For 9 years, I had a dream.
I wanted to travel to Europe and continue my academic studies. Some people think it is a straightforward dream but it wasn’t for me. At first, I wasn’t allowed to travel as a single female, a young naive one that might get lost, corrupted, badly influenced or seduced by the western societies. Silly as it sounds, I couldn’t change a whole society’s mentality. I couldn’t convince my mum who was the first female in her family to attend college after fighting traditions that says girls shouldn’t be further educated and instead should be “married”. I couldn’t convince my dad who supported my decision in studying Engineering, a not-female-friendly domain that according to society will stand in my way of .. again, getting married. They were both under the society spell and it was a nonnegotiable matter for them. But I never stopped dreaming. I never stopped searching for a way to accomplish this. If anything, this made me want to do it even more.
As the years passed by, I faced more obstacles. I couldn’t afford the tuition fees. I got drowned with paperwork trying to apply for scholarships. I thought if I managed to get one then maybe I could renegotiate with my parents again, but that was harder than what I expected. It was a very complicated procedure with slim chances of getting accepted. Meanwhile, I kept working, developing a career, self-learning through online portals and looking for a chance. The chance.
Life took a different path. War started in Syria. I got married and traveled to Europe with a job offer, my survival ticket away from the chaos in my country. I was so close now to my dream but I still couldn’t manage to switch from work to study that simply. Visa, living expenses, and study fees that double for non-EU students. All that got in the way of my dream.
Every September, I walked through the university campus besides my work and watched the fresh students pass by. I took a deep breath scented with Autumn and new stationery as I whispered to myself “Next year”. And every year for the past nine years I revisited my dream situation, the new obstacles, and the possible solutions but I couldn’t work it out.
This year, I solved the visa situation, I could afford the fees finally, I found a part time option that allows me to keep my job, but I had a new challenge. I am nine months pregnant! I took a step back, looked over my dream board over the years. All the life changing events that I went through and affected me. I changed a lot. I let go of many things and I gained many other but this dream never left me. I still wanted to do this as much as I wanted nine years ago, if not more. Having a baby is not easy but is not the end of the world. Why does it have to be a challenge? Could it maybe be a motivation? I struggled with the decision but I finally made up my mind. I am not waiting for one more year. I am going to do it. We will do it together.
I got the ‘are you crazy?!’ reaction a lot from friends, family, and even my doctor, but I also got a lot of support from others. Most importantly I got the support from my dear husband and partner who I keep taking all those leaps of faith because I know he will be there to catch me if things went wrong. I consulted the program director and my work supervisor. We discussed how we can intersect both lines together. I made a plan to handle the first three months acknowledging the fact that babies don’t go according to plans. They arrive without a previous notification and their behavior is impossible to predict. But I was determined to work it out each step at a time. I registered and counted the days till my first day of my 9 years old dream.
Today I am a proud postgraduate student at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I am back to lectures and assignments. I am walking around the campus breathless carrying my belly and laptop but smiling to 20 years old students staring at my bump. My back hurts from sitting or walking. I get sudden contractions in the middle of the lectures. I try to concentrate while my baby gives me some kicks. “Shhh Mummy is studying, we will play later”. I think of my baby inside encouraging me, I picture him two years later on my graduation day and I hope he reads this one day and feels proud.
Most importantly, I hope my baby gets easier access to education than me. What is considered in Europe as a granted choice for a citizen was a privilege in my world. I remember a chat I had with a European friend who visited Syria and chose to study the Arabic language at Damascus University. He explained how he read a book about the middle east, got impressed by the Syrian culture, and decided to spend a year in Syria. He simply packed his bags, bought the plane ticket and moved there. In a parallel world during the exact same year, I was doing a huge research about European Universities, their majors, fees, and entry requirements. I had to translate and certify my scripts, write letters of interest to colleges, take an English language test, fill scholarships applications, and wait impatiently for a reply that never came in while keeping a job and trying to save money.
Facing all that frustration over the last years undoubtedly gave me more motivation and more strength that I use today while fulfilling my dream, but sometimes it feels like wasted energy and time. Why does the same dream have to be that hard for me and easy for someone else just because they were born with a different gender or in a different country?
I wish I had an answer.
An inspiring video: