My Degree Is a Lie

By Leena Mohammed

I feel betrayed by my degree. My major is International Studies, which basically means being told over and over again how wonderful and, well, global, ‘globalization’ is. My experiences in Malaysia had me believe that to be relatively true. Yet, Utrecht showed me the other side of that coin.

To clarify what living in Malaysia was like, let me tell you about myself first. I am going through an inscrutable identity crisis; I know for a fact that I will be an immigrant for the rest of my life – or at best (fingers crossed) a naturalized citizen. I do not have a sense of belonging to any nation.

Malaysians have a complicated national identity. Ethnically they are mainly composed of Malay, Chinese, and Indian Malaysians. When a nation doesn’t hold one common ethnicity, you have a higher chance of blending in, yet there’s not an academic classroom out there that pays attention to this detail. No one tells you that if you’re African, you can pass as ethnically Malay or Indian – something that somehow has a significant positive influence on how comfortable you are living there.

I didn’t even realize how black I was till I became an unmistakable minority here. Was I a minority in Malaysia? Heck yeah; I just wasn’t aware of it very much.

Here’s something else about Malaysia that got me fooled: their use of English. All children in Malaysia have to learn Malay, even if they are not ethnically so. A lot of people can ignore Malay however. You can find employment without it easily. You can enroll your kids at a private Chinese/Indian/International school and kick the language to the curb. So the common denominator between all Malaysians, or those that live in Kuala Lumpur, is English. Businesses, degrees, and services are all in English. If I call a standard operator, I will always be asked to press 2 for English.

Want to guess if that’s the case in the Netherlands? It’s not. Funny,‘cause I remember writing more than one paper about how English is taking over. And that for the most part is true: in Saudi Arabia, all products at your local grocery shop will be described in English and Arabic. Here? Nope. I just thank the heavens I chose the Netherlands for exchange, instead of Portugal or France for example. Then, I would’ve straight up sued my university for misguiding me.

Now allow me to place the cherry on top of the cake. You know how they tell you you can now work wherever you want, you can go wherever you desire? Lies. I can’t even take a bus to London because of my Sudanese passport – my visa got rejected, to the surprise of no one. Not only that, no country will let me get rid of this passport. I thought by coming here maybe I could transfer to UCU, get a good job; build my life up from there. Turns out, I’m not even allowed to volunteer with my non-European status.

It’s worse still in Malaysia. Immigration laws are draconic. My degree did have the decency to alert me to this, but again, it failed at details. What I’ve noticed about these academic disciplines (international studies and relations) is that they love tragedies. I learn about the awful conditions of the detention camps in Malaysia, no part of me is confused about how horrible being an illegal immigrant there would be.

Here’s what I’m less sure of: how did my brother, a talented young man with a Malaysian Bachelor’s degree, end up being an illegal immigrant? No one wanted to bear the responsibility of hiring an immigrant, so he was left to the side. Why doesn’t my degree tell me that this wonderful ‘globalization’ means countries are more than willing to let you in for a short time to spend your money touring their land, or on a degree that was made significantly more expensive for you, but never let you in gain any prosperity of your own?

I graduate at the end of this year, and I’ve got all fingers crossed that I’ll have more faith in what I spent the past four years studying than I do now.


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