I voted for Remain on 23rd June. I voted for freedom of movement. I voted for European solidarity and cooperation. I voted for my European future. I voted for my European Union citizenship. I voted with conviction and I would vote the same way if I had the chance again.
I have been a citizen of the EU for the entirety of my 24 years. I was born three years before the Schengen Area was established, so I have lived a (mostly) luxurious visa-free existence on the continent. I was 10 when I began traveling back and forth between Europe and France every summer to visit my grandparents. A few years later I embarked on my first solo trip to visit my exchange partner whom I had met when she visited my school, hopping on a plane at a flick of my passport.
I have lived in France, which was a dream come true, and worked in Belgium. I have visited fascinating countries: France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany. The only time I have needed to apply for a visa was when I studied in Russia. The advantages of Schengen were not lost on a girl that enjoyed the limitless ease and freedom – until Britain’s promised EU Membership Referendum was announced.
Once a date for the vote was promised to the public, there was no regressing. I campaigned for Stronger In, but in hindsight I believe I knew throughout the campaign that we would lose. Passionate anger at a distant system ‘over there’ in Brussels, separate from the every-day lives of most Brits, motivated more than half to vote for Leave and meanwhile left the pro-Europeans reeling. We now lived in Brexit Britain.
A month afterward, I left the UK and moved to the Netherlands. At first, being a British citizen in the EU made me feel like a pariah, embarrassed to hold a British passport. I found myself needing to bring up ‘the Brexit’ with every Dutch person I encountered; to moan, to criticise, to show that I, a Brit, am not isolationist and that Nigel and Boris do not speak for me. The Europeans around me made a few jokes about Brexit, but they were not as surprised or confused as I expected. For now, nothing has changed; I am still a citizen of the European Union and there have been no certain moves from the British government, which is keeping its chips hidden from public view.
Life as a Brit in Europe has arguably carried on as it did before 23rd June, despite the daily reminders from the media of the ticking EU-clock. I have had a thoroughly European experience since my arrival in Holland. I studied Dutch, started my Masters, and became the Ambassador to the Netherlands for the European Student Think Tank (EST). I study in Amsterdam, one of the most famous European cities, and therefore I am surrounded by an abundance of culture, knowledge and opportunity, all the while paying less than half than that of a Master’s degree in England. Since coming here, I have met and moderated with Ambassadors from the Balkans, I have attended an event at the European Parliament and been exposed to people with personal experiences of crucial events in European history that I have merely studied in books. I identify as European more than ever before; I became who I am in Europe.
Yet, we are now left to await the news of Article 50; we cannot tell what the future negotiations will bring and for now we live on borrowed time, signing petitions and begging European politicians to consider our case. I remember with nostalgia the student who paid no attention to borders – now they are almost tangible, protruding like tree roots out of the ground.
I have grown up an EU citizen, but it is only now that I have fully noticed the value of this citizenship and the opportunities it offers. I am unabashedly pro-Europe, although I am the first to criticise the Union and how it operates. But, I have been given the chance to live and work in 27 other countries and I am seizing this ability with both hands whilst I still can. The results of Brexit remain unknown: we are gambling upon an upheaval of all that we know, or maybe a depleted alternative to what we already have. I do not know what it means for my future, so I am living my European life in the present. That is all I can do.
Rebecca Hogg is the Ambassador to the Netherlands for the European Student Think Tank. She is currently a Master’s student of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam, having gained her Bachelor’s degree in French, Russian and East European Civilisations from the University of Nottingham in the UK. Rebecca spent her Erasmus year abroad as a Language Assistant in France, as an au pair in Belgium and studying the Russian language in Petrozavodsk, Russia. Her areas of interest include the culture and history of Europe, the East-West divide, Women’s Rights in Europe and the rise of nationalism and populism.