I may not wear a hijab but I am a Muslim, and my parents share many of the same values and ideals of other Arab parents.
In my home, the decision for my degree was not a personal one but a familial one.
What we think are good degrees are not what our parents consider to be proper higher education.
As I got older, being asked what degree I was going to apply for became more of a question of: “Are you studying medicine, business or engineering?”
My parents were disappointed to learn I wanted a degree in English literature.
I cannot imagine the arguments we would have if I had told them I was applying for art instead.
Growing up, I had been told I could do whatever and be whoever I wanted. To have my parents flip on this ideal and veto my suggestion came as a surprise.
Wanting to study English literature became a regular topic my entire family would attack. What will you do with it? Teach?
It all boiled down to one point though. There was not enough money in it. My parents were in full support of my desire for higher learning but were stumped by my choice.
To them it seemed a waste of money to send me abroad to study a subject that would ultimately end with me struggling to find a well-paid job. So I dropped it.
I compromised. While I could not push myself to take a degree in business I went for the unstable but valued journalism degree.
When I was younger, it was hard to go against whatever my parents thought was best. When the family was constantly criticising my choice of degree it was a struggle to argue why it should be my choice and that I would deal with the consequences. Negativity would build with every fight.
Now that I am older, I can see where my parents’ argument came from. What parents do not want the best for their kids? This was their way of looking out for me, even if we went about it in a corrosive manner.
Growing up, the flow of money in our home was not always stable. I could see how the stress of worrying where the next pay cheque came from took its toll on my mother. It was clear she did not want to me to live the same life.
Maybe this is less about culture and religious influence and more about the constraints of money.
I cannot imagine my father shelling out nine grand a year for me to study a subject such as art that would leave me penniless and them in debt.
Perhaps this is a concern of all parents that are strapped for cash, and less of a cultural issue.
I have heard the saying ‘money does not buy happiness’ before, in this case I have a hard time believing it.
If my family had the funds, I highly doubt my choice of degree would have been so thoroughly argued.
While I may have enjoyed my years at university more if I had studied literature, I am grateful I went for a different degree. Even though journalism is not as greatly financially rewarding as business I am enjoying it and it got my parents off my back.
I can understand my parents’ trepidation at the idea of me graduating with an English literature degree, they saw a murky future for me that had them worried for my wellbeing.
People go to university for different reasons, most go to gain a degree that will enable them to get a higher paying job, and others study for the joy of learning.
Maybe one day I will be able to afford to take classes in English literature just for the joy of it.