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?

I remember… (Part 1)

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There is one question that I always find too complicated to answer. When I hear it, I have to take a deep breath, I have to hold on to something. The answer is never easy nor short.

Where do you come from?

This may seem like a simple question. One we ask every new person we meet. We want to know where they come from because we think that will give us an idea of who this person is.

Where do I come from? The question takes me back to every place I have lived in.

I remember riding my red tricycle around our apartment in Mexico City while my sister ran or danced or jumped. I remember sitting in my uncle’s apartment and staring at the coffee table full of newspapers while my family talked about the latest news or a new book. I remember going to school in my uniform and winning a swimming medal. I remember missing school when my little sister was born and my dad sneaking me in the hospital to see my mom.

Where do I come from?

I remember moving to a nice house that appeared so big compared to my little body. I remember going to school and missing out on Physical Education to take remedial English classes. I remember making new friends and taking care of and losing the class pets over Christmas. I remember going to football games with my friends and planning for college.

Where do I come from?

I remember moving to the dorms afraid of starting over. I remember meeting new friends and not knowing who would remain a friend after college. I remember taking exams, writing essays, failing my first class, and selling back my books to go shopping. I remember the boys making hamburgers on sunny days and laying in the quad instead of going to class. I remember walking across the stage and receiving my diploma.

Where do I come from?

I remember moving back to my childhood home and feeling out of place. I remember driving back to see my friends. I remember spending mornings at Starbucks writing while my sister was in school. I remember driving late at night for some food or just to drive around.

Where do I come from?

I remember the long drive to our new/old home. I remember Christmas dinner with my family. We were confused, happy, agitated. I remember buying furniture, taking classes, trying to make friends. I remember finding a job, buying an apartment, traveling to the beach.

Where do I come from?

I remember flying to this new place with my cat hoping we would both survive the flight. I remember unpacking and waking up to a new place. I remember trying new food, missing old food, hearing new sounds, learning a new language, learning to cook dinner.

Where do I come from?

I am from here and there. I was born in one place, grew up in another, studied somewhere else, started being an adult in a fourth place, and creating a family in a fifth one. My heart is split up to fit all the people, the sights, the smells, the tastes and the sounds. I don’t come from one place, but at the same time I come from them all.

Where do I come from?

I lost one nationality, but I have gained many more.