How well do we treat people?

I recently read a quote that said “The measure of a society’s freedom is not how it treats its good, obedient citizens; its how it treats it dissidents” (Glenn Greenwald). I’ve been reading about different topics that oddly enough relate to this (democracy, progress, the murder of a controversial film producer, immigration problems, missing students in Mexico), and I couldn’t agree more with the quote. Treating good citizens well is nothing strange. I remember a teacher friend once told me that teaching the high level English groups was nothing extraordinary. They tend to get the job done. The interesting groups are the low level groups or the students that just don’t want to do the work. Getting them to work, to learn, to become better people is what is key.

I am not trying to say that we mustĀ change these dissidents to good obedient citizens. Some people refuse to changeĀ for many reasons which are irrelevant to this post. What we need to observe in our country, our cities, our work and even with our family is how do we treat those people who are outside of what we consider correct. First and foremost, we should treat everyone with respect. I have caught myself many of times treating people who have hurt me or who I disagree with with disdain. They are not in my circle so I don’t care about them. Is that fair?

I am a terribly optimistic person that believes that every person’s actions can make the difference. I know I have no real, immediate influence in what happens in politics. I cannot end discrimination, I cannot demand prisoners or protesters to be treated fairly and have any real immediate effect. What I can do is treat those around me well, and hope they do too. Slowly but surely, this basic humane action will spread. It seems like a better plan than to just sit around and complain of abuses.

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?

A place I love

There is one place I love to go to. I have been especially nostalgic about it, perhaps because distance makes us want something more. This place has been part of my life since I was a young girl. My family and I would go every vacation we could. We are beach people and the beach is where we love to go!

Right now, I would love to go to the beach. I would love to sit under an umbrella and hear the lullaby of the waves. I want to feel the sand stick to my skin and the sun warming my skin. I want to taste a cold drink as my body cools down. I want to see the blue water, the white sand and the brightness of the sun. I want to hear children building castles and others splashing with the waves. I want to close my eyes and feel the waves inside me.

Once the heat warms me up too much, I want to cool down in the ocean. I want to feel the sudden coldness on my stomach as I go in the sea. I want to feel the relieved from the heat as I take a dive to wet my hair. I want to float on the water as the waves rock me into a calm stupor. I want to escape all responsibilities and worries.

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