The day of my university entrance was particularly memorable and filled with emotions. I simply couldn’t believe that the young boy from the ghetto, who had grown up in a miserable environment, could integrate into a place that produced the leaders of society. I had often heard of “success stories” and the American dream, but I never imagined my life could experience such a positive and radical change.

I woke up early that day, full of enthusiasm about discovering university life. I was curious to see what type of students attended the university, the nature and character of the professors, the university equipment, the infrastructure, and the various activities. I remember that at the time, I had watched many American films where young boys and girls prepared to enter prestigious universities.

They were always very happy to take this big step and discover this new life. The directors often emphasized the joy and especially the pride that the parents of these new students felt at the thought of their little boy or girl entering their destiny in an excellent manner. I, too, expected to experience such emotions on my first day at university.

I woke up very early for this big day and took a shower, singing out loud. I wore a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt that I had just bought for the occasion. I put on a pair of soft leather loafers. I had visited the barber the day before because I wanted my appearance to be perfect. I perfumed myself and grabbed my bag before heading out. I had done everything to make a good first impression. I had learned that the first impression people have of us is the most important, as it is the one they will remember for a long time.

Once I left the house that morning, I took the first bus heading to the University of Antwerp. After less than ten stops, the bus stopped in front of a very large university complex. I got off the bus and started walking towards the campus. I had to go to the law faculty office to get the course schedule and see the rooms where they would be held.

I walked along huge glass corridors, crossed large meeting spaces, and climbed various stairs before arriving at the large room that housed the law faculty office. I inquired and received a small brochure in which the year’s program and the rooms were indicated. I knew that this morning, I had to go to the large amphitheater where the dean of the law faculty was scheduled to give a speech.

As I moved around the university campus, I noticed with great astonishment the absence of allochthonous students. The vast majority of the students in this faculty were Belgian. Most of them wore branded clothes and almost all of them had vehicles. The main topics of their conversations were about the paradisiacal places where they would spend their summer vacations, their career plans, or the professional achievements of their respective parents.

I quickly realized that most of these students had at least one parent who had a legal education and practiced a profession such as lawyer, bailiff, notary, politician, professor, corporate lawyer, or entrepreneur. I understood very quickly that the law faculty was a concentration of political liberals who demanded more individual freedoms and less state intervention so that the most deserving individuals could prosper more and the weakest would take responsibility.

It became clear to me that these students and I could never be friends because I belonged to the “weak” social category, receiving state aid (which had a considerable financial impact on the taxes and social contributions their parents had to pay…).

In short, this category of students believed that their parents could have made more money if people like me had stayed in their country of origin. The fact that I was sitting with them on the same university benches was considered an injustice because not only did their parents contribute to feeding and clothing me; but I also had access to studies that would make me a competitor in the job market.

In other words, they were helping me become a competitor. This psychological analysis of the Belgian law students allowed me to know my place and understand what to expect during the five years of university studies ahead. I was ready for this new battle that promised to be very tough and remained confident because I already knew the profile of my adversary. Therefore, he could never attack me by surprise. I went to the amphitheater to attend the dean of the law faculty’s speech and was amazed by the immensity of this room that I discovered for the first time.

The seats, folding tables, projectors, sound system, and flooring made the place admirable. I entered this amphitheater, already half-filled, and went to sit at the back of the room, next to one of the exit doors. I sat there because I wanted to have as little interaction as possible with others. I wanted to protect my soul from any thoughts or words that could harm my motivation and self-confidence. I did not want to give any opportunity to an ignorant or ill-intentioned student to ask me questions such as:

“Why did you leave your country of origin?”

“Why don’t you go back to Africa where the weather is nice?”

“Do you feel good in Belgium?”

“Are you going back to Africa after your studies?”

“What do you live on in Belgium? Do you receive social benefits?”

“Could you have continued your studies if you had stayed in your country?”

“Why are Africans like this or that?”

“Do you have schools in Africa?”

“Why do you leave Africa when this continent needs young people like you?”

Indeed, since my arrival in Belgium, I had faced these questions wherever I went and had the opportunity to sympathize with a local. However, it was unique to notice that my interlocutors did not listen to the answers I formulated to their questions. The truth is they did not ask these questions because they were looking for answers. Most of them wanted to communicate their hidden thoughts to me. They sent me a coded message that meant:

“It is better for us if you do not stay in this country because this country cannot accommodate the whole world.” Another part of this coded message meant: “As long as you are in Belgium, show gratitude to this country and keep quiet. Never complain and never demand anything.”

I had resolved to operate alone at the university to avoid any frustration from questions or remarks that would show racism or discrimination. Sitting every day on the seat at the back of the amphitheater next to the exit door was one of the measures I took and decided to follow throughout my academic career because my goal was not to make friends but to get my Master’s degree in law. To achieve this, I needed to fight anything that could distract or weaken my spirit.

In the amphitheater, the dean of the law faculty spoke and welcomed all the students present in the room. He took the time to explain how the university worked, emphasizing the regulations. The dean urged us to be diligent, determined, and proactive because the most important thing was not to start the race but to finish it to win the victory. He reminded us that after a race, only those who distinguished themselves are remembered.

The dean encouraged us never to wait until the exams approached to start revising but to prepare every day. I listened to the dean of the law faculty’s speech with great attention because I knew that the words addressed at the beginning of each event are among the most important of the event. However, I was unfortunately unable to understand more than half of what he said…

This text is an excerpt from the book “From the Ghetto to the Bar” written by Dominique MBOG.

We invite you to read the following article “Nobody Wanted Me in Their Group.

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