While The Malaysian Insider asks readers to reveal why people choose to leave or stay in the country, Idzwan Husaini, a medical undergraduate shares why he is coming back to stay in the country. Hopefully in the near future.
I have been studying in the United Kingdom for almost three years now and I have enjoyed the enormous sense of freedom, liberty and equality that is widespread in this country.
Freedom of expression is celebrated here. Rather than oppressing the movement or suppressing the voice of the minority, they are given a chance to prove to the majority their abilities and worth. I was surprised to see an entire family of grandparents, parents and little children joining the throng of people watching the parade during the London Gay Pride summer last year. Rather than teaching their kids to hate people who have, and are proud of their differing sexualities, the parents chose to expose their children to a completely different lifestyle so they can later choose what is best for them in the future. Freedom of expression is allowed to take place in all forms and shapes. I do not remember ever hearing any agencies involved in banning books, films, songs or even cartoons for that matter!
Discourse and dissent are not tolerated, they are encouraged. When the coalition government began to put in effect the new and more expensive student fees, universities had no qualms allowing their students, through the student unions, to organise marches and protests to voice their discontent. My university even allowed the staff and the lecturers to protest in the middle of the city against the proposed cuts they would have to endure due to David Cameron’s ‘austerity’ scheme. Emails were circulated to students to remind us to check with our lecturers if they were taking part in the protest to see if the lectures for the day were cancelled.
For every rotation I do at various hospitals through out my third year, I think up to 70% of the senior doctors and consultants involved in the teaching are foreigners coming from all around the world like India, the Middle East, the East Asia, and several from Malaysia. If this is any indication, it reflects the country’s policy of pure meritocracy regardless of race, religion, ancestry, and nationality in its employment.
While everything seems fine and dandy, it does not mean social prejudice with respect to race and religion never takes place. Living in the UK has led me to experience what I have not had the chance to feel living in Malaysia. While I enjoy being born in the so-called Malay race with all its privileges, living in the UK turns the table and makes me the minority, especially with regards to my religion. It throws me off the silver platter and it makes me realise what my fellow Malaysian friends, who are not born the same race as I am, have been feeling their entire lives – marginalised, discriminated and under-appreciated.
I had to endure the eyes of doubt from patients who thought me incompetent simply from my appearance. I have to constantly challenge that assumption and do so by demonstrating to them my firm command of their language and that I am competent in my work.
Yes, racism does continue to exist but only in a small proportion involving the NEDs (non-educated delinquents), scallies or chavs. These slang terms describe a group of hooligans, uneducated, unemployed and living on benefits, who go around town causing trouble, committing petty crimes and using vulgar language whilst drunk. I have only heard of a case in which a fellow Malaysian was bashed on his way home in the middle of the night. Aside from getting a black eye simply for ‘looking’ different, none of his belongings were taken from him. As for my religion, let’s not even talk about the flicker of fear and prejudice I could see in their eyes when they know my first name is Muhammad.
Social prejudices do exist. They hurt just the same despite being uncommon. It remains a comfort to know that such behaviour is not tolerated in society. Racism and religious intolerance certainly hardly occur in matters pertaining to education and employment.
Because of those reasons above, the United Kingdom seems like a good place for me to pursue my future. The minor glitches aside, I am not worried one bit about its progress because I know it is my talent that will count. My abilities will not be judged based on my race and religion.
Why, then, have I decided to come back?
I have lost count of the numerous times when the many consultants that I have sat in their various clinics during my rotation asked me about my plans after graduation. The conversation tends to follow this one pattern:
Consultant: So, are you planning to go back and practice in your country or stay here in the UK?
Me: I’m going home. I might do my two-year foundation here but I’ll eventually go back to work there.
Consultant: Is it any good over there? I’ve heard the working condition is not very good. And you’re probably paid more here.
Me: Yeah, I’ll probably be paid more here. And yes, the working condition back home is not that good. There are very few doctors so we’ll be working long hours but that is why I’m going home. If every Malaysian medical student studying abroad chooses not to go back to work over there, naturally the hospitals are gonna be understaffed and that’s what’s causing the poor working conditions for the doctors there. The cycle is just going to go on and on so somebody has to go back to fill up those positions and I’m going to do it. It is, after, all home.
No, I did not make up that conversation. Some of my friends here are actually surprised that I still want to go back despite the better opportunities and future I would have here.
I have been lucky to get the opportunity to study abroad and learn from excellent and dedicated doctors and consultants from around the world. It is a privilege to have my eager, keen and thirsty mind fed and filled by these experts who are willing to take time out of their busy and hectic schedule to educate and nurture future generations of doctors.
The same cannot be said about medical students in Malaysia. Due to lack of senior doctors and consultants in hospitals, medical students and newly-graduated young doctors do not receive the adequate amount of guidance during their foundation year to cultivate consistent and systematic working habits that is necessary for every doctor. I have felt the frustration of not having anyone to learn from during a hectic Accident and Emergency (A&E) session when my brain was eager and excited but with few doctors available to teach. I have also seen the tired look in the eyes of the patients in the waiting area hoping that their names would be called after waiting for more than two hours.
So I am coming back because I want to give back. I want to serve every Malaysian either by using all the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired to treat the sick or share those same skills and knowledge with fellow young doctors and future medical students. I know it will not solve the brain drain in the country or reduce patients’ waiting time at the A&E but at least I am doing the little I can about it.
Some of you will probably think that I should come back to serve the country out of sense of duty. After all, my entire education here and all the great things that I have gained and experienced for the last three years have been funded by my fellow Malaysians who pay their taxes.
Yes, I believe in that sense of duty but no, I am not coming back because I need to hold up my end of the contract I signed with MARA three years ago. In fact, I am not even bonded to MARA the way PSD scholars are. I could just stay in the UK and make my fortune without having to deal with the incompetence of a corrupt government making ridiculous and unfair policies that are poorly thought out. And I do not have to worry about enrolling my future children into a sub-standard, exam-oriented education system that encourages dogma instead of independent-thinking apart from its lack of tolerance for diversity.
My desire to come back stems from the simple basis that I love my country so much that leaving it and its people simply because of its faulty modus operandi is akin to a coward running away from the problems instead of tackling them. I want to give other young Malaysians, medical students or not, the opportunities that I have gained during my study abroad. It is, of course, impossible to ferry all the country’s youth abroad but I can come home to bring and share the important values of freedom, equality, meritocracy, diversity, tolerance and fighting for what is right with the youth in the country.
Signs of great changes are already sprouting in the country with the alternative media encouraging voices of dissent and discourse to provide check and balance to whatever the Powers That Be is doing. We already have human right groups who have been trying their best to promote tolerance and creating awareness among the public their rights and what they can and should do to fight for those rights.
Although limited, it is still a good start that we already have bright and educated Malaysians pushing for those changes. I believe that if Malaysians who have had the opportunity to enjoy the greater freedom and liberty abroad were to come back and share the experience and work together with the ones at home, we will be one step closer to bringing our country to the much civilised and progressive nation it should be.
Some of you are probably laughing at my naivete and simple-mindedness. But I remain a believer for that is what being young is all about. I apologise if I come across as patronising or condescending but I believe in the people of my country. I am coming back to do whatever I can to contribute to the change no matter how slow and tiring the struggle will be. And it really is just because Malaysia is home and there is no place like home.
Idzwan Husaini believes in the joy and energy of being young. He believes in being optimistic and hopeful of what lies ahead rather than being doubtful and fearful of the future like most old people do these days. He wishes old people would grow up and out of the old prejudices and start looking forward rather than focusing on what has happened in the past.