Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Funny thoughts of a foreign bursary

This column was my contribution to the March 2010 issue of the BCN newsletter. BCN is a research school in the University of Groningen focusing on behavioural and cognitive neuroscience.

Image taken from here
It is very flattering to be invited to write a column for the very prestigious BCN newsletter. My first reaction was to decline the invitation because it would be added work for me, and as typical PhD student here in Groningen, I have a busy schedule. This busy schedule, of course, includes hanging out sometimes with friends discussing wide-ranging topics, practicing my less-than-prodigious-cycling skills, occasionally visiting Filipino migrants in Amsterdam, and online chatting with my wife, among other non-work-related activities that I am fond of calling social life. But on second thought, why waste this rare opportunity to fill this precious space for commentary on pressing issues of PhD bursaries like me and hopefully contribute to further understanding or, at least, interest on these issues? So with the assumption that this country promotes free speech—a kind of freedom also much spoken about in the Philippines but seldom respected and often violated by those in power—I’d like to give my two cents’ worth on the bursary situation.

I don’t really mind that I don’t receive the same pay and benefits as employee-PhDs do. So what if I produce the same output that they do? I enjoy my work anyway. I strongly believe in the wisdom of the University policymakers when they decided to implement the bursary system. Why don’t we just believe them when they say that the amount that bursaries are receiving is enough for them to survive? I am surviving so far. Honestly, I consider this position a privilege in comparison to that of my compatriots here in the Netherlands who came here away from their family to work as housecleaners, waiters, and other “professions” of similar nature because our government back home do not provide enough jobs. So there is no reason for me to complain. (This paragraph is meant to influence my first-year evaluation.)

How about the Dutch bursaries? I think they should be the ones to think this issue over, and it is inspiring to hear that many of them actually do. They should know better because they were here when the bursary system was popularised among Dutch universities. I am curious how they reacted when this system began many years ago. According to one Dutch bursary, this is a result of declining budget given to education in general. This bursary student also mentioned, though, that when a Dutch citizen loses his job, he can apply for social welfare (I’m not sure though if that’s the accurate term) in order to receive for two years without a new job the
same amount as he did in his most recent job. I suddenly wished I were a Dutch citizen when I heard that.

I have to apologize to Léon, who asked me to write this column, for having started the column with the bursary issue in mind. He actually asked me to forget about serious matters for this column. Just write about funny experiences while studying here. He is right, the bursary case is not funny. What I find funny though is how the labour union ABVAKABO is handling the case. They mention in the English version of their “Advice for PhD candidates on a grant” that they “are trying to persuade the minister [of Education, Culture, and Science] to cut the funding to universities that appoint PhD candidates on the basis of a grant”. The university on one hand invoked budget constraints to justify the bursary system while the other party who wants the bursary system abolished is lobbying for more budget cuts. Don’t you think this is funny? Just imagine what will happen to the university if this is allowed to unfold further.

Enough of serious matters. I’m moving to really funny stories this time. I never knew before I came here in Groningen that loempia is a Vietnamese food. I think the Vietnamese took the recipe from us. They should have at least changed the name. Perhaps another foreign bursary Huynh Kim Hieu (if that is his real name and not just a Facebook alias) should be given the chance to write the next column in order to refute this claim of mine. Oops. This is not funny.

After five paragraphs of my attempt to write a funny column, I finally came to a conclusion that writing such column is difficult. I remember a quote from another BCN student’s Facebook profile: “Life is a comedy for those who think: a tragedy for those who feel.” Maybe that’s the reason for the difficulty. Someone should write a research proposal out of this topic and submit it to one of the many BCN experts on emotion, linguistics, and what have you.

In the meantime, one thing I learned from the BCN debating club is to take the stand of others as mine even if they are completely opposite to my position in order to keep the flame of debate burning. I hope you had this in mind when you read this column.


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