Uncategorized · West Indian Life

The Bittersweet Life of a Millennial (in the West Indies)

Millennial – A person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century. 

So basically anyone born between 1980 and 2000 (more or less).

Now that we have defined the term millennial, let’s take a peek at the actual millennials themselves. I should note that I am 21 therefore a millennial, so I am subject to bias, but you probably already knew that.

You hear so much about the American, the Canadian and the European millennials, but what about those in the Caribbean? Surely our cultural differences skew our experiences.

Let’s start with our similarities:

  • Student debt

This is self explanatory but let’s talk about it some more incase someone didn’t know. MILLENNIALS ARE DROWNING IN SCHOOL DEBT. Most of my peers cannot even dream to build  a home before they are 30, they’re too busy paying back their student loans. This goes even further than owning a home. What about entrepreneurs? How can they think about investing in themselves when half their paycheck goes back to the bank every payday.

I have firsthand experience as I worked at a bank, I saw student loans up close and personal. It frightened me. I do not blame the banks, their job is to supply loans they do not create the demand. Literally half of their paychecks would go towards their loan. The biggest irony? The amount left in the account was always less than what they made BEFORE their degree.

  • HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The Caribbean is the second most HIV/AIDS infected region in the world and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, everyone thought HIV was a male homosexual disease and FYI the Caribbean is VERY HOMOPHOBIC. (It’s technically illegal to even be a homosexual in my country). “So if the disease only affects ‘bulla man’ why not just let them die out?” I can imagine that was the mentality back then. Except HIV/AIDS is extremely non-discriminatory and by the time they realized this, it was already too late.

I know what you’re thinking, “when last somebody dead from AIDS?” . Yes, anti-retro drugs work much better at prolonging lives. However, there are two issues; one they are EXPENSIVE and two VERY DAMAGING to your other organs. So yes, people live longer, but at what cost?

Why worry about the cost though? The millennials will pick up the tab…Image result for side eye emoji

Now for the differences:

  • Bonds and Brain drains

These are technically two issues but I’ve decided to lump them together in the name of context. A bond is a very common thing in the Caribbean, it’s basically a piece of paper you sign with the government for your tertiary education in exchange for your soul! *dramatic much*. They pay for your economic costs, tuition, living expenses etc. In return you must come back to your home country and work for the duration of the bond + 2 years (in my country at least). Rumplestiltskin anyone?

You must think this is barbaric and unfair , truthfully it isn’t… it really isn’t. You see donkey years ago you didn’t have to sign bonds in order to get free or subsidized tertiary education. However, over the years less and less people would return to their home countries after completing their degrees.

So, what happens when you invest MILLIONS into your best and brightest and they don’t return to pay their dues? Why a brain drain of course.

Countless doctors, lawyers, scientists, analysts etc. we have lost to brain drain. Well why did they leave you ask? Why money of course…it’s always money. Wages are much lower in the Caribbean than the UK and North America. Why slave away in a developing country when they can make big bucks in the ‘Big Apple’?

So now you have this dilemma. Do I run away and make lots of money? Or do I stay and build my country? I chose to be an economist because I want to be directly involved in the welfare of my country, but is it fair to expect the same of my peers? Some see it as me simply doing my duty, while others see it as self sacrifice. I cannot judge them, even I am acutely aware of how much more money I would make if I migrated.

However, this is my country. They have given me my entire identity. The least I can do is contribute so that others may have the same opportunities I was allowed.

  • Cultural Abandonment

This is the last but certainly not the least accusation against us. Apparently we’re diluting our culture or throwing it away for the American lifestyle.

Riddle me this, is it that we are throwing away our culture or is the culture evolving? Truthfully I think it is a bit of both.

Carnival is the biggest example. There are several origins for Carnival in the Caribbean depending on the island, but one theme is consistent; Carnival is an escape from oppression. The masqueraders’ costumes were cultural representations of the islands. Now? They have been reduced (quite literally) to skimpy underwear and feathers. Personally I have no problem with this, give the people what they want and the people want to whine up in town half naked.

Do you consider this abandonment of the old ways? Or an evolution of an old custom.

To conclude I agree that we have much more opportunities than our parents and grandparents. Not to mention an increased standard of living but it’s not all a field of roses. Or maybe it is. I imagine going through a field of roses SEEMS fun until you’re there and you feel the thorns.

Please tell me your thoughts, even if you disagree. ESPECIALLY if you disagree. I love to hear opposing thoughts as it offers new perspectives and insights. I hope you enjoyed my little think piece!

bulla man – a derogatory word for homosexual male

whine – gyrating your waist to music

donkey years – a long time

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Miscellaneous

Grades and Self Esteem in the West Indian School System

Let me start off by giving some background information about myself. I am a level two Economics students at the University of the West Indies Cavehill Campus and I am what you might call “bright”.

My entire life I’ve been known as “smart” and “nerdy” and quite frankly it’s true. I am also aware of how fortunate I am in my ability to master the schooling system. However, that’s it. I am good at the SYSTEM, I am in no shape or form superior to my peers. My brain is simply suited to the rigorous teaching methods employed on our students.

Did you know I was poor in athletics, art and computer science? Luckily for me these things aren’t as heavily graded as math, science and english. You might be thinking “why is she even telling us this?”. Be patient, I’m setting up the story.

You see when you’re good at something you tend to attach it to your self worth. My entire life has revolved around how well I did in school. This might not seem like such a bad thing…until you get a bad grade of course. As a teenager a bad grade meant I wasn’t good enough. It meant I was a failure. I might as well just ‘chuck’ myself into the river (BTW I cannot swim). I was conditioned to believe that failure in school, meant failure in life.

Skip forward a few years later; I’m a student at UWI. My aunt messages to tell me my cousin (her son) is crying. He’s having a melt down because he’s realized he has made a mistake on his exam. My cousin is six years old. At six years old he has already attached his self worth to his academic performance. My heart is heavy because I know that feeling all too well. In my opinion there is too much pressure placed on students’ academic performance. However, I do not blame the parents.

I look around me and I can’t help but notice 90% of the Vincentian students here attended the top female and male secondary school. That is NOT a coincidence. Your placement in secondary school almost sets your educational path in stone. The parents know this so they push their children to excel. (Perhaps I will speak more on this topic in another post)

This HAS TO STOP. We must not segregate students so early based on academic performance. I know CXC and the governments are taking strides in fixing these issues, I see their efforts. However, too many students are marginalized because of this system. The same way I learnt to attach my self worth to my grades, who’s to say other students don’t do the same?

How many students would have given up before the journey even began? We think of school as a race, but a race is a competition and school should NEVER be a competition. Education should not only encompass science, english and math. It should be designed to nurture artistic minds as well as mathematical minds.

There are so many people with amazing talent and skill, I am in complete awe of them. Yet, according to the world I am the success and they are the failure because I happened to grasp Pythagoras theorem better than they did. It should not be so…it should NEVER be so.

Please, I beg you, let your children know they have worth even if they don’t place first in class. Give them room to hone other skills besides what is taught in the classroom. Remember a carpenter or mechanic is no less important than a banker or a lawyer.

Thank you for reading, please don’t be afraid to comment and add your thoughts!