While the Brexit debate has made me feel less welcome than ever before - in 32 years, the UK is and will remain my 'home' of choice.
I don't need a referendum to make me feel 'different'. I am and will remain different, because I have a migrant background. I feel deeply unsettled by the confusion, the shouting, the bitterness, the hate. No matter how many people tell me "but I don't mean you", I do feel unsettled.
My native country (Germany) has had and is having its own issues with 'accepting difference', and we know what that led to. I am by no means making a flippant comparison or a prediction (our history is too serious for that), but my own cultural and social background has made me very sensitive to how 'difference' is dealt with by governments, by society, by people like you and I. That is one of the reasons, why I decided to leave Germany in my late teens.
In the early years of living in the UK, I remember the distance and separation I felt at people's discomfort around me. The clichés and preconceived ideas about what I was meant to be like, and how I was to be approached. All that often blocked a more organic way of relating and getting to know each other. I was young then, not rebellious or defiant. I did find it hard.
I remember my first Remembrance Day in the UK in 1985, when I decided not to speak in public, for fear that my German accent may offend. I did not want to offend, and I did not want to be offended.
I was struggling with my own identity and over the years on the few occasion I visit Germany, I started to feel that I was being regarded as 'different' there, too. Those who do not know me wonder where I learnt speak German so well? Those who know me wonder why Germany was not good enough for me, why I wanted to get away, and when would I come back.
The two assumptions that hurt most are a) I must feel superior and b) I must stay away because of 'love', a relationship. Funnily enough, the latter is also a common assumption among my fellow Brits here, that I am only staying because of marriage.
I am staying where I am staying, because it does feel like the closest to 'home' that I can get. As they say, home is where the heart is. And my heart is here, where I have re-rooted and made my life: where I have been educated, where I work and contribute, where I struggle, where I meet people and lose people, where I trusted the NHS with my cancer treatment. Here, where I want to live and where I want to die.
But I don't want to have my loyalty questioned. I don't want to be measured and assessed and see whether I score enough points to make a desirable citizen.
Now, I feel unsettled but it could be a lot worse, if I had not finally taken an important decision, when the Brexit debate started. After 32 years I finally applied for naturalisation. Why now, and why not before? Yes, you might ask.
First, it was a combination of laziness and procrastination. I did get my unlimited leave to remain in 1991. Then Germany did not have dual citizenship (I think...). Out of loyalty to my parents, I decided to hang on to my German citizenship. After my cancer treatment my outlook on many things changed, including my nationality. In the scheme of my life, it no longer mattered. Life and death mattered. But as the years go by, feeling safe and having a life with as much predictablity as possible is of importance. I knew that, finally, naturalisation was the way to go.
Studying for the Life in UK test deserves a separate article, but I did it, and when I finally handed in my application with all the supporting documentation, then I did feel quite moved. It was a special moment.
But Brexit or no Brexit, German or British nationality, I remain who I am, and I have choices and responsibilities for the life I lead. And I will lead it here.
Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and writer based in London. https:// karinsieger.comKarinSieger.com
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