Audacity to aspire

By Marion Robinson

I sat around the table of university students and realized that, of the things we had in common, the most salient was that we were all from developing countries of the world. In that moment I thought about the thousands of miles we were from home, family and familiarity.

I quietly contemplated what our futures would hold after earning our European degrees and returning to countries that did not have the resources to offer us salaries that reflected the cost of the education we paid to attain. Will it be worth it?

Many people, when they think about Jamaica, call to mind sunny weather all year round, pristine waters of the Caribbean Sea, white-sand beaches, reggae music and flourishing marijuana fields. But Jamaica is more than fun in the sun. It’s a place of limited resources, where hard work is crucial for survival and an educated child is its family’s inheritance. Like in many other developing nations, it’s where the evidence that there are distinctions in the reasons for pursuing higher education can be seen.

Pursuing higher education is undertaken either as proof of personal knowledge and ambition, as conformity to a social norm, or after having had no other choice but to become educated. The choice of whether to pursue higher education is decidedly removed in most households in developing countries where it becomes apparent from an early age that gaining an education is the crucial vehicle to getting indoor plumbing for your family, or allowing your elderly parents to finally retire because you can support them financially.

While higher education might be regarded as just another rite of passage for some students, for others it is the legal way out of poverty into self-sufficiency. Of the thousands of students who come to the Netherlands and neighbouring European countries annually to enrol in a degree programme, among them are those students to whom completing their degree programme means being able to pay back the people in their villages whose financial contributions assisted them in getting here.

I conclude that whether it will be worth it is not based solely on the opportunity to earn a living after the degree programme is completed. It will be worth it because these are the students who had the audacity to aspire for and seek after more than their life’s circumstances would have otherwise allowed.

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