School and Asylum

It is estimated that over 18,000 asylum applications were filed last year in the Netherlands. The top three countries of origin of these asylum seekers are Somalia, Syria and Iraq. The EU states that those seeking asylum must submit their application on the first EU affiliated country they step on, which puts Greece, Spain and Italy as the “top” arrival destinations, and, therefore, the more saturated ones. Because of this saturation, many immigrants are trying to reach other EU countries, and the Netherlands is seeing more and more asylum seekers.

I do not know a lot about asylum seekers and the bureaucratic procedure they must abide to, but from what I have observed, once they have been accepted, they must go a similar process as other immigrants in the Netherlands: integration. Integration to the Netherlands, or to many other countries, requires work. First, the language must be learned, and Dutch is no easy language to learn. Another important step in integration is to find work and/or continue studying. Even with university degrees from other countries, some work must be done in order to be up to the standards and regulations that the Netherlands asks of all its residents. Validation courses must be taken all of which are in Dutch.

For those wishing or needing to study a university degree, a regular application to the university must be submitted. The requirements vary, but overall, the documents requested are transcript, language proficiency (most universities offer degrees in English), CV, letter of intent, residency documents, and a photo. However, depending on the university, other requirements might be necessary. One of those “other” requirements are typically letters of recommendation.

I am not here to criticize universities for their admissions policy. Each university asks for what the institution deems fair and necessary to evaluate candidates. However, I think that when dealing with people who are here because there is war in their country, certain measures must be taken. A friend of mine wished to apply for a masters at a university in the Netherlands. She has all the requirements of the university except one: two letters of recommendation. She cannot get these letters because her university is closed due to war in her country, and she has no way to contact old professors. She really wants to continue her studies. She is learning Dutch and adapting well to her new life. Her husband and two children are also adapting well with work and school. What can she do?

I do not think universities should lower their standards for anyone because then that makes the system unfair. Everyone must have the same chances of entering school regardless of where they come from and what their story is. However, I do think that universities in the EU must anticipate these situations. Perhaps there could be other documents to give: an essay, a research project, a personal interview, a scholarly article about a specific topic, etc. Every resident who has the desire to improve his/her life should be able to do it. Integration isn’t a simple ordeal. It requires hard work, learning new things, remembering others, and adapting to a society that may or may not be similar. If we really want immigrants to integrate to society and learn a “western way of life,” why not help them get the tools they need?

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Changing Roles

Dear parents,

I write to you this letter because you are starting a new chapter in your life. We had talked about what would happen when you passed away, but never about your retirement. I find it silly now that we hadn’t discussed it. Perhaps it is because your role as a provider is very much ingrained in my mind as well as yours.

First of all, I want to tell you that just because I want to talk about this, doesn’t mean I am taking away your autonomy. I don’t want to become your parent and tell you what you have to do. I merely want to help you organize your finances so that you can do as you please. Perhaps there will come a time when you will need me more, and I want you to know that I will always keep your best interest at heart.

Lets talk about what you would like to do in this chapter of your life. Do you want to travel? Perhaps you would like to buy a new home where you will be able to move around on your own regardless of your age. What will happen when you are ill?

I know it is hard to “let go” of your role as my caregiver, and to focus on taking care of yourself, but I guarantee you that I will be okay. You have taught me everything I need to know about hard work, making budgets, not overspending and preparing for a rainy day. I will still call you for advice when I want to buy a new home or a new car. You will always be my number one advisor, but you are no longer responsible for my well being. This is a time for you!

I know that right now, I don’t understand what you are feeling as you lose more and more control of my decisions. You must be certain that you taught me well, and that I will recover from whatever pickle I am in. I also want to show MY children how I would like to be treated when I am your age: with respect and with love.

So go on and enjoy your life! Now that you have no more tuition to pay or food or clothes to buy me, do as you please with what you have worked for! Take care of your needs first, and let me figure out what to do about mine. I will not starve and I will not be homeless because you have taught me to take care of myself! I promise you I will be alright!

With love and admiration,

Your children who are children no longer


This letter was inspired by the following article: Don’t Wait to Have This Conversation with your Parents