It is coming to end of my first year since enrolling into the MA programme in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies. My interest in refugee issues took off when I was interning with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had the opportunity to work closely with refugees, and the experience led me into a world I had never imagined – an unfamiliar world where children have no access to education in public schools; where children and their families are subject to arrest and detention; and where healthcare is expensive and unaffordable with the situation made worse by the fact that refugees and asylum seeking people have no legal rights to work in Malaysia.
With this experience, I have since been on a constant look out for more opportunities to understand the complexities around refugee and forced migration issues. In July 2015, I attended a three-week intensive course on forced migration at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre where Dr David Cantor, Director of Refugee Law Initiative at the University of London, was one of the guest lecturers. From him, I learned about the University of London’s MA programme in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies by distance learning. The idea of remote studying did not quite appeal to me initially; yet after some careful thinking, the flexibility of pursuing an MA on a subject I care so deeply about while staying in my job to build my career grew on me. By October 2015, I was enrolled into the programme and never looked back.
One year on, the journey has been incredibly rewarding, though I must admit that it is certainly not easy studying alongside a day job and other commitments. In the first few weeks after the programme commenced, I was on top of weekly readings and group discussion. Then I fell short and missed a week, then another week and the gap got wider and wider. I took a while adjusting to the demand of the curriculum and to keep up with learning. One way I use to keep up with lessons is to download the readings into my mobile phone and read them on my way to work. Another way of ensuring I do not fall too far behind time is to make full use of mid-term reading week to catch up on lessons that I missed. After putting in much effort, I must say that I have now completed two core modules and am in the midst of writing my dissertation proposal. While studying from a distance after work and on weekends requires massive motivation and hard work, it never once felt like a chore. I enjoy the weekly assigned reading articles, my exchanges with classmates and tutors, as well as the never-ending after thought that frequently got me thinking all day and night.
I am so thankful that the knowledge I take away from my programme is extremely relevant to my job at Save the Children Asia Regional Office, where I manage and support a regional initiative called ‘Children on the Move in Asia’. As this initiative aims to better protect and ensure provision of essential services for children affected by migration and displacement, including refugee and asylum seeking children, migrant children and trafficked children, what I learned has made me more informed and has in turn shaped my decision and ways of working for the better.
Moving forward, I look forward to my second year with MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies.
Jerry Lewis Ong is studying MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies by distance learning in Singapore.