Technology and social media have played an important part in keeping people informed and connected across oceans and thousands of miles of land especially during the pandemic. 

The restrictions brought about by COVID 19 meant that most people were not able to see their loved ones even if they living in the same city or state especially during periods of lockdowns.  With the help of technology, people kept in contact through regular video calls.

Social media also provided the means to share information and updates for families, friends, professional and social groups   A posting in one of the Fil-Aus community group page drew my attention, where a Pinay, Grenessil Histon, shared her sad experience with part-time jobs when she was a newly arrived international student in Sydney.

I contacted Gren and asked if she would be happy to share with our readers her experiences with the aim of providing support to those who may be experiencing or experienced similar situations, to know they were not alone and that they will achieve their goals through perseverance and strong Faith.

Not only did Gren agree to do that, she also shared with me that she was a victim of domestic violence in the Philippines before breaking away and coming to Australia as an international student.  She subsequently finished her nursing studies which she undertook while working as an assistant nurse, then as a Registered Nurse in aged care.  She then became a recruitment consultant in which role she helped many kababayans get jobs and permanent resident visa.

Wait, there's more! Gren shared that she met her now husband, Tony Histon, through an online dating app.

We are thrilled to share our Q&A chat with Gren regarding her dark experience with domestic violence, her work experience from a horrible employer and meeting the love of her life online.

*What did you endure in a violent relationship with your ex-partner?

I remember going to work with bruises on my face, body, arms and making up excuses about it to my parents; telling them lame excuses such as “I just slipped on the floor,” “I bumped myself in the bathroom’s wall”. I also remember my supervisor at work said “Hey Gren do you want me to spare a room for you as a patient? When are you gonna tell me the truth of your situation?”.

Honestly, until now, I really do not know how I put up with that for more than a year – all I know was that I was in love. It is weird but true that as a person being abused – you do not know that you are in that situation because at that time I was in denial that it was happening to me. It is also true that when we love somebody we are blinded by our emotions and that makes us vulnerable and find it challenging to get out from that situation.

I was hopeful he would change but he did not. It just became worse to the extent he even disrespected my mum who has always been good to him and to me - that was the deal-breaker. He was part of the plan – of him following me to Sydney but God helped me to realise that no matter what I do – our relationship won’t work and he will never change. So, I blocked him not only on Facebook but also in my life, totally. Moving forward, I have a life and future here in Sydney to focus on. I never looked back but the trauma that was caused – it is there.

* What was the process you took to come to Australia?

I used an educational consultant based in Makati. Since I had complete documentation, it was a no-brainer application process - I submitted all of the required documents, paid the tuition fees, lodged my student visa through them also.  In 2 weeks,  my student visa was granted. Normally, Bachelors in Nursing in Australia would take three years but since I am already an RN in the Philippines I just have to attend the university for two years to finish my second Nursing Degree at the Australian Catholic University in North Sydney.  

My parents paid for all my school fees for two years and that cost them two million pesos (school fees only) not including the airfare, visa fees, books and things required for school, health care insurance, pocket money, daily expenses, transportation and rent. So roughly for a nursing student in Australia would roughly cost in total of five million pesos – it all adds up.

*What were the challenges you faced and overcome as an international student visa holder; how did you handle or address those difficulties/challenges?

As a holder of a student visa, I was allowed to work 20 hours a week. I had a sad experience of not getting paid at all for work I did. The woman business owner promised me a $10/hr salary as a waitress at a cafe in an inner west suburb but every time I ended my shift and asked for my money, she’d asked me to come back again and do the job again because she liked my work. Then the third day she told me to go to her balloon shop located in another suburb - I told her I don’t know how to set up a balloon? And she said, “just come and see my shop”! So I took the train and she rode her car - naturally, she arrived earlier than me and she made a comment ‘what took you so long?’

I didn’t reply back… she then asked me “do you know how to style balloons for parties?”. I said “No! But I can learn if you will train me!” And she said, “You student visas coming here in Australia doesn’t know a thing - no skills - you guys should better go home - you are all useless”.   Whilst she was talking “she pulled out a glue gun and plug it in and she put it on top of the icecream freezer - the glue gun started to leak on the glass of the freezer and surprisingly she put the blame on me - that it was my fault - she said, “Why did you put the glue gun on the table”?  I said, “It was you who put it on the table”. And she got angrier despite I was quiet the whole time except when I pointed that out to her. People started coming in and basically, I was embarrassed and just left the shop crying.

With a heavy heart, I texted her that just to remind her that I was an academic achiever back in the Philippines and I came here in Sydney to study my second nursing degree.  My parents pay all my school fees and all I wanted is to help them out and of course myself by working and earning some money for my personal expenses (rent, transportation, groceries).  I was happy to take the $10/hr salary but she didn’t pay me at all but instead humiliated and embarrassed me! I told her that “what’s worse is you are Filipina too! One day Karma will get you”. After that, she kept calling me and so I blocked her number. To be honest I was happy with $10/hr better than nothing but to be treated that way: ‘NO WAY - had enough of toxic people’ .

