PERSONAL INSECURITIES AND CONCERNS
When European students are asked to describe their feelings, they range from excitement to intimidation. No one really is very afraid of Brexit, as current events don’t yet allow the drawing of concrete conclusions. But our European friends have a strong sense of connection and belonging to Europe. They are used to being able to move within the EU and some of them have plans to establish an economically secure life away from their home country, especially if they are from eastern or southern Europe. For most of them, an English-speaking country is the first choice after studying here. And so the potential of having to change their initial plans drastically is confusing their future hopes.
When European students are asked to describe their feelings, they range from excitement to intimidation. No one really is very afraid of Brexit, as current events don’t yet allow the drawing of concrete conclusions. Nonetheless, our European friends have a strong sense of connection and belonging to Europe. They are used to being able to move within the EU and some of them have plans to establish an economically secure life away from their home country, especially if they are from eastern or southern Europe. For most of them, an English-speaking country is the first choice after studying here. So, the potential of having to change their initial plans drastically is confusing their future hopes.
Every student I asked has some sense of insecurity. Sometimes, life in their home country hasn’t always been easy: they are trying to build up a new life in a new place, but now they feel like the doors are closing in front of them once again. It makes some feel like a foreigner and yet they can’t imagine going back to their own country, simply because they know they wouldn’t find any job related to their degrees. They are not willing to waste their degrees by taking on very hard, time-demanding and poorly-paid jobs, if they even manage to find a job back home at all! Studying hard while here in Britain and yet possibly not having the chance to stay is a challenging prospect. At the same time, they might also be uncertain about the near future, because they don’t feel well informed. Reading the newspapers from their home countries gives them a different picture from reading the ones here. Some are not following the news anymore – reports and events all seem slightly chaotic – and so they don’t even know when to expect what. Most of them are aged under 25, and yet are facing changes once more, including political and economic uncertainty, while still only young adults. This raises feelings of intimidation, of not having things under control.
Others are simply curious about how this “experiment” will end, and would like to see some movement against the tendency towards more uniformity within the EU, which is large and diverse. However, at the time of writing, there hasn’t yet been any clear agreement, most students feel they still have some time to think and prepare.
THE SEARCH FOR HOPE
So there is a component of disillusionment about personal and commonly shared visions. But students continue to have a hope in looking beyond Britain for a secure future, given the general mobility of young Europeans. This might mean, however, for our international cafés and other events, that in coming years we might have fewer European long-term students visiting.
Asked whether religion, and particularly Christianity, might provide an answer to the changing European world, none of the students I spoke to could see an obvious link. One student, however, appreciated the international café as being a place open to diversity, and as a visible effort to work against possible racist tendencies. Thinking more about it, we indeed can play an active role in creating places like international cafés, where Europeans feel at home. Overt racism doesn’t yet seem to be a strong reality and people might not be consciously aware of the changes in anyone’s mindset. Yet, my conversations with some European friends showed the actual existence of feelings of insecurity and intimidation beyond the normal challenges of living abroad.
More importantly, this is the point at which we can meet European students at their point of need. We can listen, understand and unify people again, enabling a sense of belonging and stability. Besides providing information for what Brexit means for them, there seems to be another great opportunity: this may be just the right moment for us to challenge our European friends with the gospel and the security God wants to give us. Perhaps this is precisely the place where they can begin to relate to the hope that the Bible gives us through Christ. Perhaps Brexit has created a season in which we can openly share our fears, and discover how God meets us in the midst of our insecurities. A person who is perfectly happy might not understand their need for a redeemer and a Lord, but someone whose visions and hopes for the future have been shaken, will.
SOME WAYS TO BEGIN THE CONVERSATION
We don’t have to wait for things to become reality. We already have a start by asking the very questions that we ourselves might not want to think about anymore. We can do this in a bigger discussion group or privately, and it is almost certain that some of our friends from more direct cultures will start naming the issues which concern them.
None of us wants to start unhelpful political debates or polarising arguments, especially in our international student events! But perhaps we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about the whole issue of Brexit and its implications more openly, as Europeans often are very happy to share their opinions on this matter and to express possible worries. Communication is, after all, the safest way to overcome differences. Then our different ways of opening windows and the lack of Monster Munch in Bulgaria might not matter so much anymore.
Go here to read part 1 of this article.
First published in Insight, Issue 20, A Journal for International Student Ministry in the UK.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.