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30th November 2023

Just when I thought I couldn’t hate Brexit more, I started planning my year abroad

Is post-Brexit ‘Great Britain’ really that great if students face an onslaught of limitations, rules and formal processes when it comes to applying to study abroad?
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Just when I thought I couldn’t hate Brexit more, I started planning my year abroad
Credit: Anna Nygard @ Unsplash

I study History and French as a joint honours student. However, I don’t particularly enjoy memorising several different tenses or, for that matter, hazarding a guess at what gender various kitchen utensils are. I mostly study a language because when I chose my A-Levels, I decided that I was so diametrically opposed to Brexit that I had better put my money where my mouth is and learn a foreign language. Admittedly, it sounds certifiably pathetic and a little pretentious in hindsight, but what can I say? I like Brigitte Bardot and I’m simultaneously partial to being a bit of a martyr.

When it came to finalising my degree programme, there was a minor incentive which contributed to my eventual decision. I am, of course, referring to the coveted year abroad.

Initially, I imagined myself swanning off with ease to the cosmopolitan Paris or perhaps sun-drenched Montpellier. In this specific dream, which was typified by largely offensive stereotypes about France, there I was, spritz in hand. Paperwork? What is this paperwork that you speak of? I would ask. I simply cracked an amusing one-liner at border control and was welcomed with open arms.

Inevitably, this was all a bubble which swiftly burst since the reality couldn’t be more different if it tried.

Suddenly, there was a startlingly Everest-esque accumulation of rules, limitations, and paperwork beginning to form. This isn’t to say that none of this existed before Brexit, but has it been exacerbated by it? Well, does the Pope pray?

To put it lightly, I’m pretty ticked off and I was already sick to the back teeth of Brexit and the relentless propulsion of xenophobic narratives. I had a pre-existing abundance of ammunition. First, Dominic Cummings – the campaign director of Vote Leave – and his band of merry malefactors sold the public a boatload (or busload) of lies about innocent immigrants and refugees. As a consequence, my year abroad is in jeopardy. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to my newest and most exclusive first-world problem.

As of January 1 2021, UK Citizens have had to obtain a Long Stay visa if staying in France for more than 90 days, whatever the purpose of your stay. Obviously, if you are an EU national, meaning you are in possession of an EU passport, you are exempt from such obstacles.

In truth, my dad’s ’23 and Me’ results (the DNA test where you salivate into a vial and hope some scientists tell you you’re an eighth Italian) came back as 89% British and Irish. In fact, his genealogy is so English that I imagine his chromosomes to largely resemble Matt Baker from Countryfile or perhaps Winston Churchill. So, as I’m sure you have already deduced, there was no European Passport in sight for me; just my rotten, Boris Johnson-approved “bloooo” one.

To make matters worse, upon attending my Residence Abroad briefing we were cautioned that the University would not be helping us obtain our visas if we wished to find a work placement, for fear that they would be liable for legal action if our paperwork was incorrect. While that’s the University’s tracks nicely covered up I, on the other hand, am perhaps destined to be held hostage in the British Embassy.

The Turing Scheme – which replaced the Erasmus scheme following Brexit – gave students £22 million less than its predecessor in 2022. Turing reserves 52% of its places for disadvantaged students but funding is not guaranteed. With a year abroad mandatory for many courses, students have had to commit to costly arrangements with deadlines that unfold prior to confirmation of any funding. It is essentially both financially precarious and a logistical pain in my backside.

Aside from this, the Turing Scheme prevents students from the EU from easily finding work placements in the UK. Essentially, Turing denies European people an equal opportunity to work or study in Britain. Brexit policy contributes to the erasure of what makes higher education but also life more broadly so enriching: integration with different groups of people.

Already, ‘Little Britain’ is becoming even littler. A little less accommodating and a little less open-minded, minute by minute. By preventing EU residents from travelling here to work or study, we are closing ourselves off to ideas and innovation that have the power to propel us forward. It’s like Nigel Farage opened some apocalyptic portal to the medieval era while he remains in the modern day absconding responsibility and being paid to eat camel testicles and wrangle snakes in the jungle.

This ‘islander mentality’ that the referendum has perpetuated is nothing short of infuriating and seeks only to set us back. Frankly, we are not better off alone – we never have been, and we most certainly never will be. Britain is not a boat that has been paddled forward with British oars alone; we are an amalgamation of vibrant and diverse cultures that egregious politicians have sought to eradicate. Remember this when eating Tapas in the Northern Quarter or getting your haircut at a Turkish barber. Never bite the hand that feeds you. Specifically when that hand is offering you literally anything that isn’t black pudding or spotted dick.

Having said all of this, I’m not sure what would possess a student from Barcelona to travel to this blustering rainy hovel of an island anyway. Rest assured, we, the laughing stock of the European continent, are the only ones who are losing out.


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