I would like to put my thoughts into some kind of order, so here goes:
I haven’t spoken to one person who voted leave. Not one. My facebook feed is full of despair, disappointment, anger and sadness at the news that broke on Friday morning. It strikes me that I can’t seem to find anybody who doesn’t agree with me – and that is part of the problem. Are the two sides talking to each other? Are they exchanging opinions and discussion personal experiences? Or are we just moving further and further apart? I choose to read articles that reflect my interests, titles that catch my eye. I would much prefer to read about how the EU has helped the UK, rather than how the immigrants have flooded and ruined what once was ‘Great’ Britain. I have realised that I have had no interaction with those who felt the inclination to vote leave, very little discussion or debate. The country is divided and those who voted ‘leave’ are so far removed from my offline and online social life that it is very difficult to try to build bridges of understanding. In the same way that I feel passionately about Remain, they feel passionately about Leave – where I choose to read about cultural exchange, they choose to read about immigration problems. We’ve both made our own world of information which we choose to listen to. We reinforce our own opinion to reassure ourselves that we’ve made the right decision. Our information throws us in two very different directions. The bridge that needs building between us grows longer and we drift further and further apart.
We don’t understand half of it.
Ironically, the first I learnt about Britain’s somewhat complicated relationship with the EU was when I was teaching in Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean in 2011. I was standing in front of 25 expectant faces as hands shot up in the air, “Miss, why does Britain not just take the Euro?” “Miss, why has Britain always negotiated their own deals with the EU” , “Miss, do you feel European?” Quite honestly, I had absolutely no idea to the first two questions and to the last one I said yes. Up until teaching kids in the Indian Ocean, my education about the European Union was quite simply non-existent. Despite being a student at one of the UK’s top 10 universities, I’d got through my education without having a clue what the EU did for Britain and what Britain did for the EU.
So what did I know? I knew that I was standing in front of that group of 16 year olds thanks to Erasmus. Erasmus allowed me to work in France and earn a salary and pay only half of my tuition fees back in Exeter (although it was still painful to pay for fees when I wasn’t at uni, it could have been much worse). Erasmus gave me about 4000 euros to help pay for my rent, food, flights and many-a-soirée in an absolutely beautiful island. Erasmus allowed me to have confidence in myself and taught me that I could live anywhere. Erasmus is the reason I am now living in Malawi.
The last few months has seen statistics flying around and huge claims from both the ‘Leave’ and the ‘Remain’ campaign. None of us ordinary people are experts, and we shouldn’t pretend to be. Reading The Guardian, The Daily Mail or The Sun doesn’t mean that we are well informed to make decisions about the future of this country. Trade agreements, international law and relations are so bloody complicated and there isn’t a ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ guide to the EU. For this reason, we were reliant on information from the experts in making a decision. Those who’ve spent their lives studying the EU; those who understand the complexities, the benefits and the problems. Unfortunately, the facts were not blazed over the front page of the newspapers. Instead we saw Boris’s floppy hair and Farage’s gruesome grin. Since when did we ignore such knowledgeable, intelligent people? It is only in the wake of this vote that the reality of the enormous EU investment in Britain is being published. Too late.
Since Friday morning, I have had endless fascinating conversations about politics, racism, the EU, and international relations. The story has shaken the world, all the way to Malawi. My Malawian colleague said to me ‘many people think Africa’s elections are unfair as the victorious candidate is usually the one who hands out the most free t-shirts to the uneducated population – hasn’t the same thing just happened for you?’ What am I supposed to say to that?
Nearly 4,000,000 people have signed the parliamentary petition to rerun the vote. What happens when academics, economists and those ‘in the know’ are unable to predict what’s going to happen? What happens when the winning campaign admits that their manifesto was full of ‘mistakes’? What happens when a country’s leader announces he’s stepping down 3 hours after such a mammoth decision? What happens when the Pound to Dollar rate is at its lowest for 30 years? What happens when democracy causes this nightmare?
What about me?
I have never felt so torn about my national identity. I’ve lived abroad for the past 3 years. In general, I do not feel a huge allegiance to Britain. And I definitely don’t understand the idea of nationalism. This vote also reinforced my idea that values bring people together, not our passports. Yet on Friday morning, I had tears in my eyes. I realised that despite everything, Britain is my home. It’s always been the safe base which I could go back to. It’s allowed me to recharge my batteries before starting on my next adventure. I grew up in Britain. And for this I am so thankful.
On Friday morning, I was confused. I was angry. I was embarrassed.
Over the last few years, I have dreamed of eventually living in the South of France. Finding a place not too far away from some of my best French friends. I thought about how my English family and friends could pop over for £40 return to a local Ryanair airport for a weekend and my Austrian and German friends could swing by whenever they wanted. I’ve thought about how, if I ever have children, I would want them to grow up bilingual, with knowledge of different cultures and ways of living. Thanks to the EU and Erasmus, I have my French social security number and healthcare card. This was all going to be so easy. On Friday morning, democracy shattered my dream. And I’m so confused about it.
What about The Cool Graduate?
The Cool Graduate started because I know that our generation are travellers. I know that our generation are curious. I know that our generation are adventurers. Being part of the EU made adventuring extremely easy and for that we are so grateful. The Cool Graduate is starting a revolution. We’re talking about building meaning, fulfilment and fun into graduate careers. Now more than ever, allow yourself to follow your dreams. If you wanted to go inter-railling, do it now. If you wanted to study that masters in Copenhagen, apply now. If you want to go and live in Italy and learn how to make pasta, just do it. This vote proves to us how quickly things can change. We can’t take things for granted. We have to make the most of now. The future is so uncertain. Speak your mind. Fight for what you believe in. Follow your dreams. Let us move forward. One thing is for sure, it won’t be too long before our generation will lead this country. And this fills me with hope. Go out and soak up as many experiences as you possibly can, so that when our time comes to lead this country, we lead with compassion, courage, and conviction.