I don’t want to talk about Brexit. Instead, I want to tell the story of my personal relationship with the European Union. As the only citizenship I’ve ever known, the UK’s membership of the EU has shaped me into the person, and traveller, I am today.
From early childhood, my experience of free movement, opportunities and friendships made among the myriad cultures and languages of arguably, the world’s most diverse continent, has delivered me here: The Long Way Home.
A childhood in France
Thanks to the EU, from 1977 my family was able to live and own a camping business in France. At 18 months old I visited Camping Les Cigales for the first time. For almost a decade until 1995, my school holidays were spent in the glorious sunshine of the Mediterranean, forming countless relationships, learning French with my parents and enjoying the cultural benefits of a second home abroad.
We sold the campsite when I was twelve but most of my happiest childhood memories still take me back to those avenues of warm dappled shade under the pine trees of France’s Côte D’Azur.
A British rite of passage
For the teenagers of my generation, flying into Europe for a few weeks’ holiday was a rite of passage. Most mock the phenomenon for being anything but cultural. However for many youngsters it’s the first time they travel abroad without their families, opening their eyes to other experiences that the world has to offer.
Most importantly for young teens leaving the UK alone for the first time, EU membership meant that travel was hassle free, medical care guaranteed and advice on hand should things not go to plan.
What at the time was only a bit of fun was also the beginning of an independence and curiousness in me that would only grow with time.
The year abroad that changed me
Once at university, my love of languages continued and I took part in the British Council’s English Teaching Scheme. Other friends were easily enlisted to study at partnering universities all across Europe.
I completed a short form and was allocated to a school called IES Antonio de Nebrija in a remote farming region of Spain. I didn’t require a visa, it took only 30 minutes to open a Spanish bank account and within a week I had found a flat: my first experience of living abroad, alone.
I have no doubt that my EU membership was the catalyst for this streamlined process of cultural exchange, which still rates as one of the best years of my life. My language skills, appreciation of other societies and independence skyrocketed. I became more passionate than ever about exploring everything the rest of Europe, and the world had to offer.
A sharp realisation
It was only after I moved to Australia in 2010 that I fully appreciated the unique qualities of the EU and the continent it unifies.
Australia is a vast and beautiful country, with a passion for the outdoors lifestyle that I embraced; however it’s isolated. Travel to neighbouring countries and cultures required significant time and money. It wasn’t long before I realised that I had taken Europe for granted. It’s extremely rare to experience so many languages, cuisines, architectures, histories and peoples within such small distances.
Since returning to London in 2013, I’ve benefited from travel so easy and cheap that in the last 12 months alone I’ve visited Germany, France, Gran Canaria, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. I treasure that unquestionable movement across borders that I barely even noticed.
A thank you
As a European citizen and a traveller, I wait to see what the future holds for my place within Europe. Today though, I want to thank Europe and its union for benefitting my life immeasurably. I can only hope that our love affair continues.