I watched with incredulity as the referendum results of 2016 became clear. At that time, I was one of many young British people already living outside of the UK and I was busy planning my future in Spain. After a series of unfortunate events, it was the country that I had chosen to relocate to in search of a fresh start and new opportunities. I never believed that we, the British electorate, would be so foolish as to turn our back on an entire continent of experience, culture, camaraderie, and history. In short, I never saw this coming.
I now find myself in my mid 20s, once again uncertain of my future. Will I be able to remain in my adopted home, will I have to plan to leave, even if we ‘think’ we will be able to stay, because nothing is set in stone? Will I be able to apply for jobs? Will I have to pay to stay… the truth of the matter is that no one can tell with any certainty what the future will hold for British citizens currently living in Europe. This is the reality as it stands for me. I feel gravely unhappy about it. At the same time, I feel sad for the younger generations that will have had their potential taken away from them.
I look back on the last ten years of my life in which I have been lucky enough to travel widely across several continents and spend years living happily in Europe. As someone that never excelled at languages at school, I found myself always embarrassed in international circles to be the only monolinguist in the group. I found there was an arrogance I felt that I could no longer ignore in our (English speakers’) expectation that others will always speak our language, and it became a club that I no longer wanted to be a member of. It was this that motivated my relocation to Spain. It fueled my mission to learn Spanish. Easier said than done, as unfortunately, most of the world seems to speak English, but little by little, the initially impossible feat becomes more and more feasible.
Would I have managed to get this far studying from a book? I don’t think so, and where would be the fun in that anyway? The feeling that I cannot shake is that the young generation now will not have the opportunity to live, breathe, and immerse themselves in other languages and cultures. The people that will not have the experiences that I have had, and the opportunities that were available to me as a young person that ultimately shaped my outlook on the world. I fear that this will lead to a future where people become far more insular, a worrying attitude that will overflow into all facets of society.
It is with a social and cultural anxiety that I look forward to the future of Great Britain, the country in which I was born, and love dearly. Our multiculturalism is something that I always valued as one of our greatest assets. Now it seems that there are more people than I imagined who do not share this same sentiment. I hope that we will manage to carve a route forward that includes all, and as the clock ticks, and the decision date creeps closer, we hope we will have at least some semblance of an idea what on earth is going to happen in the next year. Until then, I, and many others will wait, and think, and worry, and plan, and then wait some more until someone can tell us how this mess will pan out…
A Young Brit in Spain