Through Brexit Tinted Glasses

Monday, July 25, 2016

Late 2015: I had accepted my fate and moved on. I moved on to looking at jobs in the states and found one that I loved and that luckily loved me back enough to hire me. Come that day I had a lump in my throat standing in Paddington Station before boarding the Heathrow Express, breathing in the freezing British air and listening to the hum of traffic in the streets, the rush of commuters on their cell phones as if that was my actual paradise. But I knew that I was leaving with a great thing ahead of me.

Months rolled by in Texas and although I've had my fair share of hiccups I could not be happier with my job, my house, and am loving everything Austin has to offer, from paddle boarding to brunches.

And then Brexit. Ohhhhhhhh Brexit. Who knew that a political referendum happening thousands of miles away would surface suppressed feelings and insurmountable bitterness all at once for me?

The weeks leading up to the big vote I watched and read and spent every free minute of my days keeping up with the UK's EU referendum. What was and is a political turning point in the UK basically felt like a complete reflection of how I felt as an expat in England. I love England and the UK. So much my heart bursts looking at the London Underground Map and I got teary eyed when PBS was airing reruns of the Great British Bake Off.

But it really sucks when a country you love does not seem to love you back. And I really hate dipping my toes into other country's politics because I know my country makes many people feel this way. And I know people all around the world are literally dying attempting to flee their countries to be greeted with a door slam in the face. Although that is an entirely different rant which I'll file under "days when I feel really angry at how cruel the world can be."

To play devil's advocate, I don't think any country should act as a revolving door and that's not what I'm talking about here. But when I was moving back to the states, I was inundated with "why didn't you just stay...can't you just extend your visa...just find someone else who will hire you!" Even my employer in Bristol asked what they would need to do in order to keep me and my sad, blunt reply is that they couldn't.

It didn't matter that England finally felt like my home, that I now had two degrees to my name, had years of work experience, or that I'm pretty much as responsible as it gets when it comes to bills, taxes, and the like. It didn't matter that I went through so much to get that initial visa and paid overseas tuition to one of their universities. The UK was showing me the door.

Politicians in the US and the UK like to go on about our "special relationship" that our two countries have. The one problem with this statement is that is utter crap (I have a much more colourful word I'd rather place there). There is no temporary work visa for Americans like there is for Commonwealth countries. There is no ERASMUS. There are no EU benefits (which I guess won't be much longer for EU citizens either). So what's our "special relationship"? We both speak English and think Harry Styles is gorgeous? As an American, to live and work in the UK you are either a highly skilled worker in a very niche field where your employer is willing and able to jump through the hoops of sponsorships, your American company sends you directly to the UK, or you marry a British person who makes enough money for the headache and sometimes heartache that is the visa application process.

Which is why articles like this make my blood boil. Being a student in the UK does not guarantee you any benefits beyond your student years. My visa expiry was 4 months after I turned my dissertation in and less than 2 months after receiving confirmation that it had passed. I didn't even get to attend my own graduation ceremony because they had scheduled it after all international student's visas expired, which the university basically shrugged their shoulders about, no apology. So while many international students are able to find jobs after their studies, it is ridiculous to claim it's an easy way in to the country. And it's frankly insulting.

So what does this rant have to do with Brexit? Kind of everything.

Now, I don't think the idea of wanting to leave the European Union is ridiculous, although I believe the the benefits outweigh the kinks. It's not a flawless system and people have every right to be skeptical (although Boris seemed to be a big fan of the single market perks after voting to leave).

But reasonable skepticism was not so much what the Leave campaign was about. I am sure many lovely people voted Leave for their own good reasons but those reasons were so unfortunately overshadowed by a rhetoric that I see so often in the debates and politics here at home. It was about scare tactics, fear mongering, false statistics and shock advertisement to gain followers. It used terrorism as a bargaining chip to divide, not unite. It split the entire country and time will tell how literal that statement will be.

And it resonated with me. It resonated with me the time that someone approached me in the shop I worked at in Bristol and upon hearing my accent shook his head and said "And in the LAST shop I was in, the girl was Canadian! Where are all the British people?". It resonates with me every time my friend has to feel heartbroken because the Atlantic Ocean is the space between her and her boyfriend of 3 years. And it resonated with me when I saw London getting smaller and smaller through the airplane window in February.

Things I have read & watched on this topic that make me feel not so alone:

I am a big believer in the phrase tomorrow will be better, but for now I'm just feeling a bit bitter.

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