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Something about London was throwing me off-kilter. I don’t know how or when it began. All I know is that after graduating from my final year of college, I could no longer fight my urge to flee the city. All twenty-one years of life in London suddenly caught up to me, and something in my blood was singing for me to fly away. To get out and go somewhere new. Take a trip. Start a job. Anywhere but London.

University ended. I went to America with my best friend, Kate. Travelled around the West Coast for a number of weeks. A graduation gift. Came back to London, dazed and inspired, full of life. The very next day, I was offered a job out of the blue. So soon after graduating? I took one look at my dwindling bank balance, threw all my grand plans out of the window, and ecstatically accepted the offer.

The office was at the top of a shiny new skyscraper in the city. Steady paycheck. Relaxed office culture. Great people. But deadlines and targets and emails filled my inbox every second of every minute of every hour. Bland. Unmeaningful (to me, personally). Repetitive. For hours on end I’d sit with my back hunched over two computer monitors, tapping frantically at a keyboard, my trapezius muscles hard as rocks. My shoulders ached constantly all day. My posture was a distorted mess. My stress levels spiked up mid-morning and never came back down. I was so drained from the office I’d have no energy to exercise.

Leave, sleep, wake up, repeat. It was draining my soul.

Every morning at the office, I had the exact same thought: “Surely this can’t be it?” Surely my years of childhood imagination and teenage experimentation and adolescent academia were not all leading me up to here, to this corner desk in a cubicle sending thousands of emails, where I’d hold back tears every so often? Surely human beings were worth more than being shoved into a corner, given a little machine, and told to press buttons all day so that they could afford to eat?

I’d sit on the tube every morning watching all the grey-faced commuters thumbing lifelessly through their phones, the rings around their eyes implying too much caffeine and not enough sleep. I’d be back on the tube every evening, packed into a carriage like a sardine in a tin, watching those same commuters just accept it. Accept that that’s how things were. Plugged irrevocably into consumerism and metropolitan life. I caught a reflection of myself in the window on the way home once. It scared me shitless.

I was there for a month before I realised how sad – physically, emotionally sad – I’d become. Every day felt like an eternity. I couldn’t have asked for a job that I was more competent at – but that was exactly it: No challenge. No change. No creativity. I felt like I was at school again. I dreaded going into the office. I dreaded the monotonous, stressful, target-driven work. Sunday would roll around and the thought of another Monday morning tapping away at a keyboard at my little shared desk would make me burst into miserable tears. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t the job that was throwing me off. It was the city I was in. I loved London, and always will, but it was time for me to take a break.

And just like that, the universe gave me an out. A job offer from Manila, out of the blue, after an interview I’d done earlier in the year. Some friends told me that moving from a first-world to a third-world country was a step back. But I accepted without hesitation and handed in my resignation the very next day with a mixture of light remorse and overwhelming relief. My soul felt lighter already, my shoulders less tense. Every cell in my body was telling me I’d made the right decision. Fast forward a few months. I spent some weeks in Uganda, returned to London, then flew straight to the Philippines. No ifs, no buts. I ripped the band-aid off and got my ass to South East Asia.

So… Here I am. Feels like home. Things didn’t progress as smoothly, as quickly, as efficiently as I’d hoped – when does life ever go the way we want it? But yet somehow, magically, everything is working out. I’m here and I’m happy. Living and breathing in Manila. Soaking the Philippines up in every pore. Feeling the roots of my family spread through my veins and take hold in my core. I’m awaiting what the future holds with patience, optimism, and faith, here in the Pearl of the Orient. And it feels right.

Mel Legarda

Melissa Legarda is the founder of illumelation. She has worked as a travel blogger, creator and writer since 2015, and has collaborated with well-known brands worldwide. She has helped over 1,100+ students improve their travel photography skills since launching her creative courses. Her mission is to encourage and empower others to travel and create more. Find her on Instagram.

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