Interview: Glasgow University’s EU Students


With the European Union referendum imminent, there is a lot of feelings about what it means to be a person with a European background living in the United Kingdom today. Particularly if one is studying in the UK thanks to the European Union’s laws regarding free movement and funding for higher education. Despite the importance of remaining in the EU for EU students studying in the United Kingdom, they will not have a vote on the 23rd.

As such, we decided to speak to a number of EU students either studying or recently graduated from the University of Glasgow about their feelings on the referendum and what opportunities the UK’s membership of the European Union has afforded them.

Celia Varela-Sixto: Film and Television Studies, third year

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

I am originally from Spain and I arrived in Scotland to study at the University of Glasgow in 2013. I am currently in my third year of Film and Television Studies.

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

Before deciding to come over to the UK for university, I took part on the European Union’s Comenius Project, which aims to “help young people and educational staff better understand the range of European cultures, languages and values”. Through this program, I had the opportunity of travelling to and living with a family in Toulon (France) and Giresun (Turkey). The experience taught me, amongst other things, to further myself as an independent individual, to value and respect others and their cultures, and to find shared experiences and ideals even with those who seem very different to us.

It was that opportunity which then turned me on to some of my greatest passions in life: photography, travel, foreign cinema and language learning. Without it, I would have never felt confident enough to take the jump and come over to Glasgow to study at UofG; another experience which has greatly enriched my life. Being part of a community of people driven by their will to learn and improve their understanding of the world is undisputedly enhanced by the diversity and variety of points of view and arguments brought to the table by the people who form it, their differences and their similarities.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

The European Union is an institution which, like all things – the UK included – is far from perfect. However, the values and vision upon which the EU is founded are something to which we all should aspire, and what we should strive for. Those ideals of a peaceful Europe, where free movement of peoples and goods creates a constant flow of cultural exchange, enriching everyone which forms a part of it, are nothing but beneficial to any and all member states.
Are there things that we could improve upon? Absolutely. Is leaving the EU the right way to do it? Absolutely not.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re all better off outside the EU?

Leaving all economic and political reasons behind – there has been plenty said on the matter, and by far more expert individuals than me – what I would like everyone to think about before going to vote on Thursday, is of those amongst their friend groups, those in their seminars and lectures, who are EU citizens. Think of how your vote is going to impact their lives. Think, too, if you can not muster up any sympathy for those who are not British, of the 1.2 million UK citizens who live their day to day lives in other EU countries (over 300,000 of those in Spain), and reflect on how Brexit will impact them, as well as the strain that their return would put on much cherished services like the NHS.
Look at the facts, and for the love of all that is good, vote for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union, because it is true: Britain is stronger IN.

 


 

Viktor Ahlberg: Final year, Politics and English Language

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

I was born in Sweden and moved to Glasgow in 2012 for my undergraduate degree. I chose to study in the UK because I wanted to learn English perfectly for career purposes (cheapest option, even free, as opposed to USA etc).

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

Being able to explore career/living options in any EU country is incredible, but also a given having grown up in the EU.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

I love the EU, despite its flaws (particularly democratic deficit). The world in its current state is at high alert due to wars and terrorism etc, and the EU is currently the safest, most prosperous region in the world.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re better off outside the EU?

Leaving the EU is an incredibly high-risk and low-reward situation. Right now, the UK has one of the best relationships with the EU in terms of trade benefits, migration etc. If you are angry and upset about the current state of immigration to the UK, don’t blame the EU – blame the Conservative Party. If you’re angry about the 20,000 Syrian refugees supposedly coming to the UK before 2020, blame the Conservative Party, not the EU. The UK was under no obligation to accept any refugees due to not being in Schengen (another supposed benefit to the UK’s special relationship with the EU), but chose to do so anyway….. If we leave the EU, we will do irreversible damage to not only the UK’s future in the world, but also all other European nations.. It’s very likely that the EU (and the rest of the world) will be incredibly tough on the UK if Brexit goes forward, for example limiting/restricting access to the Single Market, its position in global negotiations etc… last but not very least, it will cause detrimental damage to the citizens currently living in the UK, especially in terms of career prospects, which will primarily influence the young and ambitious. If you’re angry about all of this, don’t shut out the world – work with it!

