On 23rd June 2016 I was exactly one week away from graduating with a degree in German and History. I was, like all graduates before me, both nervous about life after university and excited about the possibilities it held. Everything ahead seemed equally possible and impossible: building a career, starting a new life – I was both steadfastly confident that I could do it all and wildly nervous that I’d never pull it off.
Having spent 11 years studying German, I had planned to move to Berlin after graduating, hoping to find a job and explore living and working in a new country. The run- up to the Brexit vote hadn’t really affected me in any great way: I and everyone I knew was voting to stay in the EU and so any mention of the referendum was met with an eye-roll before moving swiftly on to another topic. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that my moving abroad would be affected by anything other than my own means and desire to go.
The consequences of that naivety hit me hard as I watched the results come in. My initial confusion soon turned to angerat my own complacency and apparent stupidity in how badly I’d misunderstood the public feeling in the UK towards the EU.
The day after the results, a few of my friends came to my flat, having taken part in a protest at the Scottish parliament. All the girls there that evening had studied modern languages, all of us had spent time studying or working in Europe as part of our degree and almost all of us had plans to move to another European country after graduating. One of the girls there was graduating only a few days later with a degree in European Union Studies, and she looked ill as she discussed how her dream job of working for the European Parliament had now vanished.
With regards to timing, I was very lucky: although the Brexit vote would have affected any long-term plans to move abroad, in the short term, I was able to move to Berlin without any issues. During the 18 months I spent in Berlin, I consistently met Germans who were more welcoming and supportive than I would have imagined, given the message my country had, through this referendum, given to theirs.
After the US elections in October 2016, at parties I often found myself grouped together and strangely allied with any Americans, feverishly apologising for our countries as all the other party-goers asked us stunned questions. ‘How could this happen?’ ‘Don’t you all know how stupid this is?’ ‘Do people in your country really believe in this?’ And all we could answer is ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’
I have benefitted hugely as a young person from the freedom of movement that the UK enjoyed whilst being a part of the EU. In 2014, I spent a year studying in Vienna as part of the ERASMUS scheme that is open to every university student in the UK. Experiences like that are invaluable and can change the course of a person’s life, and I feel so regretful that there are generations of students after me who won’t be able to take part.
The EU was founded in an attempt to bring European countries closer together, to halt any more major conflicts and to encourage unity between each of the different nations. These are values that I and so many other young people hold: we are curious, we want to experience and learn from other cultures and societies and we want to work together. Brexit is such a large ideological shift away from these values and I am so disappointed for the message that has been sent, not only to the rest of the world, but to the young people who are now deciding how and where to live their lives.
Brexit is a huge and complicated issue, and I know that I only understand and relate to a tiny fraction of it. But what I do know is that the lives that I and so many other young people envisaged for ourselves are having to be rapidly re-written. I hope that the curiosity and openness that many young people feel will not be diminished by the isolationist attitude that Brexit has introduced – or, more accurately, bolstered – in our country.