Today I woke up in a different country.
I first moved to the UK about five years ago. I came as a 19 year old full of hope, expectations, enthusiasm. I couldn’t believe my luck that I got into a British university. I was happy, elated, excited to get away from a country that promoted racism, bigotry, that played with the lives of the poor and made a mess out of everything.
This country has given me a lot. It’s given me an education that was pretty great, a degree in Journalism where I had the opportunity to explore, to be academically challenged. It‘s given me jobs that paid more than I could have got at home doing the same things. While my friends were working for as little as £1 an hour, I was making a living. Thank you, Great Britain, for being here for me to pursue the truly idealistic view of making a change.
However, today I realised I’ve had just such a privileged view of this country. Its working class is in shambles, disillusioned and blaming immigration for all of their troubles. Of course, I’ve known and been victim of this first hand before, but the extent of the matter hadn’t hit me until today.
Everyone hates the establishment – and I’m the first one there on the picket line when it comes to that. The EU isn’t the perfect institution that brings only joy and happiness and unity.
But for me, it’s done some great things.
As a 19 year old from a poor European country, I had the opportunity to get a great education. I worked my ass off for it and I’m paying back every cent with interest, but the EU made it so easy for me to just pack up and go. And you like that, Britain, don’t you? You don’t mind the tens of thousands of EU university students that come to the UK every year and buy into thousands of pounds of debt instead of paying into their own countries. We are the kind of enthusiastic, skilled workers you can’t wait to snatch up. My university hired people to recruit from other EU countries and that’s at the heart of its strategy for expansion. Should I mention that, so ironically, the majority of students employed by the university were also from the EU? Was that because we had privileged status? No, it was because British students were going back home for the summer while we were hanging around, trying to make a living to pay back our student fees and pay our rent.
Secondly, the EU made it possible for me to gain a qualification in the UK as an English teacher and then (in a week after finishing my course) to get a job in Spain. No equivalency needed, no paperwork, just pack up and go. Is that going to be possible in a Brexit world? I don’t think so. Bureaucracy will take over and slow down anyone who wants to pursue a bigger dream than staying at home their whole lives or moving up the street.
The same EU then provided funding for a project which allowed volunteers from all across Europe to come to Bristol, European Green Capital 2015, and help out small charities and organisations which promote environmentalism in the city. My bias is clear here – I benefitted directly, I was paid by the EU to come and do something I loved in a city that I admired.
And that’s exactly my point. There are many more just like me. People who look for opportunities, who want to be part of an international community without the hassle of visas, discrimination and so on. We are the new generation who doesn’t see borders, who grew up in online communities where we empathise, befriend and admire people all around the world. We care about the environment, we care about the poor not only in our own countries, but in every country.
Maybe I’m not the right person to speak here. Maybe I come from a place of lower middle class and I’ve never struggled enough to have a say. Maybe I’m thinking only about myself and how I’m pissed off to be living in a worse country today than I was yesterday.
But I’ve found the best things I’ve had in this life have been because of opportunities. Those opportunities were there because people worked together. I am now giving back my share by working, volunteering, campaigning. I do wish the generation growing up now will have at least the same chance I had…but from the looks of it, they’ll just have to stick to this lonely island.