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'So What Do You Think About Brexit?' - How I Made Friends This Summer

14/12/2016 16:22

After learning each other's names, the obvious next step seemed to be to ask which country they were from. "I'm from Russia" she said. "I'm from Czech Republic" he said, "what about you?" "I'm from Britain" I said. They both looked at me. "So, what do you think about Brexit?" they both asked at the same time.

It would have been almost impossible to have missed the news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union on 23rd June 2016. I was personally involved in counting the votes for my city and, alongside many people, was up overnight watching the results come in.

Very few people predicted the outcome and many spent the next few days not sure of how they should feel about it, some in shock and some in celebration.

However, whatever you think about the results, it is undeniable that they affected what is was like to be a Brit abroad this summer, from uncertainty about currency exchange rates to jokes about trying to get dual citizenship. Many of us didn't know whether we would be able to still use our EHIC cards abroad (you can by the way!).

Travelling throughout July and August, many conversations I had with people I met revolved around Brexit and the future of Britain in the EU. Everyone was curious to know what I thought about it, how I'd voted and what the British public were feeling now.

It almost felt as though I couldn't do the standard 'British' thing and ignore the people around me, awkwardly hoping that they wouldn't make eye contact.

The conversation above was only one example of this, on my flight home from Hong Kong to Dubai. In fact, we ended up engaging in a pretty complex discussion - three strangers from different countries brought together for 8 hours in the middle of the night.

I suggest that this is a good thing. With a result that some feared would alienate us from the rest of the world, it's comforting that it was often the catalyst this summer that started conversations and friendships.

With a result that felt like it would split the UK in two, it was somewhat amazing that it was also the thing that brought people together.

With a result that has left uncertainty about what travelling abroad will be like in the future, I was encouraged by the conversations that I had.

From the children that I was teaching asking me my opinions of David Cameron to the volunteers from the US sharing their predictions about their own election after Brexit, it felt as though people were increasingly eager to engage in world politics and to learn about the perspectives of different countries.

It has felt like so much of the campaigning before the Referendum and the way people talk about it now, is filled with negativity. Here are all of the things that we don't like. Here are all of the ways that the UK can get as much as it can from the rest of the world, while giving as little as possible back. This is how you've ruined my future by voting a certain way. This is how your political opinion has made you a racist.

But what I felt this summer was hope.

For good relationships with people from different countries and cultures. For working together to find the solutions to problems and for young and old people willing to learn about politics so that they can make changes for the better.

At least for the moment, travelling within the EU hasn't officially changed. However, we can each choose to have an attitude of hope and that can bring a lot of change.

Maybe Brexit wasn't what you wanted. And maybe it was. But, this summer, Brexit brought together strangers from Britain, Russia and Czech Republic on a night flight where they shared food and political opinions. And that is a good thing.

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, keep up to date on travel advice here.

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