It’s crossed many of our minds, and for good reasons. Maybe the employment opportunities after graduating are better somewhere else than in your home country. Or perhaps the quality of education in general would be higher in a foreign university. Learning languages, challenging yourself or just wanting to see the world. A lot of people dream, but if you end up sending the application in, you might become one of the 4.5 million young people globally who study abroad.
For most people it’s not an easy decision to make. There’s a lot of different factors that might tilt the scale one way or the other for an individual. When a lot of people feel the same way and actually pack up their bags and leave, we can start talking about brain drain. Brain drain is what we call the phenomenon when the brightest and the most skilled people move abroad following better employment opportunities. This obviously has consequences for the economy.
So hold on – should you feel guilty?
Well it’s not all that simple. Brain drain has another side to it: Brain gain. Although brain drain was seen as a damaging thing especially for the economies of developing countries for decades, it seems like there’s actually a brighter side to it too. So is it good or bad? It depends. In Canada, a quarter of international students end up getting a permanent residence. They stay, some of them for good, and they’ll never work in their home country again. What the brain-drain hypothesis fails to take into account is that people send home remittances. According to the World Bank, workers from developing countries sent home a whopping $325 billion in 2010. In some countries, such as Lebanon and Tajikistan, remittances account for more than 20% of GDP, hardly just pocket money.
Obviously it’s a complicated thing. But if remittances are taken into account, some suggests that emigration can actually turn brain-drain into brain gain; so that emigration has a net positive effect on the home country. And not all of those who move abroad stay forever. Studies show that an international education does boost your job prospects back home. Many also come back, and people don’t come back home empty handed. The connections and ideas that you’ve gained abroad can help the economy of your home country too.
So no, you shouldn’t feel guilty. And there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to see the world. But if you’re taking that step – think about what that actually means, not only for yourself, but for the people around you. How to maximize the impact you can make, and you know that you’ll be contributing to the greater good.