Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The longing for abroad

Why do so many Egyptian young people want to leave the country or live in a bubble inside it, asks Tamer Ayman

The longing for abroad

“I don’t have a chance to make a good living here. It is very hard to find a job with a good salary to start a decent life. Everything has become very expensive, and salaries are very low compared to the cost of living,” said Ziad Dessouki, a student at the Faculty of Computer Science at Ain Shams University in Cairo. This was his answer to the question of why so many Egyptian young people want to leave Egypt.

Dessouki is not the only young Egyptian who thinks this way. Many other Egyptian young people were stranding in a long queue in front of the Goethe Institute in Dokki recently, all wanting to learn German in order to travel to the country. This long queue proves that Dessouki is not a special case.

Don’t the young people have other options besides travelling abroad? If they are going to leave, who will work for the progress of the country? Are their problems really so insoluble? What has led them to this decision?

Each of the young people has his or her own reasons for wanting to leave Egypt. They are different people with different situations and they may be from different social classes. Instead of judging them, we need to understand their point of view, as only then can we be sure we know exactly what their problems are.

“A lot of young people want to leave Egypt. The main group which tends to travel comes from the upper middle classes of society because they feel it is very hard for them to adapt to the difficult conditions of society today. There are also a lot of young people from the middle and lower classes who want to travel, but most are from the upper classes,” explained Madiha Al-Safti, a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo.

The young people who take the decision to leave the country don’t only affect themselves, and their decision may affect their families too. It may seem like a personal decision, but it affects more than one person. As the social classes of the young people who want to travel vary, the reaction of their parents varies as well.

“I am totally in favour of young people travelling. They say there are seven benefits to be had from travelling. I say there are 70. Let them open up to the world with all its diversity. They have the right to a decent life in which they can improve themselves and do something good for humanity,” said Neveen Youssef, a journalist whose daughter is travelling to study abroad next semester.

“I feel thrilled knowing that my daughter will have such a rich experience and a better chance to learn and develop herself on various levels, even if I have some concerns regarding her safety given the rising Islamophobia abroad,” Youssef added.

Social class and parental reactions are not the only variables, as there are also other reasons behind the decision to travel abroad. These differ from financial to social, but some are more dominant than others.

Dessouki, for example, has been studying German for ten months. He is willing to continue his academic studies in Germany. “For me, it is mainly about money. I can’t find any chance of a good job with a high salary here,” Dessouki said.

“The main reason behind the desire of young people to travel is the lack of opportunities here. These young people cannot find a good job with a high salary in Egypt, which is why they search for this abroad,” Al-Safti said.

The longing for abroad

“They want to travel because they can’t see prospects for a thriving future in their own country. They feel alienated in many ways, both culturally and psychologically. They also hope to find better economic conditions and living standards abroad,” Youssef explained.

On the other hand, Daniel Nabil, a graduate from the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, wants to complete his academic studies abroad for different reasons. “I just want to have a better education. Abroad I have a chance for a better education, and this will mean I will be able to have a better career and serve my country better,” he said.

“I want to return to my country and serve my society when I have finished my education. I belong here,” Nabil added.  He has been accepted in a Master’s programme abroad and is travelling soon. However, he still feels completely connected to Egypt and wants to return and work in the country.

“We need to communicate more effectively with the young people who leave Egypt. We have to encourage them to return and find projects here. We need to benefit from them and try to make them feel that this is their society,” Al-Safti said.

While Nabil feels that he belongs to this society even if he is leaving it, others may feel they are living in a bubble inside their own society and are living almost as foreigners in Egypt.

Rana Abdel-Wahab, a graduate of the Faculty of Mass Communications at Cairo University, has been studying French for three years in the French Cultural Centre in Cairo. For her, the Centre is much more than a place for learning French, however.

The longing for abroad

“At the Centre I feel at home. All my friends are colleagues here. All my activities are here, and I spend most of my time here. I can’t imagine my life without the centre,” she said. “I am living a French life in Egypt in a way. The people in the French community don’t judge me as Egyptians do,” Abdel-Wahab explained.

The French Cultural Centre and many other cultural centres in Egypt are not just places to learn a foreign language. They teach students other cultures, organising film nights and trips, for example. Students may feel they are really going to another country and not just a language class. As a result, they may not feel the need to physically travel.

 “I am going to live a French life whether I am in Egypt or in France,” Abdel-Wahab said. “I do not only learn how to speak French, but also how to live in a French way.”

However, for Nabil the opposite is the case. “I will live like an Egyptian wherever I am. Egypt will always be my country, and I will always try to do my best to help solve its problems,” he said.

Dessouki said he was not obliged to help solve Egypt’s problems. “I was not the reason for the problems. Why should I feel I have to help solve problems caused by others over many years,” he asked.

He has reached his point of view due to many factors including the lack of social justice in Egypt and the impossibility of finding a good living in Egypt. His longing for independence and a higher standard of living are two important factors.

For Abdel-Wahab, the main reason behind her choice to live inside a “French bubble” in Egypt has been her search for people similar to her and people who do not judge others and respect personal freedom. “In the centre I find people who are similar to me. I have found my value here, which is why I belong here,” she said.

“Young people who live inside a bubble inside their own society need to integrate more within society. We have to provide activities for them and other things which will take them out of their bubbles,” Al-Safti commented. “The solution to the aspiration of some young people to live in a bubble is to integrate their capabilities into society and to listen to them more,” Youssef said.

Abdel-Wahab, Nabil and Dessouki have different views concerning their country and travel. They have different reasons for their desire to travel and different targets as well. However, they have one thing in common: they are all longing to go abroad.

“Here I can’t feel independent with the money I earn. I can’t find social justice or personal independence. I think it will be very hard to continue my life here,” Dessouki concluded.

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