I came to the UK in 2009 in order to study and teach at a large British university. As a Croatian national, I was registered as an overseas student and had to pay treble in comparison to those from the EU, not to mention home students, who were mostly funded. According to my Tier Four International Student Visa, I was not supposed to work more than 35 hours a week. However, I was going to be fine, being young, hard-working, ambitious, talented, etc. etc. All of it was duly noted by my wonderful supervisor, and by the head of the faculty, who employed me as a part-time teaching fellow. I also worked as a freelance medical translator, making ends meet without any help from my folks and loving everything about my life, counting the days until my country would enter the EU. By this time I was supposed to have submitted my PhD-thesis and to have moved to the greener pastures of. a permanent academic job. On the day Croatia entered the EU the head of the faculty quipped:
– So, you’ve entered the EU? Good! We are getting out!
I was by then used to the off-hand ways of the Brits, much more hopeful than the perfect civility with which they treat those whom they despise or consider to be outsiders. I forgot about his words until much later. As soon as I was awarded a doctorate, I went on to forward my PhD-certificate to the UK Home Office, along with the required sum of money. As a Croatian national with a degree from a UK university, I had unrestricted access to the UK work market, provided I could show the Blue certificate granted to the nationals of recent EU-members. Thank goodness my work permit had no expiry date, and I should pay nothing more to the UK Home Office – just think how much money they earn from processing visa request from the poor folks they restrict from working! So much for the parasitic migrants. Especially hopeful students like myself. Apart from the monies paid on the university account in the first year of my PhD-research course, I had been paid as a student not as a lecturer, despite having been doing a lecturer’s job for the last couple of years, sometimes teaching on behalf of the head of the faculty. I must have saved my department a small fortune.
After graduation, I took a cue from many of my friends and colleagues – British as well as European! -, and opted for a job which paid the bills. I respectively worked as a customer service advisor in several local companies, always holding a temporary job with no career opportunities. Having by then read Owen Jones’s “Chavs”, I saw that his book was alarming and not amusing, as it had seemed in my luckier days. The most of those who sat in the trenches of customer service were Chavs to a tee unless they came from abroad. The social discrepancy between those who served customers in English and those who did it in European languages couldn’t have been bigger, the former with GCSE’s, the latter mostly in possession of a higher education certificate. David Cameron did not make things easier with his proceedings against “unskilled migrants”.It began to dawn on me that I was considered to be one by an average UK recruiter, who couldn’t infer any skills from my qualifications. Unless for a couple of European languages, which were my saving grace. Having worked as a translator, interpreter and customer service advisor, I had been employed mostly on a hire-and-fire basis, with no real prospects for a promotion, arguably reserved for those with a BA from all other fields but arts. humanities and languages. Once more, I tried to rationalize my plight. Barbarians and right-wings were on the rise around the planet, forcing the young and the over-educated to choose between immigration and subordination. Finally, Brexit came, and my need to rationalize my victimhood was gone.Heck, I was no refugee, but a someone who chose to study and work in Britain, Why? Because I used to admire the Brits! As with myself, so with the majority of Europeans who came to the UK, Britain has so long been a political trendsetter, with a long-standing opposition to all things remotely relevant to being a “proud Nazi”, that opting for a right-wing solution on such a large scale somehow did not seem to have been possible. At least not until now.
For me, the fatal referendum had finally brought home the message “WE DON’T LIKE YOU”. If only it had been less than half population. If only I had not instantly remembered the words from my academic boss, who did – and still does! – think well of me, in his off-handed way. But that’s the British paradox for you in a nutshell. After I saw Brexit results I quit my temporary job, canceled my short-term rent agreement and returned to Croatia. The latest reports of deportation letters and of the requirements of obtaining British citizenship in order to be considered “worthy” of continuing to stay in the country have made me all the more convinced that I did the right thing. Not to mention bringing to mind the words of a really old pop-song:
… What do I have to do to be accepted
What do I have to say
What do I have to do to be respected
How do I have to play
What do I have to look like to feel I’m equal
Where do I have to go
What club do I have to join to prove I’m worthy
Who do I have to know …
However, I am still looking for an academic position in the UK. I am applying as an equal, and it is up to them to reciprocate, or not. It is important to keep an open mind, especially after so much struggle and disappointment. Besides, I do miss the rain, the fog, the green parks, my circle of UK friends, my favorite brand of strong cheddar, everything but the many Chavs.
A Brit in a Facebook group recently pointed out that all Brits and all non-Brits should stand together in order to be able to change things in the UK. In the case it happens in the near future, Britain will once again be worthy to be called Great. I’ll keep my fingers crossed