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I’m a European living in the UK and Brexit broke my heart

I’m a European living in the UK and Brexit broke my heart

GSN's Homes Editor Stefanie Gerdes

I can still tell you the date I last felt like a foreigner in Britain.

It was 9 September 2012. I can still tell you how it was one of those glorious late summer days, all sun and salty air, and how I was sitting on a Scottish beach, my feet burrowed in the soft sand, seriously doubting myself.

The day before, my mother had boarded a plane at Aberdeen Airport, taking her back to Frankfurt, while I stayed behind.

Fresh-faced and a bit homesick, I sat there questioning how wise it really had been to study abroad for a Master’s degree, in a foreign country where I had nothing by my suitcases, my laptop and the ambition to prove everyone who told me I’d never make it wrong.

A day later, I was already far more comfortable.

A week later, I had made my first friends; people I’d spend the entire year, and then some, with.

A month later, I spoke to my mum and said what I’d been thinking for a while: ‘I don’t think I want to come back to Germany.’

I had, on all accounts, fallen in love, and fiercely so.

German is a wonderful language in that it has two words for home: Heimat, which describes the place you were born in, where you have your roots, and zu Hause, which is the place you currently call home.

Waking up to the news that Britain, the place I came to consider my zu Hause, my adopted home, voted to leave the European Union, felt like a slap to the face.

It was a rude wake up call, alerting me to the fact that, while I had only encountered the finest, loveliest, most openminded people, plenty of others think the EU is obsolete, dangerous and unnecessary.

Thinking about it, it didn’t just feel like a slap in the face – it felt, on all accounts, like a personal attack.

By voting LEAVE, Britain bought into a campaign which was, in great parts, driven by an anti-immigrant rhetoric and barely-concealed xenophobia, with undertones of ‘Make Britain great again’.

As an immigrant, that really fucking hurt.

When UK nationals speak about immigrants, people very often seem to think of people from Eastern or South East Europe; from countries stereotypically considered lazy, and whose citizens are all too often seen as only out to get benefits.

People like me, who come from Germany, or Sweden, or any other country hailed as ‘good’, as hardworking and efficient, enjoy a weird privilege.

When people speak about us, they very often call us expats.

The harsh reality is that, above all, we’re still immigrants. As are the thousands of British citizens who live all over the European Union: pensioners in Spain. Young couples in Amsterdam. Hipsters running a start-up in Berlin.

You can call them expats as much as you want, they’re still immigrants, and if you believe the media and social networks, a majority would’ve voted for Britain to remain.

They would’ve done so because they see the benefits of a system that, although it definitely needs reformations and a change in how it works and governs, has helped everyone in its circle.

But I like to think they also would’ve voted REMAIN because, through living abroad, they saw that we’re more than just the nation we’re born in.

For the past year, I’ve worked as a journalist for Gay Star News, a Britain-based publication. I pay taxes in Britain.

I live in a flat in London, I go to the theatre ridiculously often, I’m in a British rowing club, and no-one ever made me feel unwelcome, unwanted or like I didn’t belong.

On the morning of 24 June 2016, after nearly four years and with a somewhat Scottish accent masking my non-British origin, I felt foreign in Britain.

Looking at the Facebook statuses, tweets and texts from my European friends who live, study and work in the country, they all share the same sentiment.

Some are considering going home. Others are beyond considering and have made arrangements. Nearly no one sees their future in this country anymore.

A few of my friends voted LEAVE, for a variety of reasons, and their political stance is just as valid as mine.

But while I used to hold them them in high esteem – and will, once I have moved on from the cynical, angry and close-to-tears place I currently perch on – I wonder how, and if, they can look me in the eye and tell me not to worry.

Because I worry. I’m downright terrified, if I’m honest, and not just for myself.

Saying no to the EU, no to a union which offers so much protection to its citizens, which made same-sex marriage possible and protects LGBTIs from being discriminated against based on who they are, sends a dangerous signal.

In times where a right-wing movement is getting more and more traction across Europe, a movement that blatantly rejects equality and spits on humanity, I worry that today’s decision may have given them exactly the fuel they needed to grow and spread their hate.

I hope this ends well, because there is the chance it might, but I fear it won’t.

Tonight, I’ll call my mum. She’s been texting me a few times, in that wonderful, supportive way of hers.

And I already know what I’ll say.

I don’t want to come back to Germany, but I don’t know whether that choice will be mine once all of this is through.

Stefanie Gerdes is Homes Editor at Gay Star News. She can be found on Twitter here.

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