I consider myself so lucky to have been an EU citizen, for some amazing reasons.
Since I was 16, I have been involved with my local town’s Twin Town Association. It all started like this: since the Second World War, countries started to twin with others across the continent, where each country would send a delegation of people to the other country, with the aim of sharing cultural knowledge and understanding and increasing peace across the continent. This has carried on through to this day, and we are starting to celebrate 50 years of twinning with some of these towns.
I have taken part in a youth exchange scheme called Youth for Europe and visited 6 European countries creating lifelong bonds with my fellow EU citizens – I have been to a German wedding, a Belgian wedding, and then last year, my little brother even married someone he met on these trips so I have been to a Hungarian wedding too! I am blessed to have another member of my family!
The best thing about these trips that they are available to anyone who wants to go and they are financially supported by the EU, as it recognises the value in sharing knowledge and experiences; it’s not just a special privileged few who are able take advantage of this (despite what the media might say about the “liberal elites”).
Thanks to my EU citizenship, I have been able to learn so much about our neighbours and how similar we are in so many ways and how we differ. We will remain close friends with our neighbours abroad regardless of what our government does and I am so thankful that our EU membership has enabled me to see so many different places and meet so many people.
I started studying in 2009, and in 2011, I went to Vienna, Austria, as part of my degree programme – (I studied German). I was able to go there with the support of the Erasmus programme, which is a programme for EU students who want to study abroad, and you can do this whether or not you are studying a language; the amazing development is that now, they have extended the Erasmus programme to Erasmus+, which includes apprentices and entrepreneurs, so it really is aimed at including everyone to benefit from EU citizenship! What I really benefited from was the opportunity to study in an internationally recognised centre for amazing translation teaching, as well as a huge network of people who have become life-long friends (ah, and some more weddings as well).
My year in Vienna was so good that I ended up going back after I completed my course in order to teach. This was one of the most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. The year in Vienna provided me with a groundwork to build upon, so I already knew my way around and was able to really get to know the city. What I was able to bring to the role was the fact that, as a native Brit, I could use my cultural knowledge to make their lessons feel more real, so the pupils really benefited from having me there. Not only did it help them, but when I came back to the UK and started to teach German, I was able to use real life experience to imbue my lessons with a much more real-life sense of German and give more life to my lessons, so students in the UK were able to benefit from me going to Vienna.
I am really thankful that my EU citizenship gave me this opportunity that I would otherwise not have had, and I only hope that this scheme can continue in the future. In my heart, I am 100% British as I am 100% European, no matter what we are told. I think that our EU citizenship is the most valuable asset we had, and it is a crying shame that so many people will not have the opportunities I had.
Chris Harper has worked as a teacher and a political researcher in the UK, Austria and Malta. After the European Elections he worked for Liberal Democrat MEP Judith Bunting spending a lot of time at the European Parliament in Brussels. Brexit meant Chris lost this opportunity.