A little over a year ago, I made a tough decision: I decided to leave my safe, secure job to pursue a master’s degree full-time in England. This is not the sort of choice one takes lightly. It takes extensive planning and considerable tenacity.
The idea had been percolating in my mind for a while but the timing had been off until the end of 2010. Once I made the decision, I began to take the necessary steps to make it happen: saving money, applying to universities, figuring out how to pay for all of it. Everything, eventually, boils down to money.
Much has been written about Puerto Rico’s brain drain and the on-going economic crisis. As an article published by The Economist this year points out, Puerto Ricans are “far poorer than the American average.” Let me provide an example. When I began working in the late 1990s, I would hop around from job to job in search of higher paid positions. This was before the dot.com burst and 9/11 so it was fairly easy. While in college, the best job I had paid almost $7 per hour as a receptionist.
Fast forward 15 years later and receptionist jobs in Puerto Rico still pay about the same if not less. Meanwhile, inflation has reduced the buying power of the dollar; we are taxed to death and cannot afford basic items such as fresh vegetables because their prices are prohibitive.
The on-going economic crisis has also caused an increase in violence. Some years back, a man who wanted to take my laptop and purse mugged me in the San Patricio area. When the police came, I was able to give them a description of the man who had mugged me and the license plate number of the car he drove away in. They never caught the guy and I couldn’t go anywhere alone for months.
This particular combination has in great part led to the brain drain, mainly to the United States, where young professionals can aspire to a better quality of life. There are a very small percentage of people, like myself, who go to other countries. I know of a small group of Puerto Ricans who are thriving in Peru.
Having made the choice to move to England, I am glad that I did not choose the country’s most well-known universities: Oxford and Cambridge nor a large city such as London. I live further north, two hours from the Scottish border. While it is a city, it is not a big one. Stores close at 5:30 pm, the city center is full of shops and markets selling flowers and used books. I can walk home alone at night and my biggest concern is to get out of the way of the drunks on the street.
But life is not necessarily better in the UK. The government is making it increasingly difficult for immigrants who are not from countries in the European Union to stay, be it working or studying. It was really hard for me to get a job because most places look for people who can continue on if necessary. My current visa status makes me a risk because I have yet to be accepted into a PhD program. Still, I managed to find a part-time job at a clothing store.
Major cities in the UK also boast a lot of race related crimes. The opening of the borders in the European Union has caused people to become more nationalist and xenophobic. Just a few weeks ago, an American student was beaten in London.
So, why am I still here? Why not go back to Puerto Rico? The simple answer is: because I am not done. I came to get my doctorate and I am not leaving without it.
In an ever-increasing global economy where having an advanced degree no longer guarantees job security, this has always been my dream. And that is what matters — that I am following my dreams.