If you haven’t spent the last 24 hours under a rock, you know by now that the UK voted to leave the European Union. Living in Australia, it was easy to follow the vote count live. At the beginning it was a nail-biter, but early in the afternoon it was clear that ‘Leave’ got the majority.
Born and raised in Germany, the European Union was always a given for me. I can barely remember ever using my passport for inner-continental travel. My first full-time pay-check was in Euros. While I’ve never been in business, directly benefiting from EU trade reliefs, I always assumed and felt that it was a good thing. Working together across countries makes everybody better off. Even celebrations like the Eurovision Song Contest were part of bringing nations closer together creating solidarity.
Beyond free travel, I tremendously benefited from the EU. I was raised by two loving parents, my father a policeman, my mother a nurse. We’ve never been wealthy, but there was always more than enough. Given free education in Germany, I was able to go to university and by means of an Erasmus grant I was able to study free of charge for a year in London. It was an amazing year that allowed me to live in the middle of London and immerse myself not only in the British culture, but even more in the mixed company of other Erasmus students from France, Denmark, Spain, Italy and many other countries.
My parents were especially very grateful for this year. They’ve told me many times that in this one year I became more open to other people’s opinions and matured into a much more positive human being, more friendly and kinder.
So, while I saw the results coming in yesterday, I became sadder and sadder. I will probably be able to let my children spend time abroad and experience foreign cultures, but I’m worried that other people might no longer be able to afford the privileges I enjoyed.
It just seems paradoxical to me. Technology makes it easier to connect with people across borders and continents. Out of Australia I can call my parents in Germany using FaceTime virtually free of charge anytime I want to. I can send them messages and pictures and let them participate in my life. Distance and borders become less and less of an issue to stay in touch. However, at the same time in many countries, both East and West of the Atlantic, voices become louder to protect borders and national interests, to no longer work together, but rather use tactics of fear, uncertainty and doubt. I still don’t understand why.
Yesterday, the world grew a little smaller and at some point I just had to stop reading Twitter and news sites. I’m sad for the European Union and hope that the UK’s example will be a wake up call for the rest of the EU to not take the EU’s privileges for granted, but rather nurture the idea of collaboration, openness and understanding.
But for now, I’m going to follow the British motto to “keep calm and carry on”, still believing in the idea of the European Union that working together is better than working alone.