 


 

Wyktoria Muryn: History of Art/Digital Media & Information Studies, final year

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

I’m 21, from Poland, and I came to Glasgow in 2012 to study History of Art/Digital Media & Information Studies. I’m graduating in a couple of days and will be probably be kicking about in Glasgow to do postgrad (if the UK doesn’t leave the EU and make me an illegal immigrant or whatevs lol)

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

I think the most important thing about my uni experience as an EU student is how I really didn’t have to think a lot about the fact that I’m an EU student. I never felt foreign or like i didn’t belong, and I think thats partly due to the cultural exchange that the EU allows. I feel like at this point there aren’t that many cultural differences within our particular age group, so the whole nationality thing doesn’t matter much. So for me the key thing about being an EU student is how natural it felt to live and study in a different EU country.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

It’s pretty neat. The EU definitely helps bridge the gap between eastern and western Europe, and it makes visible changes. What’s not to love about structural funds, human rights, single market for better business, more jobs, and interrailing without having to worry about passport controls? All good stuff and definitely worth the cost.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re all better off outside the EU?

Please go home, read something that’s not bigoted nationalist nonsense, and reconsider.

 


 

Walther Glödstaf: English Language, final year

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

So, I’m originally from Finland but moved to Sweden – where I grew up – when I was 7, then I went to a German school due to being quarter German. After graduating I came here to Glasgow, so I guess going to a school with a political mission of cultural bridgebuilding between Sweden and Germany while being from a third country kind of put my EU student background as someone who grew up more European as the cliché goes than anything else.

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

Well, as a student the free migration especially between universities. But even now after graduation, that I can easily apply for jobs while still benefit for three months from the welfare system of my mother country. In the case of Scotland, it also meant free education on my end, so I don’t pay anything, the state takes care of tuition. Then with that free movement obviously comes various ‘soft’ factors (if the former are ‘hard’), in that I can easily explore other cultures and languages and am supported to do so monetarily if I apply for EU schemes such as Erasmus.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

It’s a good idea gone wrong. It was wholly unprepared to be a union to begin with as it grew out of something completely different (a purely economical treaty) which supports bigger member states agendas over what is good for smaller ones. I think it needs serious and transparent restructuring so people actually care about it and it starts working for everyone, not just those that agree with the status quo.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re all better off outside the EU?

Don’t prove the joke that the UK is the third world of the first world right. The way I see it, Brexit would only accomplish in doing that. Nobody ever accomplished anything alone after all (despite what we are often told)…

 


 

Ral Petrova: Theology, third year 

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

I’m from Bulgaria, a tiny country in south-eastern Europe whose membership in the EU has puzzled me for 9 years now. How or why we were allowed in will forever be one of the mysteries of life for me, but I owe it everything I’ve got today. Thanks to the freedom of movement and the ease of cooperation allowed by the Union, my high school classmates and I participated in various projects and exchange programmes with schools all over Europe, had language teachers who were native speakers, were able to do a year abroad in some of the best colleges this side of the world, and many of us have gone on to pursue higher education abroad as well.

I’ve been in Scotland for almost two years and, despite some hurdles, consider the venture a success so far. The amount of money my parents had to part with for me to establish myself here and survive until I could get a job seemed astronomical when I was first moving, but it’s a worthwhile investment considering the options I have with a UofG degree. Or so I hope.

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

I can’t stress enough how big a difference the opportunities provided by the EU have made, and are making, for many of my friends and I, across all levels of education. I’m probably preaching to the converted here, but people getting their degrees abroad isn’t some rare phenomenon, especially in poorer EU countries with less thrilling educational prospects. A Bachelor’s degree from a Bulgarian university would probably have been easier to obtain, due to things like the lacking standards of education in some fields, or the significantly smaller financial strain it would’ve put on my family, or my own lower levels of stress due to being close to home and having a safety net. But a Bulgarian degree means little when looking for work or entry to postgrad programmes in Western Europe. Yes, people routinely succeed despite the odds being stacked against them, but most of us don’t have to. We have a choice because of the EU.

It all boils down to the fact that, thanks to the European Union, I have access to some of the best educational institutions in the world solely on my own merit, without my background factoring into the equation. I can shed the connotations of my nationality, which aren’t necessarily all good, and choose to be a European citizen. I don’t have to justify my being here in any way, to anyone, and I believe that’s incredibly powerful. Next year I might get bored, pack up, and move to Italy, and no one would legally question that decision, either.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

The EU is anything but perfect, but I do believe it’s helping us move in the right direction together. It’s been a force for positive development on the continent for decades, and I shudder to think where we’d be without it today. I definitely trust it on issues like human rights more than any Tory government, so in my books any amount of control the EU may have over UK legislation is a godsend, as such a large body is bound to act as a buffer even if the drift to the right continues to deepen across Western Europe.

