Last Option By Esi W. Cleland

Last Option

By Esi W. Cleland

Published on Mon, Sep 15 2008 by Esi W. Cleland
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Exactly forty-five days ago, I did something that many would consider unthinkable; I boarded a one-way flight home to Ghana after studying for six long years in the US. Yes, it was scary and yes, I did experience and perhaps am still experiencing reverse culture shock, but that is not the issue I wish to discuss today. What I’d like to share is bizarre reactions I received from all quarters once the news was out that I was homeward bound, or in the case of those in Ghana, that I had moved back home from the US with no intention or desire to return.
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The question that kept coming up is why? Why are you going home, Esi? Really? Why? You studied medical physics? That means you could have easily found a well paying job in the US, so why [in an incredulous tone] did you return home? Have you exhausted all the options in the US? When do you return to the US? Not returning? Why? You can find a better job in the US, and this coming from some of the better schooled young African minds. I speak of Harvard graduates, and students in some of the finest programs at Johns Hopkins University, MIT, Duke, Vanderbilt and other such stellar schools, and more important, from people who claim to want to return home, and who find every opportunity to visit several times a year because they enjoy life at home. I did not formally conduct a poll, but if I were to throw out some numbers, I would say that only one in ten young people-by which I mean people between the ages of twenty and thirty –responded positively with a “good for you, I plan on joining you soon”.
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Much as I would love to see Africa’s skilled labour return en masse from the developed countries to contribute to development, I can appreciate some of the difficulties that prevent young people from taking this bold step. While this is a loss to the continent, what is really bothersome is not that many chose to remain but that the response to someone’s departure would be so unanimously in favor of remaining in the US with little regard for the employment in which that person would be engaged.
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Thanks at least in part to this mentality, many supposedly smart people devise every means to remain in the US, including returning to school to pursue degrees in areas in which they have little interest, accepting jobs that do not fit into their career plans in any way, and even actively search for loopholes in the US immigration laws in hopes that it might buy them more time in that land. I could never understand why no one seems to ask these people why? In fact I may be so bold as to offer that in general, it is perceived to be a wonderful thing indeed when a person is able to find some means to remain there. Going home is just not an option, and if it must be considered, then it should be the very last option.
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The result is that even the majority of those who return home at a young age and year or two after their studies do so against their will either because of H1-B visa mishap or their inability to find jobs-any jobs. When such a “misfortune” occurs, there is much sympathy in the Ghanaian community for such a person, and those who have had the “fortune” to remain self-congratulate themselves for their good luck. Almost invariably what we see happening is that these returnees find ways to return to the US or some other developed country to pursue the prized MBA or some other practical degree program. Essentially, they leave their home again.
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How did the young African mind acquire this psyche and erroneous perception that that somehow returning home should be a last resort? Why remain in the US? Why leave your home for a life that many admit to being far less enjoyable than what they’d have in their home countries? Why the heck should the incredulous queries be levelled at the one who returns home but not as incredulously of those that remain abroad?
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