working in Singapore as an I.T. professional for five years, away from his wife Sheila and their two daughters Reese and Riona who were in the Philippines.

    Rommel moved to Hong Kong in 2012, and Sheila and their two girls — the youngest barely two years old then — left Manila to join him in 2013. For the first time, the Martins were going to live together as a family. 

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    Setting up in Hong Kong

    "I took a leave for almost a month to go to Hong Kong," says Sheila, who later resigned from her job as a human resources practitioner at a telecoms company in Manila. "Rommel and I looked for a school for Reese, and we found one after a few weeks.

    The prospect of a new life overseas was both terrifying and exciting for Rommel and Sheila, shown here with the Victoria Harbour on the background.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
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    "Months before we moved, Rommel arranged a flat for our family already. He made sure that it was accessible and near groceries, clinics, a hospital," says Sheila, knowing they would have to do everything without the comfort and help of a yaya or their extended family.

    Challenges of living in Hong Kong

    Because her youngest daughter Riona was still young at the time they moved to Hong Kong, Sheila opted not to look for work in the beginning. However, when she began sending her resume to companies for possible employment, she was faced with a sad truth: she doesn't speak the local dialect, so employment opportunities were slim.

    "In a situation where two applicants for the same role have equal levels of required work skills, most of the time, they will hire the one who is proficient in the native language of that country," she says.

    The family braved many challenges including homesickness when they decided to live abroad.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
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    Part of their big adjustment was learning their way around the city, and it doesn't help that many locals do not understand or speak English. "We don’t own a car here, so we have to commute either by bus or MTR (Mass Transit Railway) train. Most of the time, we really have to 'Google' how to get to certain places or ask friends where to buy certain stuff," she says.

    The family goofing around with a "Daddy-drawn" rickshaw.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
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    Sheila and her daughters also had to deal with homesickness since they were used to having around her father, with whom they stayed back in Manila. "It's difficult, especially if you are working abroad for the first time."

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    Quality education and parks are among the perks of life in Hong Kong 

    As a parent, Sheila finds Hong Kong an ideal place to raise their kids. "There are playgrounds and parks strategically placed in most parts of Hong Kong, and there's plenty of trees around." It doesn't hurt that Disneyland is just a few train rides away!

    One of the Martins' first stops upon settling in Hong Kong was Disneyland, of course!
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
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    Like a dream. The kids' Disneyland experience includes meeting Snow White and the rest of the Disney princesses.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin

    Hong Kong is generally a safe place to live in, says Sheila, and the public school system offers good quality education. Reese, now 12 years old, is a Primary 6 student while 6-year-old Riona is in Primary 1. The kids go to after-school lessons once a week and pursue taekwondo and ballet.

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    Reese receives a medal for taekwondo. Riona, on the other hand, is into ballet.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin

    The Martin family is also eligible for medical benefits, thanks to their Hong Kong ID. They only pay a minimum fee for doctor consultations, medical tests, and medication when they go to government clinics and hospitals. 

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    Raising a family in Hong Kong

    Sheila thinks they survived the challenging first year and coped with work and family life because they are part of a supportive community of like-minded families. As members of the Couples for Christ - Foundation for Family and Life ministry, they attend church and do community service as a family.

    Sheila considers being able to grow in faith with her husband and their daughters as one of the best things about their new family setup.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
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    "I think the best thing about living in Hong Kong is being with my family and having a strong church community support. I get to grow in faith together with my husband and my daughters," she says.

    Sheila says they miss the long holiday breaks and spending Christmas in Manila and even the summer fiesta season back home. Most of all, they miss family. 

    After six years of living in Hong Kong, their family life is as strong as ever, thanks to a supportive community.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Sheila Martin
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    "It wasn't easy, but by God's grace, we survived the adjustment period. Even when I was struggling at times on our first year in Hong Kong, it's the opportunity to take care of my husband and kids in a more 'hands-on' manner that gave me the feeling of pure happiness," says Sheila.

    And that makes it all worth it. 

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