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Opinion

My road from refugee to university graduate

William Gomes, a Bangladeshi journalist and human rights activist, tells us how it felt to graduate after the long journey he’s been on

On April 1 2022, I finally attended the University of Essex’s graduation ceremony.  On November 25 2020, I had been conferred a Master of Arts (with Distinction) in Refugee Care, but the pandemic postponed the celebration that would have occurred long ago under normal circumstances. 

I want to share parts of my journey to the celebration. It’s an incredible experience to wear the graduation gown and celebrate with my colleagues. It was an unforgettable moment to hear my name read aloud and to be recognised by the university and others. As an ex-refugee and a minority, I have frequently been denied my proper acknowledgement, and the establishment has consistently refused to recognise me and accord me the recognition I deserve. 

Many things happened as I pursued the degree: the Covid-19 pandemic; countrywide lockdown; my son was born, to name a few. There was a time I thought I would not continue and give up, but I remained persistent. The challenges were mounting up. 

Today the journey ends. 

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It was difficult for me to get to the graduation celebration, let alone afford decent shoes, a suit, or a tie, and travel from York to London and eventually to Colchester. I had to make a financial sacrifice to attend the graduation ceremony on many levels, but I did it.  

It was more challenging to do the course, affording to pay the fees. I had to raise the funds using GoFundMe. The course was offered jointly by The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and University of Essex. I had to attend some days of classes at Tavistock and then do a placement in London, and the rest of the courses on other days of the week in Colchester. My wife was pregnant during this period, and I had to travel to London and Colchester from York. 

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The whole course somehow replicates my refugee journey. I’ve met a lot of wonderful individuals who have been tremendously kind and supportive in a number of ways. I’m incredibly appreciative of each of them – without their assistance, I would not have been able to complete the degree. They come from different countries and fields but are committed to one goal: to help displaced people. I have learned from their knowledge, experience, and lives and I’m very thankful to my colleagues. I am incredibly thankful to Professor Renos Papadopoulos who supervised my dissertation, which was titled, A Psychosocial Conceptualisation of Refugee Experiences: Involuntary Loss of Home, Torture and Trauma. 

Additionally, I’ve experienced unkind people who refused to recognise my human existence and potential. I will underline the need for all of us to provide opportunities for refugees. A new, kinder, and better future is possible.

William is fundraising in order to complete his doctorate degree. You can find out more information on his gofundme page and follow him on Twitter: @Wnicholasgomes

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