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To return or not to return September 4, 2009

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research, Revelations.
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One of the most discussed issues among my small circle of colleagues is travelling abroad to get a PhD. The issue has many aspects; beginning with how to get funding, and ending with how not to return home! I don’t know the opinion of the majority of teaching assistants who do want to travel abroad, but I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same with a few exceptions: We will make every effort not to return. This resolution is not carried out by most of the researchers who do travel because of many reasons; family ties, not impressing the academic people in the hosting country, and not adapting to the western life style.

But that doesn’t mean that most of us don’t want to return! What concerns me here is the reasons why these people don’t want to return home, and what should be available to make the return home more enticing. Most of the researchers who want to go to western countries are impressed with how things are done there; there’s no red-tape, the lifestyle is comfortable, and everyone is entitled for a good and respectable life. They either want financial security or research quality or both, and we all agree that the financial and research quality in our country isn’t impressive; it’s even negative sometimes and in some places! The needs most of us want regarding our job are a supportive environment for teaching and research, and academics who know what they’re supposed to do and have a clear vision and a clear strategy to execute that vision. That’s a rare occurrence around here, and we have the impression that these needs ar the norm in western academic institutions. What makes people not willing to return then is the vast chances available for them to improve their finances with no restrictions, and the positive and productive academic atmosphere. But the most important reason in my opinion is their belief system which revolves around two ideas: Things will never get better here, and we don’t want to make the effort to make things better because it will be wasted! Mostly, they want a society that’s already civilized, organized, appreciative, rewarding, and profitable. I admit that it’s very very hard for us to change our society into all those things in our lifetime; my society is one that’s so full of corruption, dirt, and clutter that it needs more than a lifetime task to fix it. BUT here’s the thing, in all our struggles with daily frustrations in our job (not just us TAs, but parents and families too), we reflected that negative image to the young people who see us every day, and they gradually became more and more ignorant, negligent, self-absorbed, and careless as a result. I said before that every academic year I find less and less students who have that inner light of love for knowledge and science and achievement, and I believe that all these young people need is role models who BELIEVE they can DO. A couple of days ago I read an article about a professor I respect very much and interacted with personally in my pre-Master studies; Professor Hisham El-Mahdy. I’m not saying that all of us should do that and think like that; some people just can’t take the lead and act, but I’m saying that people with vision and who can inspire should think beyond financial gains or ideas of “ready-made” societies. I’m telling this to myself as everyone else, because I too have the dream of living in that ready-made society and not having to participate in cleaning my society’s clutter. But when we all leave, where does that leave home? And where does that put us in that ready-made society? Do we become members? We can, but how would it feel to look upon Egypt and find it filled only with dirt and clutter and historic monuments?

I was never a patriotic, and my friends know that very well, I wasn’t raised in Egypt and never felt it was my home, but I never felt Libya was my home too though I very much wanted to. It just can’t be! I need a place to belong to, and we all need that, so I need this place to be great, but most of all, I need to be a part of its greatness! I need to make a small fix that’s named after me! I need to write a sentense in my country’s history, and I need to inspire others to write their own sentenses, so that the home we all contribute to would be a great one.