A rough translation of a facebook post I wrote after getting royally fucked by the system yesterday.
“Yes, hi, sorry to bother you…
To help you understand, I need to explain my situation from the beginning. This may take a while, my apologies in advance.
I’m of British nationality, but I’ve done all my past studies in France. I have a completely useless DUT [2-year technical diploma], a CAP in Childcare [more or less A-Level, specific to a certain job], and the Baccalaureat [actual, general A-Level equivalent].
My CAP got me work as an agency nanny in France for 4 years, but when I moved up to Belgium to be with my boyfriend, the agency didn’t want to sign me off because then they would have to pay me a redundancy allowance. So I had to quit, which meant that I wasn’t allowed the dole in France, and since I had no rights there, they couldn’t transfer those rights here in Belgium. The ONEM [organisation in charge of unemployment benefits in Belgium] has informed me that in I want benefits, I’ll have to work for one year here in Belgium, and then get signed off.
Therefore, I’m entirely dependant on my boyfriend, who was employed when I got here, but isn’t any more. We’re currently living on his benefits and savings.
Last year, I wanted to send my diplomas to the equivalence service to see what they were worth in Belgium, but they told me there wasn’t a Belgian equivalence for the French diplomas I had (aka – they were worth nothing). They did say that if an employer saw them, he or she might accept them anyway – at the very least, they’d see that, since I’d been to university, I must have a higher education level than the Baccalaureat. Therefore, I didn’t need to get the equivalence for my Baccalaureat. It’s a French diploma, I’m living in the French-speaking part of Belgium, and besides, everyone here knows that the Bac is equivalent to their CESS.
Unfortunately, since my diplomas (CAP and DUT) had no equivalence in Belgium, I spent a year looking for a job with no luck whatsoever (unless you count undeclared babysitting). In the end I took a course put in place by the job centre and Manpower, during which we were coached in order to find a job, or at least another course which would allow us to find a job afterwards.
The coach, after studying my CV, my equivalence problems etc., advised me to go back to university and become a preschool teacher. I thought carefully about it, but with his encouragement, I finally decided to go back to school.
I knew it would be another 3 years of being financially dependant on my boyfriend, as I’d have little time to work. I knew it would be difficult at first, since he’s lost his job after his third nervous breakdown (and 3 epileptic fits). The fees are around 800€ per year, not counting bus fees, syllabi and the art supplies I’d need for certain lessons. If I was allowed benefits, it would be easier, since preschool teacher is a job very much in demand and so usually you get to keep your benefits, if you had them in the first place. Since I didn’t, I looked into grants, which I could ask for once I was signed up for the course, and if I didn’t get that, well the school itself had a social service with a certain budget for students in financial difficulty. I imagined finding a week-end job, or babysitting in the evenings. My boyfriend supported me once he realised it was what I really wanted to do.
I made my decision on the 17th of July. But in the list of documents needed to sign me up, there was the Bac equivalence, or at least a paper saying I’d sent for one. The deadline to send off for the equivalence was the 15th of July, two days before the decision. We spoke with the school and with the equivalence service, and they said it would be fine as long as I sent off for the equivalence as soon as the service reopened on the 15th of november. I had the Bac, it was just a formality, so I should be able to sign up and attend lessons, and I’d have the papers dealt with in time for the first exams in January.
I did the pre-application thing as soon as the school reopened ont the 18th of August. I started attending on Monday 15th of September, two days ago, with everyone else. I had my appointment to sign up today. The secretaries informed me that without the equivalence, or the paper saying I’d sent off for one, they couldn’t let me apply, and – this was the worst part – I couldn’t attend lessons without being insured.
I could wait for the 15th of November, when the service opens for next year’s candidates, but by then I’ll have missed more than half the semester, the first week of my internship, and the prep lessons leading up to it. Many of the lessons are practical; if I can’t attend, photocopying somebody’s notes and revising with the syllabus isn’t going to cut it during the January exams.
And let me tell you that after the year I’ve just spent unemployed, on this perpetual paper chase (despite not being allowed any form of aid), between the depression, panic attacks, desperate job hunting and my growing collection of rejection slips; the prospect of another year like that, waiting to receive that one piece of paper that will allow me to finally move forward, doesn’t appeal to me one bit.
It’s funny, because during my first (and perhaps only) lessons yesterday, I learned that one of the rules applied to French-speaking schools in Belgium is that all teachers must allow their students to acquire the competences necessary to find their own place in society, become responsible citizens, and – most ironically – emancipate themselves from whatever poverty or financial difficulties they were born to, or found themselves in before they arrived in school. How am I supposed to become a responsible citizen and escape my own financial difficulties if I’m not allowed to attend lessons and get a diploma that counts in this damn country?
Don’t get me started on the Bologna declaration, the so-called free movement of students between European countries thanks to the ECTS… I stopped believing in that fairy tale a while ago, when one of my friends with a Spanish Master’s degree in Art was informed that according to Belgian law, her level of education doesn’t go any higher than primary school.
So I’m applying for a derogation to the diploma equivalence application deadline. I’m told you make exceptions for circumstances outside of applicants’ control. Personally I can’t remember what it feels like to have any form of control over my life, so please, Mr. or Mrs. Bureaucracy, give me the damn paper, so I can finally become a productive member of society. That’s all I ask.”
“Can’t guarantee you’ll get it, but that’ll be 170€.”