Building bridges (or life after Brexit)
“All of a sudden my plans seemed not so sure anymore, and it was easy to see how current and prospective international students might feel the same”
Melisa Costinea, originally from Transylvania, Romania, is studying PGDip Social Research Methods at University College London, and has previously studied MA Film and Visual Culture – Sociology at University of Aberdeen. She is currently interning for UKCISA, and here she writes about her reaction to the Brexit vote, and how UKCISA is working to support international students.
Everyone will remember what they did on the 23rd of June of 2016 as one would remember, for example, where they were when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I think the first thing that one should do in the aftermath of Britain’s EU Referendum result is acknowledge the immense impact that this has had on so many people, including an international student such as myself. Along the way, I will also give you a glimpse into how UKCISA is responding to the situation.
A week before the referendum, I was sitting in UKCISA’s office, nervously waiting for my first interview as a recent graduate. Outside the sun was blazing hot, and it reminded me of the hot summers back home in Romania. I was optimistic to start my new life in London, and the future looked as bright as the sun.
Coincidentally, I went back to the office for a follow-up exactly on the 23rd of June. On my way there I could not help noticing people on the street were smiling and sharing ‘Remain’ leaflets. Hey, even I was smiling when Dominic Scott, UKCISA’s Chief Executive asked me, with a worried look on his face, how did I think the vote would go: ‘I think it will be close’, I said, optimistic that the result will be what we hoped for.
Fast-forward a week, that smile slowly faded. The atmosphere on the streets changed to one of mourning. All of a sudden my plans seemed not so sure anymore, and it was easy to see how current and prospective international students might feel the same.
“Your first thought as an international student would be if you can still live here (I know mine was!)”
At the annual UKCISA conference a week later, the delegates unanimously agreed that students’ concerns needed to be addressed and reassurance had to be provided. In this respect, I felt, UKCISA’s role is more important than ever. International students and advisory bodies look to UKCISA for answers and I was in the right place, at the right time as I could raise those questions where I knew they would be heard.
The first thing that we all agreed on is that international students’ priorities had, obviously, changed and that this needed to be addressed first. Hence, after some deliberation, the Advice and Training Officer set out to reconfigure the Information & advice section on UKCISA’s website, and a special headline called EEA & Swiss students was completely updated with old and new information, in the order that we thought was more urgent and relevant.
The Post EU referendum section came first, where information about the referendum’s result and up-to-date changes, alongside official statements and useful links to other relevant information were added.
Next, we thought, after wanting to know what changes and what does not, your first thought as an international student would be if you can still live here (I know mine was!), or if and how you can enter the UK and live there when your course will start. Now that the UK was presumably leaving the European Union, there was a bit of confusion as to whether EU students could come or stay in the UK, and whether they would need any documents in order to prove those rights.
“The continuous perseverance of the people who believe in building bridges and not walls can be seen in retrospective, and the results are astounding.”
We added information to the Rights to enter and remain in the UK section was next on the list, where up- to-date information from the Home Office on the documents needed to enter the UK, and the basic residence rights can be found. Then the Staying in the UK as a student section lays out all the criteria that need to be met if exercising a right to reside as a student.
Nevertheless, many international students (including myself) need to work in order to be able to support themselves during the studies, and I made sure to highlight the importance of having up-to-date news on this aspect. The simply titled section Working reminds us that, as the UK is still a member of the EU for the time being, nothing changes in our rights to work during or after our studies. By the time we had finished, all my main concerns had been addressed and the answers made public for all international students to benefit from.
I think we remember days like the 23rd of June of 2016, or November 9, 1989 because our world changed all of a sudden – a wall was built and a wall has fallen – but sometimes we forget that the world can and does change just as dramatically over time. The continuous perseverance of the people who believe in building bridges and not walls can be seen in retrospective, and the results are astounding.
Even though the general levels of optimism have dropped a little since the beginning of this summer, I still believe that the UK is a great place to live and study mainly because of the work of such people who, day after day, make sure international students are welcome in the UK, that #LondonisOpen and that #WeAreInternational. Now, again, brick by brick, we will all re-build those bridges higher than the walls.
This is a shortened version of a piece that originally appeared on UKCISA’s blog. Read the full version here.