How many success stories do you know? Do you know someone who was able to make his or her dream come true after working abroad as an Overseas Filipino Worker?
For a lot of people, that is possible. There are a lot of OFWs who were able to build their dream house, buy a lot of investments, send their children to the best schools, and embark on different travel destinations after working abroad for several years.
A Filipino who used to work in England is one of them. Nova Fossgard is a living testament that working hard to get a better life happens if you are motivated and with perseverance.
Started With Humble Beginnings
Fossgard, already 46 years old, had humble beginnings. Born in Tukuran, Zamboanga Del Sur to a fisherman father and stay-at-home mother, she started peddling fish at a tender age of five. Until now, she can still recall how she would sell fish in the market.
You are in the market and you have to shout – fish, fish, bente, bente… Isda, isda, bariles, bariles. Bente, bente.
She can also still remember how she played mischief at her aunt to pocket a portion of the fish they sold.
Nangawat ko isda sa auntie ko (I stole fish from my aunt). That’s a secret, but I will tell you. Because I was starving. I had this little girl, I gave it to her and passed it on to the market. This little girl gave me the money and I gave her commission.
She credits her early exposure to business and her knack for selling as the key to success of her family-owned business, a language college she runs with her husband Jan.
Currently, she is the director and her husband is the principal of the Purley Language College, just 25 minutes away from the city of London.
I’m sure that coming from a family that had a small business themselves it must have helped her a lot. She had to work at a very young age. She must have felt what it’s like not to have a lot. That [is] probably what has driven her to better things through the years.
Started as a Domestic Helper in Singapore
Desperate to help her parents send her younger siblings to school, Nova worked as a domestic helper after graduating from the Southern Mindanao College.
I went through as a domestic helper first, cleaning. Even during day off, I worked part-time.
While working as a domestic helper in Singapore, her former boss made an offer she cannot refuse: to be the companion of his octogenarian mother in England.
They had a housekeeper, a gardener. I just sat down with her, just to be a companion. I learned so much from her. She educated me a lot: taught me [how] to cook, read a lot of newspapers and books.
It was in Oxford where she met her husband.
Never Giving Up
In 2006, the opportunity came at an unexpected time when she and her husband lost jobs. Jan used to work as a journalist and finished his undergraduate and Master’s degree at the University of Oxford.
He applied for the job at the college and was asked to take over the business. The former owner wanted to retire already.
It was just by coincidence really. My husband applied to teach English here. Then my husband was approached if he wanted to buy out the school.
The start did not go as easy as it seems. Fossgard had to juggle between her job and running the business with her husband. They had to work 24/7 until they became full-time at the college. Nova had to take care of the administrative tasks, accounts, and students registration.
From one student, the college now has more than 3,000 students enrolled every year from all parts of the globe.