December 6, 2009

Bulk view

Thoughts on the brain drain

The specter of brain drain has haunted me since high school. As students at Philippine Science High School—one of the best schools in the country, and publicly-funded at that—we were regularly reminded of our responsibilities as scholars of the nation. Our names were on hold lists at airports, and we needed to post bonds assuring our return before we travelled. Throughout university, too, I heard from frustrated teachers who’d seen their students settle down in far-off countries.

I decided that I could just as easily create opportunities in the Philippines as I could in North America. Although my alma mater and the competing schools I asked gently encouraged me to take my masters overseas so that I could learn, I resolved to come back and make things happen. I was really uncomfortable when some of the Filipino immigrants I met in Canada dismissed the Philippines and said it didn’t matter to them. I didn’t want to be like them.

Towards the end of my master’s degree, I fell in love with someone who could not move to the Philippines with me. So I chose love, even though it meant being away from family and old friends and becoming part of the brain drain I’d felt so strongly about. Besides, after having gone through the trouble of uprooting myself and making myself at home in an new environment, I wasn’t about to insist that someone else go through the same ordeal.

Still, there’s the occasional twinge of guilt, of uncertainty, of negotiating my identity between worlds. Not many people are caught in between like this—most people seem to have just embraced their new lives—so there aren’t that many people I can talk to. But the tension can be creative, too; it helps power my passion to make it easier for people to learn, collaborate, and lead from anywhere. That way, people don’t have to go through being between worlds like this unless they want to, and they can build roots more quickly if they do.

So it was good to read this analysis of brain drain from a magazine about foreign policy that concluded it wasn’t all that bad, and that it could even strengthen source countries.

I am not lost. I am not mis-placed. I am here, and I’m making things happen.