Brexit Testimonies

09 September 2019

Lauren in Finland

"I don’t believe that I would be living here in Finland if Britain hadn’t been an EU member state. I wouldn’t have met my Finnish partner so I wouldn’t have known much about Finland or had a reason to move here. I wouldn’t have been able to move here using my residency rights as a citizen of an EU member state, nor would I have had the money to pay for a visa."
How I came to be living in Finland

Eight years ago, during the first year of my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Chester in Britain, I met some people who became a really important part of my life. They were Finnish students who came to study in Britain through the EU’s Erasmus student exchange programme and they are now my best friends. They taught me Finnish words and invited me to visit Finland. I started dating my Finnish partner, and we finally got married last month! This may have never happened if Britain hadn’t been an EU member state. During the third year of my Bachelor’s degree, I worked as an English Language Assistant at a secondary school in Spain through the Erasmus work placement programme. This may not have been possible either if Britain hadn’t been an EU member state.

In 2015, I graduated from the University of Chester with a Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies with Spanish. My wife then suggested that I apply to study a Master’s degree in Finland, and I was accepted into Tampere University in Finland! In June this year, I graduated from Tampere University with a Master’s degree in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research. My Master’s thesis examines the role of the Northern Ireland peace process in the Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU.

Alongside my degree, I completed seventeen Finnish language courses and one Swedish course, had a ten-week internship on the Åland Islands (a Swedish-speaking autonomous territory under Finnish sovereignty), was active in and volunteered for twelve different organisations, attended ten additional courses and conferences in seven different countries, and worked part-time at three different businesses. I gained a lot of knowledge and I feel like a different person compared to who I was when I started my Master’s degree four years ago. My degree took longer than expected, but I really hope that making the most of my student experience and gaining extra skills will help me to get my career started despite the increasingly challenging job market. I’m currently a registered jobseeker searching for work in development, humanitarian, or diplomatic work.
I fell in love with Finland because of its small population, the education system, the welfare system, low levels of corruption, flexible and less working hours, better pay, more time for and cheaper leisure activities, low levels of crime, healthier food, nature, respect for the environment, recycling facilities, cycling infrastructure, and vegetarian and vegan food options.

My experiences of studying in Finland

As a student here in Finland, I didn’t have to pay tuition fees, and even my meals and healthcare were subsidised. Through volunteering as a School Visitor for Erasmus in Schools, I had the opportunity to visit Finnish primary, secondary, and upper secondary schools. I observed that the schools offer free meals for every student. There are more breaks and less homework. Yet, Finland is one of the most successful countries in the world in terms of education.

Before I moved to Finland, I was hoping to participate in some Finnish language courses, but I thought that I would have to pay for evening classes. However, I discovered that international students can participate in the Finnish language courses offered by Tampere University and include the credits that we get from them into our studies. I think that studying there was a great opportunity because I met people of different nationalities that I had never encountered before, which changed many of the ideas and prejudices that I had previously had about them.

Britain didn’t make it particularly easy for me to study my Master’s degree in Finland, which was discouraging. Firstly, my British bank wouldn’t allow me to retain my student account when studying abroad. Secondly, I’m indebted by more than £28,000 for my British Bachelor’s degree. The interest of my loan is increasing by almost £500 per year since I graduated in 2015 because my income hasn’t met the threshold for repayment due to my decision to continue in higher education outside of Britain! I would be indebted by a further £10,000 had I studied a Master’s degree in Britain, although I wouldn’t have received any repayment requests for my Bachelor’s degree loan until after I’d graduated from that Master’s degree. Studying a Bachelor’s degree abroad was never presented to me as an option, although it would have been beneficial for me as someone interested in languages and cultures, and I could have saved a considerable amount of money.

Nevertheless, in Finland, despite not yet being a Finnish citizen, I was given the opportunity to study a Master’s degree for which no tuition fees are charged. However, tuition fees for non-EU students were introduced by the Finnish government from autumn 2017 onwards. As a result of Britain leaving the EU, Brits will no longer have the access to education in Finland without paying tuition fees that I had.

Thoughts on becoming Finnish

I became eligible to apply for Finnish citizenship this month after having lived in Finland for four years with a Finnish partner. The requirement is five years for those who don’t have a Finnish partner. I’m planning to take the Finnish language proficiency test and apply for Finnish citizenship. The Finnish passport is one of the world’s most powerful. For example, three years ago, my partner and I also went on holiday to Turkey together and I had to get a visa whereas she didn’t. Travelling has generally been easier for me since moving to Finland because it’s one of the countries in the Schengen Area, which comprises 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders.

I value living in an EU country, and Finnish citizenship would enable me to maintain that after Brexit. I don’t feel particularly proud to be British, mostly because of Brexit, and because I question the rationality of some people’s nationalistic pride towards a country that they didn’t choose to be born in. However, I will definitely feel proud if I become a Finnish citizen.

Final thoughts

I find it hard to understand those who advocate for Brexit. Many countries and people value being part of the EU, which is the most powerful trading bloc on earth. Immigration seemed to dominate the Brexit debate, which diverted attention away from other aspects of EU membership, such as the economy, trade, freedom of movement, and peacekeeping. I myself am an immigrant that was arbitrarily born into a privileged life. Things would have been different if I had been born elsewhere. It is important to remember that those of us lucky enough to have been born in ‘developed’ countries could have just as easily been born in a country suffering from conflict or poverty.

Earlier testimony
John in Rheinland-Pfalz
Later testimony
Robert in Spain
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