Many students in the Arab world refrain from applying to study at major international universities due to different salient reasons like finances or doubting their quality of education back home. However, I can say, in light of my personal and practical experience, these are not the true underlying reasons that need to be addressed.
Through my journey to study abroad and obtain a master’s degree from Harvard University with a concentration in Leadership and Innovation, I found that there are two main reasons for this reluctance to study abroad, both of which are related to individuals’ perceptions of themselves and the nature of what is hidden in their subconscious mind.
This conviction was confirmed after years of working in the field of academic and professional counseling and guidance. I realized that the first reason is psychological, while the second reason is skill-related, as most applicants to study abroad lack some of the skills that form the backbone of experience.
As for the psychological cause, the famous psychologist Martin Seligman termed it “learned helplessness.” This type of what I call “psychological disability” is not caused by a congenital defect or an injury, or as a result of compulsions a person cannot control, but rather is acquired unintentionally, often from an early age.
It appears to be a result of the family milieu and the common style of upbringing in the surrounding environment, but its effects extend inside the mind to become a doctrine within a person’s established beliefs. People with learned helplessness respond to the discourse and external talk they receive from their surroundings, such as: “You won’t be able to; you do not have sufficient competence; you are not qualified or good enough; you do not deserve to study at this level of major universities. …”
Repeatedly, students get used to listening to these frustrating voices whenever they try to take on a new experience that is unfamiliar to those around them. Later, they may find themselves repeating these discouraging statements to themselves without realizing it, turning external talk into destructive self-talk.