Brain Drain in Developing Countries

Elizabeth Goffe

When I open my eyes at Middlebury, I am overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity that surrounds me. Snow covers the ground. The sun hides in an uncertain grey sky. It isn’t that this country isn’t beautiful— the star-filled skies, the refreshingly clean air, the squirrels, the snow and the changing seasons are all so new and interesting to me— but the United States is simply not my home.

When considering possible majors and career paths, I crave some kind of direction and purpose. Like so many college students, I can’t help pondering my future, and here lies my dilemma. Although I would like to return to the music, the language and the inherent beauty of my home country, I would be lying if I said that Jamaica’s song isn’t tainted by poverty, and that the poetry of my country is not punctuated by bullets. The fact is, many students from developing countries go abroad to study and have to decide whether or not they will return to their homes. In 2005, a World Bank report stated that eight out of ten Haitians and Jamaicans who have college degrees live outside their countries, and more than half of university-educated professionals from many countries in Central America and the Caribbean also live abroad. These figures were shocking to me at first, but now I realize that it really isn’t much of a surprise.

There are several considerable factors that keep people away from their native countries. For instance, the higher level of crime and violence in some developing countries is an extremely uninviting prospect, especially for people who are raising children. The economies are also less stable than those of developed countries, which may result in lower salaries and fewer benefits. There is also a lack of academic and employment-related opportunities in developing countries. For example, someone who studies nuclear science abroad may be limited in his or her opportunities to work in such a field when he or she returns home. Another factor, and the one that makes me most apprehensive about living in my home country, is the possibility of reverse culture shock. After receiving a tertiary education in a developed country, it may be difficult to readjust to certain cultural habits and attitudes, such as those towards women, homosexuals, and religion.

Although these are valid and weighty reasons for not returning to a developing country, I feel that too many people want to escape the reality of their countries, under the assumption that it is futile to try to make any considerable difference in the situation. By leaving, they contribute to the “brain drain” that many developing countries experience when people who go abroad for education choose not to return. After studying in a developed country, one has the opportunity to use this education and new perspective to better the situation of the country where one grew up. In order to decide between remaining in a developed country and going back home, one must take into consideration one’s own future as well as the future of one’s home country.

This is an incredibly difficult decision to make, and in many ways, I can understand why some people choose not to go back. Regardless of where one lives, however, it is important to remember that we still have the opportunity to help those who, for various reasons (inadequate education, poverty, oppression by police) are unable to fend for themselves and truly make a difference on their own. They have nowhere else to go.

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