Three months later, I found a permanent job relevant to my degree, Years later - I finished my second nursing degree, married an Aussie, gave birth to an Aussie, and became an Aussie - Oh well, it’s all in the past but one thing for sure I will never ever slave or humiliate anyone just because they are on a temporary visa!

*What are the good aspects of you having come to Australia?

Australia has taught me to become an independent woman, made me a stronger person and resilient.

Above all, Australia has given me new hope, new life, new family, and love for my husband and our son. They are the most beautiful things that have happened in my life and the greatest of life’s blessings.

*How did meeting your husband online happen and led to a permanent relationship?

In 2014, I met my husband, Tony via Tinder, who would have thought, right? My friend thought I was boring because all I do is study, work, sleep, that he thought I should go out and meet a new man. I told him “I didn’t come here to find a man or love, I came here to pursue my career as an RN and besides I am saving money for my personal expenses and rent that is why I do not go out so I do not have to spend money”. He was stubborn and still downloaded Tinder on my phone and honestly, the app was just sitting there on my phone for 3 months before I have decided to play with it.

So, one night I was really bored and just lying on my bed, explored Tinder, and was overwhelmed how men invite me for casual catch-up, coffee dates, and for a drive. I was literally disappointed but believe me, I was about to delete the app when I received a very long message from my husband – who was the only man who sent me a decent introduction of himself. So, I thought it would be rude of me not to respond to him. So, I did. He then asked for my mobile number and Facebook account – I gave it all to him. From then on, we talked over the phone literally 24/7 without hanging up the phone.

He has been asking me out but I was so reluctant – that took him 2 months to convince me to go out with him. We did not use video chat before but we were so open in talking about anything under the sun and about our lives over the phone. So, even on the day he picked me up, I have him wait outside of my granny flat for 45 minutes because I was unsure if it is all real, that it is all happening – we are finally meeting in person. There were a lot of “what ifs” - what if he is not the person I am chatting to, what if he is a murderer, what if he is a rapist, what if he is a scammer. But when I finally came out and met him, his charming smile and handsome face took all that worries away. He kissed me on my forehead, hugged me, and open his car door for me. He took me to the city for dinner and after that date, he gave me his keys to his place and said: “you can stay with me from now on if you want”. Since then, we were inseparable.

He proposed to me a year later and we got married twice – (first in Sydney and then in Manila) after two years of living together. We have a son and now we have upgraded our townhouse to a bigger house here in Mosman, Sydney.

*What advice would you give those who experienced domestic violence and maybe have difficulties in settling in their new country?

 To all people who have experienced domestic violence like me or still experiencing it, please know your worth. Once the perpetrator knows you will forgive the abuse, it will be a repetitive cycle. You also have to question a lot of times. “Is this the person you want to spend the rest of your life with?”, “Is this going to be the mum/dad of my child?”. “Is this the kind of life I want to live?”. “Is this what I deserve?”. Know the red flags and when to stop it and leave. I know how hard it is but those questions will help you face the reality that the abuse is happening and you have to leave.

And to all who are newly migrants, homesickness is “normal” and sometimes it could be challenging to cope with but always ask yourself “why did I come here in the first place?”, “what’s my bigger purpose?”. We all know that when we all came here there is no guaranteed success; we do not know what the future holds for us, what God has in store for us but that is when we become more motivated and our faith in God will become stronger. In fact, I remember when I was praying to God regarding my student visa, I said, “Lord please if I am not gonna be happy and successful in Australia, please deny my visa”.  But my visa was granted so despite uncertainty, my faith in God has become stronger more than ever.

* What advice would you give those who want to meet somebody for serious relationship through online date, but maybe hesitating as they are daunted with the potential risks?

 Be extra cautious; try to get to know the person more as much as you can.  Meet or date in a more public space (where there are lots of people).

* Lastly, how do you define success?

To me success is achieved when you are happy and contented with what you have. It doesn’t matter how rich, far, famous have you become but if you are not genuinely happy and have no contentment – it would be hard to say you are successful. Also, the formula to success is a positive thought, positive attitude, perseverance, and strong faith in  God.

ABOUT GRENESSIL HISTON

Grenessil Lucente Histon, 33 years old is an only child and is fondly called by her family and friends Gren or Grenz. She was born in Quezon City in the Philippines but grew up in Caloocan City. She finished nursing at Capitol Medical Center Colleges and worked as a Registered Nurse in the Philippines.  She came to Australia February of 2014 to study for her second Nursing Degree at the Australian Catholic University.  

Gren's 41-year-old husband Tony Histon is a Managing Director for a multinational firm.  He was a champion in Fencing when he was studying at St Aloysius.  He graduated with Honours in Electrical Engineering Degree in UNSW and had finished several short courses such as management.

Gren and Tony have been blessed with a son, Harry, who is now five years old.  Gren shares that her parents have visited them here in Sydney and attended her graduation and wedding. The family's last visit to the Philippines was in February 2020 before the COVID lockdown.

The Australian Filipina thanks Gren for sharing her inspiring story and wishes the family continued blessings.

- - - - 
Gren's interview with Radio Tagumpay airs on Monday, November 8 at 3:09pm.  Radio Tagumpay airs on Triple H 100.1FM on Mondays, 2-4pm.  Stream at real time via:   https://www.triplehfm.com.au/

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