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Europeans in Nottingham Talk Brexit

18 January 17 words: Susana de Dios

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, many UK-based Europeans have been left with feelings of insecurity and anxiety about what the future might hold for them and their families. Here are a few snapshots of experiences from Europeans in Nottingham, capturing their thoughts and emotions following this momentous and potentially life-changing political decision…

Alexandra. photo: Susana de Dios

Alexandra came to the UK from Greece in 2003 to further her education. Shortly after arriving, she started a postgraduate course in drama therapy, combining her studies with a job as a supply teacher. She then started a family and began working as a therapist for the NHS CAMS Service, supporting children with mental health issues.

After being made redundant in 2013, she decided to focus again on her education, enrolling in a postgraduate course in psychoanalytical observational studies at the University of Leeds - a course she had to put on hold after giving birth to her third child.

At the moment, Alexandra is supporting her local community as a volunteer therapist for a mother and baby support group in Nottingham. In the future, she hopes to be able to resume her studies in order to set up her own private practice as a psychotherapist.

“[Brexit] shattered my illusions about the UK being a sort of utopia. I left Greece because I realised it had a lot of work to do on women’s rights, gay rights, human rights, immigrant rights. I felt like [the UK] was the green and happy land and that people were more open-minded, but what I suspected all these years was that it wasn’t that they had more tolerance here about immigrants. I think it was more indifference than tolerance.

I think the country is going to go through some difficulties now, unless people are really flexible and resourceful. They will have to be more creative about how to be outside the EU and still be a very vibrant and robust country, both financially and culturally. How they go about it is the big unknown now.”

Amaya. photo: Susana de Dios

Amaya grew up in a German-Spanish household. Originally from La Paz, she was adopted by a German mother and a Spanish father and lived in various countries throughout her childhood before finally settling in Brussels, where she completed her International Baccalaureate.

She then moved to Madrid to study at Universidad Carlos III where, being from a different background, she encountered an unwelcoming atmosphere and found it challenging to fit in. She stayed in Madrid for a year and then moved to the UK in 2006 in search of a more tolerant and inclusive experience which, happily, she found.

Soon after arriving in the country, Amaya started a degree in economics and, after completing her studies, spent the following year and a half doing volunteering work with refugees and local organisations, helping the most vulnerable people in society.

She then moved to the Netherlands for a year, to study European politics at postgraduate level. However, after encountering much of the same atmosphere she endured in Madrid, Amaya decided to return to England and shortly after found a job at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Nottingham, where she still works today.

“To me [the referendum result] was traumatic, like a car crash. You don’t experience the full range of emotions right away – it’s like a delayed reaction. I am now more involved in politics as I want to know what the opposition are doing, so I travel to London regularly to attend conferences and events. There are many of us in this situation, we have to get organised and take action to highlight the contribution we make to this country.

I think the remain camp didn’t do a good job explaining the many benefits of being in the EU. They didn’t include us EU nationals in their narrative during the campaign either. Where were the first-hand accounts of people like myself who have lived here for years? Of EU nationals who have started their businesses here and are generating employment and revenue for this country?

The day after the referendum, I felt like a guest who had overstayed their welcome. Some of my European friends feel anxious about speaking in English with an accent, worried about giving themselves away as foreign. This isn’t a feeling that’s just going to go away, like flicking a switch. It is traumatic and it will take years.”

Andres. photo: Susana de Dios

Inma. photo: Susana de Dios

Andres and Inma come from Andalucía in Spain and have lived in the UK since 2011. They are married with a young son, who was born in England in 2013.

Andres worked as a locum pharmacist and is now setting up El Cuervo – his own bilingual theatre company. Inma has worked as a researcher in microbiology at the University of Nottingham and is now working as part of the scientific team of a British natural nitrogen technology company.

“It was sad to see how most of the leave campaign was focused on immigration, blaming people like us for some of the biggest problems of this country," says Inma. "After the referendum, we experienced a mixture of emotions – fear, frustration, anger, a strong feeling of being unwanted.

We felt it was very irresponsible of politicians to pit one section of the population against another for their own interests, not valuing foreign workers like us for the contribution we make to the development of this country. We are worried that this could greatly affect the peaceful coexistence between nationalities in this diverse and multicultural country.”

Anna. photo: Susana de Dios

Anna comes from Barcelona and has lived in the country since 2008. She got married in 2009 and has a young son who has just started school.

Since arriving, Anna has worked in the hospitality sector, later in human resources and sales for various companies. In 2015 she retrained as a nutritional coach and now runs her own fitness and nutrition business, which focuses on the emotional aspects of weight gain.

“Brexit hasn’t particularly affected my life so far. I think there is a lot of confusion at the moment, no one really knows how it’s going to turn out. In fact, since the referendum I have felt more support and kindness from English people than ever before.

I am happy and content in this country and I always try to focus on the positive. I am not worried about it, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

Jadwiga. photo: Susana de Dios

Jadwiga came to the UK from Poland in 2010. She soon found employment as a warehouse worker, a job she did for the first year and a half, combining it with a part-time teaching position at a Polish school.

She was then able to move on to office work, temping for a leading international infrastructure company as an office administrator. Following this, she worked in the probation sector as part of a learning and development team, coordinating training for probation officers.

Jadwiga is currently working as a personal development coordinator for an organisation that helps individuals struggling with homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental health problems. In her role, she works in a team to support people, coordinating projects and referring those in need to the services and resources that can help them.

