'Something there is that doesn’t love a wall' (Robert Frost)
Like many others, being part of the European Union changed my life.
It’s been 18 years that I first came to study in England, an opportunity afforded to me by the Erasmus scholarship exchange programme. It opened my eyes to other cultures and other possibilities. Two years later I packed my bags and moved here, to this small island I am proud to call my home.
And so I swapped 300 days of sunshine a year, palm trees and oranges, family and friends, and a dire lack of job prospects, for your diverse cities, lush green countryside, brief springs and long winters and the task of building up a network of friends step by step. Most importantly, opportunities were available for me to contribute to society in a number of ways: to work and learn, to earn more as I gained more experience, to pay taxes that would go towards my hospital care when my daughter was born or towards the one month of unemployment benefit I claimed in all these years.
I have a permanent job in my chosen career: a pipe dream for many of the friends I left behind. There are also other things that I have done during my time here that you cannot put a monetary value on, like helping a wonderful group of seniors get to grips with computing and the internet 50 years+ after leaving school, turning a tiny patch of grass into a simple community garden, or tin shaking for the wonderful folks at Autism Family Support Oxfordshire.
Increasingly over the last few weeks I am finding that the referendum is casting a shadow over me, especially since a lot of the ‘Leave’ arguments seem to be about the pressure immigrants put on resources and very little about our contribution to society. I see businesses struggle to recruit for certain occupations around us, and I wonder who would do those jobs that are perceived as less desirable in a strong economy, with a low unemployment rate? Healthcare assistants working nights, fruit pickers, cleaners – all part of a chain that keeps our society moving by working unsociable hours and getting their hands dirty to progress one day.
I agree that there is a huge issue to do with housing, and one that I have experienced too, from lack of affordable housing to unsuitable quality of privately rented accommodation. And that we need our politicians and sector experts to work together to formulate policies and legislate, and to continue moving in the right direction, because things have already improved since the days of Cathy come home.
Migration has also brought diversity to our country, opening our eyes to other cultures and possibilities, and making us realise it is indeed a small world. Many British people are migrants in other countries, including large expat communities in Spain and France.
Sadly, I cannot vote as I am not a British citizen. If you as a country vote to leave the EU, I personally think that we will get a certain degree of isolation. The EU is like a boss at our workplace; one that is probably not our favourite, but we know they are important, and it is a good idea to get on well with them (as everybody else in our team does) so we stand a better chance to get our voice heard, and to influence decisions that will affect our future, and the future of the next generations. This doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the European Union does, and like every dysfunctional family, it’s got its issues, and this time economic disparity is the big elephant in the room.
I love this country because it’s given me so much and it’s made me who I am. And I hope these possibilities are also open to the next generations to dream big and reach out into other countries to turn their dreams into a reality. So whatever you decide, please vote with your conscience and your hopes, not your fears.