‘I’m the first in my family to get a degree’

| Michaela Nesvarova

In the series The International, UT students from all over the world talk about their lives, studies, choices and passions. In this episode: Alieu S. Bojang, Master’s student of Public Administration from Gambia. ‘It is good to see places where the grass isn’t greener.’

‘I’m from Africa, I did my Bachelor’s in Turkey and now I’m here, so yeah – I fit the title “International”. I come from Gambia, the smallest country in Africa. Actually, I was told that I’m the first Gambian to study at the UT. Everyone knows everyone in Gambia. We are all so connected. It’s often called the smiling coast of Africa, because people there are positive. They live for the moment. If you have food in your stomach, it’s already a reason to celebrate. People don’t have much, but they appreciate what they have.’

‘I come from a big family. My dad died shortly after I was born, but my mother remarried later. I have six siblings. I’m the youngest, so the spoilt one. My brother runs an orphanage in our neighborhood. Our family opened it because we were once orphans ourselves. Now we have about sixty children there. They live there, we teach them, we clothe them and feed them. I help out when I’m there.’

A way out

‘How did I end up here? I was first admitted to study law at the University of the Gambia. But I got kicked out after one semester because I couldn’t pay my tuition fee. I had good grades and I even went to the ministry to get to the bottom of it, but eventually I had to drop out. Afterwards I worked as a journalist for a national newspaper. I got that job thanks to my article on whether education was a right or a privilege – because in Gambia education isn’t free, which makes it a privilege. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper got arrested because he spoke out against the government. I got a scholarship to study international relations in Turkey. I had to learn fluent Turkish first and it was very hard, but it was a way out.’

‘Afterwards I went back to Gambia and was working, but I really wanted to get a Master’s degree. Everyone at high school dreamt of getting a degree. You need that to find a good job. I started looking for programmes in Europe and I found out about the UT scholarship. It was my way out again. My study is only a one year programme, which I really like. And it gives me the opportunity to specialize outside of politics. I couldn’t find that elsewhere.’

Housing problems

‘Coming to the Netherlands wasn’t my first time living abroad, so I settled in quite quickly. People here are very relaxed. Everyone minds their own business. It is definitely different experience than in Turkey. In Turkey everyone was staring at me on the street because I’m black. Here it’s more liberal and relaxed for me. On the other hand, I feel more discriminated here than in Turkey. In Turkey, all students – also foreign students – have the same rights. Here there are different rules for internationals. You have much higher tuition fees and the housing was a big issue for me.’

‘I first stayed in the ITC hotel but that was too expensive for me. I applied for rooms at student houses but people didn’t want to live with me, they said they didn’t want foreigners in the house. I was about to be homeless and I asked student services for help, but they didn’t do anything. They said those were the rules: every house can decide on who can live there. There is no support for international students. That makes me feel discriminated. In the end I found a house that accepted me, I packed up my things and went there, but then they suddenly told me that they gave the room to someone else. I had to sleep on the street that night. Later, I stayed with a friend and now I live with a few other internationals in Enschede, so it ended well. But it was a very bad experience. I felt betrayed by the UT.’

‘Otherwise I really love the UT. Apart from the housing policy, I enjoy it here. The study is great, although tough. The teachers can be very strict and there are a lot of assignments, but I’m not complaining. It is worth it. It is also fun and the environment is really nice. The campus is just fantastic. Life is free here.’

Helping people

‘After I finish my study, I want to go back to Gambia. I want to contribute to my country’s development. I would love to work at the government, but it might be difficult. It is still more about who you know, rather than what you know. If I could choose, I’d work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If that doesn’t work out, I’d like to work for an international organisation such as UNICEF or the UN. I want to help people in poor countries to develop.’

‘I’m the first in my family to get a degree. My mom raised us as a single parent. She sacrificed everything to make sure that we're happy and that no one looks down upon us. She went through a lot of hardship to raise us and literally sacrificed her own happiness for ours. This is why she's the most important person in my life. She has high hopes in me and hence she's the only one I want to impress in this world. My mom really hopes that I can be the one to save everyone. I’m the only one fortunate enough to come to Europe. In Gambia, it is often about survival. That is why I always say people should visit Africa. It is good to see places where the grass isn’t greener. It makes you grateful.’