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?

It’s the little things in life…

Moving to a new country has brought about very interesting challenges, some of which I didn’t expect. I expected that making friends would take long, that the food wouldn’t taste the same, that I would miss my family and friends and even my bed. What I did not expect was the challenge distance puts to take care of little things, like losing an email address connected to a landline or the dumb file to access the website for my income tax declaration. In the midst of taking care of these things that just seem tremendously important at the moment, I, of course, took a break to check facebook and blow off steam. As I opened my account, I was taken back with a message. It was from a former student wishing me a happy teacher’s day. That short message that must have taken her less than a minute put everything into perspective. Perhaps losing an email and itunes account is not a big deal after all. New accounts can be made, but the gesture of one teenager half way across the world cannot be replaced. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude for these little things in life!