While she credits this job as her dream job, Jadwiga would also like to explore her creative side and is currently furthering her skills as a photographer, hoping that one day she will be able to combine her passion for helping people with her passion for photography.

“I try not to worry about things I have no control over, and I feel pretty secure here because of my job and my house. [Brexit] was like a slap in the face, it was so surreal I didn’t really believe it. I sensed the effects overnight – the situation totally flipped, like before people had to respect you but now they have invisible permission to victimise you. It’s awful.

My friend who works closely with the Polish community is telling me horror stories about how they are now being victimised not just by some people in this country, but by other nationalities as well. I am hearing a lot of stories about Polish people not being served well at stores, cashiers being unpleasant to them. Things like that make you feel not so welcome here.

I am very worried that this wave of hate will continue and that it will get worse when we actually leave the EU. It will affect innocent people who work hard, and that is really unfair.

On the other hand, the day after the referendum my manager went out and bought all Polish workers flowers to show his appreciation and that we are welcome. That was amazing, and this is what I hold on to, more than the prejudice that might be out there.”

Maria. photo: Susana de Dios

Maria came to the UK from Madrid and holds a degree in Spanish and Latin American studies from the Universidad Complutense. She arrived in the country in 2014 and since then has taught Spanish in the higher education sector. She is currently enrolled in a master’s programme to further her skills as a Spanish language teacher. In the future, Maria would like to develop her own Spanish-teaching business, using her passion for cooking as a medium for teaching the language.

“I experienced a lot of sadness and anxiety at the beginning,” says Maria. “[Brexit] made me question whether this was really the place for me in the long term. I felt left out at a time when I was working hard to fit in and adapt to British culture. However, I have had a lot of support from some sectors of society, like work colleagues and my own students. This has made me feel a bit better. I am not sure where I will end up – I’m young and there’s a whole world out there to explore.”

Simon. photo: Susana de Dios

Simon was born in the UK, to an English father and a Spanish mother. Although British by birth, he identifies more with his Spanish side. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish from Oxford University and a PhD in Spanish theatre from Queen Mary University of London. Simon has travelled between the two countries his whole life. In 2008 he moved to Spain and began working for a theatre company in Madrid. In 2013 he returned to the UK to work as a university lecturer, a position he still holds now. 

“On the day of the referendum, I was working at a theatre workshop in London with people from all over the world. We were all devastated. Then out came the stories in the press about people telling European waiters to go home. It was disgraceful. Some people say that the leave vote was a vote of punishment against Cameron and the Tories, but I think the voters are only punishing themselves. I see no positives at all in this situation. Things seem to have calmed down, but you can already see some repercussions.”

Yvonne. photo: Susanna de Dios

Yvonne came to the UK from Germany in 2010 to study economics at a London university, as part of the Erasmus exchange programme. After completing her studies in the UK, she went back to Germany to finish her degree and then returned to the UK to take up an internship working for a start-up company, as a sporting and social events organiser for international students.

She then took up a position with the British Medical Association as an events organiser for a period of four years. After meeting her current partner, they both moved to a different part of the country, where he had been offered a place to study medicine.

Since 2015 Yvonne has been working for a builders' merchant and home improvement retailer in the international sales department. Unsure about what the situation in this country will be in the coming years, Yvonne is hoping to train as a teacher and move to Spain with her partner in the future.

“When I read the news I laughed, it was so unexpected, I just couldn’t believe it. Some of the people at my work were really happy – they didn’t seem to sympathise with me at all. No one came to me the whole day to say I am so sorry for you, not even my manager. My colleague and I are both European and we bring a lot of money into the company, yet no one came to us to reassure us that we were still welcome.

It was really upsetting that no one asked how I was feeling. One of my colleagues told me that it was their choice who they wanted to include as a country, that it was up to them and that I had to accept that. I was shocked and upset. I think the EU is there for a good reason, specially in times like now when we have problems with terrorism on one side and then Trump and Russia. The EU is really important, and if you look around in England there are a lot of EU projects going on, so I don’t know where the rejection comes from.

When I arrived in London I was really surprised to see so many foreign people on the bus, but then I thought “Well, actually, this is England”. It’s so international and it was so nice to be in such an open and inclusive country. You don’t have that kind of integration in many other EU countries. I think the whole immigration issue is just a tool of distraction to deflect from the country’s own issues regarding cuts and privatisation. It’s so transparent, I am surprised some people can’t see it.”

Monica. photo: Susana de Dios

Monica was born in northern Spain and has lived in the UK since 1998. She is married with two young sons.

Through the years, she has worked as a special needs teaching assistant, carer in an old people's home, and shop manager before completing an MSc in environmental water management in 1999 and starting working as a hydrologist in the year 2000 and in integrated environment planning later on, a position she still holds now.

“I believe in a world without borders and think [Brexit] is a step backwards from that.

I am not concerned about my situation as an EU National in the UK, perhaps because I have been here for longer than the London Eye and I am both practical and resourceful. Or it could be that I am still a bit in denial, I wouldn’t know.

As Murakami says in one of my favourite books, sometimes ‘You have to wait until tomorrow to find out what tomorrow will bring.’”

These photos and stories were taken from a wider project by Susana de Dios – At Home: Europeans in the UK. You can find out more about the project, and read more stories, on her website. You can also follow Susana on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Susana de Dios Photography website

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