Also the level of control exercised by the EU is vastly overestimated in the media to cater to Eurosceptic fearmongering, but let’s not veer into that.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re all better off outside the EU?

Who are ‘we’? The billionaires shouting ‘Leave’ in our faces from the red tops will be no worse off if they get what they want; why are we listening to what they think is good for ‘us’? And anyway, I can’t vote, so obviously my opinion doesn’t matter.

Do your research, kids.

 


 

Dylan Beck: Sociology, fourth year

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

I’m originally from Lithuania, which joined the EU back in 2004. I moved to Glasgow in 2012 to study sociology, and made this city my home.

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

I know I’m incredibly lucky to not have to pay fees here, or need to apply for a visa to simply be in the country – which also means I’m allowed to work as many hours as I want to support myself throughout uni. In that sense, I feel like I’m somewhere in between being a Scottish and an international student, not really belonging in either of those categories. So it’s mostly just the practical side of things really, that is somehow different to other students’ experiences.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

As someone quite far left on the political spectrum, I have many criticisms about the EU, but I think it’s also easy to forget how much it has given to countries across Europe, from a general sense of peace to regulations about climate change or workers’ rights. It’s an organisation that needs change and reform, but I find it ironic when people talk of it as undemocratic as if the House of Lords somehow isn’t. Considering the voter turnout for the Westminster election, the very same criticisms can be made as well.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re all better off outside the EU?

I think there’s loads of arguments to be made for staying, and you only really need to look at the people on the Leave side of the debate and think a little to realise that things would not be better if the matters that the EU regulate were left up to them. We need to question our political system and instigate change, yes, but leaving the EU would only make this more difficult, not easier.

 


 

Rob Menziis: Law-Politics graduate

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 1) Tell us a little about your background as an EU student.

Well I’m actually a Brit who grew up abroad in Switzerland and Germany as a result of my parents work. As such I’m in the odd position of having been an EU or international student growing up as well as while studying in Scotland even though I only hold a British passport. This probably biases my stance on the referendum but I would like to think also allows me to take a different hybrid perspective on the debate.

 2) What is most important to you about being an EU student?

Having been able to study abroad and access a wealth of information as well as new cultural and academic perspectives that would have otherwise not been available to me.

 3) What do you think of the European Union itself?

As a law and politics graduate I have probably spent way too much time thinking about the EU from a very academic standpoint but overall I would say that it is not only a unique international institution in the way that it works but has become an integral part of an increasingly judicialised international system which is vital in order to face the challenges of a global world where individual countries are struggling to surmount their problems on their own. Of course having studied the EU I am aware it has had many ‘crises’ and struggles and remains a flawed supranational organisation few truly attempt to understand. However I would argue that the EU has changed vastly over the past decades and attempted to reform itself where possible. However it must be kept in mind that it is subject to national political agendas not least from the UK and must strive to improve itself while satisfying the desires of 28 countries. It has been a force for good championing human rights, economic and social prosperity both within and beyond Europe as well as striving towards equality of individuals as well as nations.

 4) What do you wish you could say to people in the UK saying we’re all better off outside the EU?

Leaving or staying is about a lot more than economics or immigration or how we conceptualise the meaning of sovereignty. The current focus on cost benefit calculations and the migrant crisis have distorted the debate because the EU is about so much more than how much we spend but what irks me most is that this calculus seems to think the UK is getting the worse end of the bargain when we have the most exemptions and tailored package of any member state already but still manage to complain. The readiness with which the EU is blamed for domestic issues and scapegoated for undesirable but necessary decisions reflects the lack of fundamental understanding of the EU and it’s nature. We are not apart from Europe we play a vital part in it and have done so and I hope will continue to do so. But we cannot be an effective agent of change if we are not willing to work with our neighbours and accept the reciprocal agreements which are the basis of all international undertakings including the EU. The European Union has fulfilled a vital role in not just enhancing and promoting fundamental freedoms and human rights (historically championed by none other than the UK) but ensuring peace across the continent, it will in one form or other continue to do so but we must ask ourselves if we as a nation and as individuals want to be a part of this continued effort to improve the world we live in or leave and isolate ourselves from it.

Interviews by – 

[Floraidh Clement – @FloraidhCC]

[Morgaine Das Varma – @smorgsbored]

 

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