Saturday, 25 June 2016

I Am European

An instagram picture taken by me, a few months ago, when my mum and I had lunch in the Berlaymont building of the European Commission. 

AKA "The Lament of the Child of a 'Eurocrat?'."

AKA my own personal feelings about the EU Referendum, which is not intended to cause offence to anyone who may have voted differently to me, I respect your opinions, this is just how I feel, and how the Referendum has affected me personally.

Let us start with a little snippet of my life story - my mum works in HR at the European Commission in Brussels, and has done for over 30 years. I was born in Belgium, as was my little brother. My family are all fully British, and I have always been a British passport holder. Until I was fourteen, I was educated in the local Belgian primary and secondary schools in my town, which is how I became bilingual. For my last four years of secondary education, I attended a European School, where I was educated in multiple languages, and surrounded by other kids from all different countries and cultures.

This is the European School Ethos:

"Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe." - Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the EU

I used to be able to go grab some books from my locker, walk down the hallway and hear conversations in English, Dutch, French, Italian or Portuguese, all mixed in. Being 'foreign' wasn't a thing. Going from one class to the other, I genuinely had to ask myself 'which language is this next class in?'. That was my life, from ages fourteen to eighteen.

Yet despite having been to school in a very European environment, I still felt British. That was my passport country, and I had various relatives living in the UK. As I wanted to study English Literature, I went back to the UK for University. Despite it being my first time living in the UK, and I did come from abroad, I didn't join the International Society. Nobody really knew, unless they asked where I was from, that I hadn't grown up there. But I was shocked at how many people assumed I wasn't British, that I was Belgian, just because that's where I was born and grew up. It was such an odd concept to so many people that you can still be British and feel British and grow up elsewhere. I guess I can't blame them, as people with an upbringing and education like mine aren't exactly common.

I loved living in the UK. Despite speaking Dutch fluently, and French almost fluently, English has always been the language I was most comfortable expressing myself in. I made a lot of friends, gained so much confidence, and despite always being the 'foreign' one in my friendship group, I had a great time. My closest family still lived in Belgium, as do a fair few friends, and I visited there every holiday. Luckily, the European Commission has a policy set in place to allow the children of expats who choose to study in their home country, like I did, to receive a certain amount of money per month for accommodation and living costs - as long as they are in full time education and under 26. As I didn't qualify for the UK Maintenance Loan like most of my peers did, this money was a life saver.

I have shared all this stuff about me for a reason - I just wanted to show how the EU has played a major part in my life.

After graduating, I had every intention to stay in the UK. Why not, I loved it here. I lost Belgian citizenship to live here - I had to hand my permit of long term residence back in, I had officially left Belgium, and I was a full UK citizen.

When I first heard about the EU Referendum, I laughed, and my exact thoughts were 'what a ridiculous idea, that'll never happen!'. And then the day got closer, and it became much more of a possibility that it might happen. And then it did.

As someone who grew up European, who has grown up knowing that all of these people who are from different countries, who speak different languages and often speak broken English in a funny accent - these people are the same as us. There is no difference. I grew up without any fear of new cultures, or different people. At school, if I met someone who didn't speak any of the same languages I did, I would laugh and enjoy the hilarious attempts to communicate in broken sentences of whatever language that other person might speak. It has only been since coming to the UK that I've heard the word 'immigration' thrown about in a negative context. Call me idealistic or naive, but I don't see anything wrong with immigration. There's so much to learn and experience from different cultures, any cultures, that having more diversity and multiculturalism seems like a good thing.

It was a sad day for me, to wake up on the 24th of July 2016 to see that awful word - 'out.'

It seems very personal. Suddenly, my mum's future in her job is uncertain. She's looking into requesting Belgian nationality, and so is my brother. I, unfortunately, left. So if I want to become Belgian, I'd have to move back and work there for 5 years.

As well as my mum's job and my family's financial security being on the line, so is my future education. I plan to do a PhD after my MLitt, but without the funding I get from the European Commission, I won't be able to do it anymore. Suddenly in one day, everything I was certain about, became uncertain.

I have never felt less British. I don't want to have to get a visa to visit the country I grew up in. I don't want my mum and brother to have to get a visa to come and visit me. I am European, not British, and I feel like that has been taken away from me. Luckily, I'm doing my masters in Scotland, so I'll be surrounded by people that feel the same way, mostly people who want to be European, to be in the EU. Having been to the school that I did, with the ethos it had, I've been able to experience and appreciate how amazing it is to live and work in an entirely multicultural, multilingual and European atmosphere. I wish every British citizen had been able to experience and appreciate that.

This wasn't what I wanted. This wasn't my vote. And it feels like 52% of the country don't want people like me here - people who know the EU very well, have connections to the EU and have lived abroad for most of their life, but are still British, feel British and choose to live in the UK. I thought I could be both - British, and still European. But now I'm leaning more towards European.

I know this post is really long, and I will be mightily impressed if anyone read it all, but I feel like we've lived through a historical day, that will be remembered and talked about for decades to come. If any of our great-great-grandchildren study History or Politics at university, they could end up writing their dissertation on this. I wanted to document how I felt.

Again, these are my personal thoughts. I mean no offence to anyone who may have voted out, and is happy with the result. I just wish it had gone another way.

Lots of Love,


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