Far away from the troubles (2): United Kingdom

20 Dec 2019

What's it like to be far away from your home when that home is the scene of conflict or disaster? For international students, this can be very frustrating and upsetting. Vox interviews them about this. This time: Barry Dankworth (23), Philosophy of Religion student from the UK.

How do you feel about being away from everything that’s happening at home?

‘It’s increasingly boring. When you’re in the UK, you become obsessed with Brexit, it’s in the news all the time. But when you’re over here, even though it matters more because of study possibilities, weirdly you’re able to zone out and you start to care less. It feels good to switch off, even if you should be more worried.

Barry Dankworth
‘I’m not sure though how Brexit would affect me, if at all. The Dutch government sent a letter saying that all current terms for British people working and studying here will be extended for the next 2 years, regardless if there is a deal or not. And my programme will finish in 6 months anyway, so for me it’s… inconsequential. Unless I decide to stay in Europe after my degree. I’m not sure if I will yet, the UK is a miserable heap, but then again so is Europe and the Netherlands. Having met a lot of Europeans I am probably more pro-Brexit than I was before. I think once you start to appreciate how different everyone is, how different every culture is, this project is doomed to fail from the start.’

But what about the economic consequences? Have you seen any effects in your home area?

‘The economic consequences are bad. The European Union itself is perhaps a poor idea and it needn’t necessarily be tied to a market. But I haven’t seen anything different in my home town, although it is a fairly wealthy area and of course I have mostly been in the Netherlands all this time. The election will be strange, watching it from here. I have never been away during an election before. It’s very strange observing family tensions at home, some people are voting for the pro-remain parties, some for the pro-leave.’

Did it change your relationships with family and friends?

‘Yes, my granddad was at the start really pro-Brexit and that distanced him from the rest of the family. You’d pick up the phone and all he’d be saying is “Brexit now, Brexit now”. The annoying thing is if the “remain” had won, the whole idea would have just faded away slowly. But the situation is as it is and these divisions are still running just as they have been since.’

Have you become a little bit less politically involved since you’ve been here?

‘Possibly yes. At home it’s on the radio, on the TV, it’s everywhere. Here it’s just on your laptop if you want it, your friends aren’t talking about it as much. There are little things that just keep you hooked at home, like snippets of conversations at the pub, which are just not here. Here we all follow the US politics, more like entertainment. Game of Thrones ended, so we have to follow something!’

There has been a Ipsos MORI poll regarding whether or not the UK will remain in its current form in the next 5-10 years and many respondents strongly believe that it won’t. What are your thoughts?

‘Yeah, if there is any kind of strong Brexit, Scotland will leave the UK to rejoin the European Union. Which will be great for me, I hope it happens, then I can get an EU passport because I am Scottish by blood. Thing is the European Union is a bad idea, but the single market is a great idea. On a pragmatic level, I think it’s better to remain, but from a distance I am sceptical of the EU. Maybe the Scottish scenario would be the best case for me.’

How is it for you to discuss all this here?

‘It’s really depends. At times it becomes tedious to answer all the “so what do you think about Brexit?” It can be annoying, but also quite funny. It’s interesting to meet other Brits, they seem to also be distanced, which is quite nice, it’s like a support group. In the interest of my sanity it would be great if it all could be resolved. Honestly, it’s all becoming less and less real. A lot of Europeans are watching all this as entertainment and I am starting to as well, just observing the carnage.’

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