The most privileged people on Earth (1)
Yes, I am one of them. Aren’t you?
When I was a teenager, my mom had to leave for further education required by her job. It would take her years, thousands of kilometers away from home. My younger siblings, who finished primary and middle schools, were looking forward to the move. My teachers at school said, “finish your high school first,” but the choice was mine. I decided to go with my mom and siblings.
As soon as I arrived in “the other planet” (how my brother called it), I missed my school friends. I left while they were still seeing each other everyday. Still, I was looking forward to my new school that I would attend in two weeks. All children of secondary school age had to attend this school for language adaptation before going to a full-scale school.
The students ranged from posh daughters of diplomats, refugees, children of political asylum seekers, and children of economic migrants a.k.a. those whose parents immigrated to start a business. One of them was a Taiwanese girl who awed me with her very beautiful piano performance. She dressed like a Japanese school girl most of the time.
I met M, a 19-year-old Afghani girl whose parents married her to a man and let her go to live with the man in Sydney. Her parents couldn’t leave Afghanistan due to the dangerous situation. They wanted her to have a safer future in the new land with a family of her own.
I met S, a Cambodian girl who once lived in Galang, an island provided by Indonesian government for UNHCR in the 1980s. Cambodia got safer so they returned, but her family decided to look for a better life in Australia.
I met A, a Vietnamese girl who was playing with other kids on a ship when she was 12 and suddenly the ship departed to Japan, full of asylum seekers. She was taken to a boarding school in Japan. After turning 18, she chose to move to Sydney to live with her aunt.
I met B, an Iraqi girl my age whose older brother was in the same school, too. Her whole family disliked Saddam’s rules and the US agression made it difficult to live peacefully, so they left Iraq. All those older-than-18 students were there, because they had to take senior high school education.
After high school, I was 18 so I became an expat on my own. The only option to stay was by paying the super expensive international student rate for attending a university. So I had to leave, even if my mother and siblings were still there. I cried on the flight back, and it was my first time flying alone long distance.
I had at least two more times of a similar experience: flying alone, crying. Two more times I had to leave my loved ones due to a job at another country. This perpetual expat life has got me lost, yet during the loss I discovered more about myself.
The privilege question, who I often asked myself in terms of economic privilege, came back last year during the flood of refugees to Europe. They came from Middle Eastern countries affected by war. And the war hit close to home. It was my own uncle.
My uncle, who went to Yemen as a teenager, whom I met only once (and planned to meet again this year), was living inside the civil war that started last year. He had to run away from his town to his wife’s hometown. He drove his family, hundreds of kilometers, in a state of anxiety. Once he arrived, he was too tired and got a heart attack. It was too unsafe to go to hospital, until he passed away at home.
This made me think of M, S, A, B, and their sisters and brothers, whom I shared a few months of school back then in 1995. Twenty years had passed and the world is still the same. There are too many people whose life is impacted by armed conflicts. Political conflicts. It has been going too long, as old as human civilization.
Unlike the refugees, I did not have to leave by force. The force that has pushed me several times was actually caused by my own choice. Migration #1: I could have stayed and finished high school much earlier. Migration #2: I wanted to study abroad. Migration #3: I could have stayed as my boss then set me in a long-term project. Migration #4: I could have stayed to continue enjoying my freelancer life. It was all my choice!
This is the privilege that I have been having, that I wasn’t aware of. It is the privilege of choosing where to live.
Isn’t that a privilege, if we can choose where we live, without having to run away from a place to another?
Isn’t that a privilege, if we can stay at one place comfortably, enjoying the stability, without having threatened by armed or political conflicts?
What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” — Brené Brown
And we have our own ways to be grateful. Spend the privilege wisely, to make the world a better place. Thank you!