What does it mean to feel European? What does it mean to you? For me, it means endless opportunities and the ability to connect to likeminded people. For others, it could be the culture, the food (OH, the food!), and the similar mindsets that countries who vary greatly can share. And then, for some, it could mean nothing more than simply belonging to a geographical continent.
All these reasons are of course completely valid.
The first time I personally felt properly ‘European’ was when I was 14 and I was on a school trip to Germany, trying my hardest(ish) to speak German and grow my confidence in speaking with native speakers. I had gone on a few holidays before but that was the time that my consciousness of engaging in an international sphere really took hold. I suddenly realised what an opportunity this was, getting to experience a different culture, different food, meeting new people and learning an entirely different language. I discovered shared values, mindsets, ideas, and dreams. I found connectivity where I didn’t think there would be. There were shared European things that I loved, and some that I did think were a bit strange. But, it was exciting.
At home, my mum taught me what it meant to be and feel European early on, and just how lucky we were to be able to freely travel and work wherever we liked. Engaging internationally, she told me, was an exciting opportunity and privilege that not everyone got to have—I’ve taken this mindset with me throughout my teenage years and young adult life. Of course, sometimes I’ve taken it for granted—being European was just ‘how it was’, and I never really realised the implications of leaving the EU, and thus the debate around what it meant to be European, until it actually happened. That’s why I need to remind myself of why I love being and feeling European, and how unique an experience it is.
This mindset of European-ness—of mutual understanding, cooperation and experience—is, in my opinion, an incredibly important one to have. As we all know, the willingness to engage with people outside of your own country opens a whole different viewpoint. It is a gift and a privilege that we all have, and it’s vital that we don’t feel discouraged from feeling a part of the continent, of something big.
Due to the seemingly constant frustration that we all most likely feel surrounding politics and Brexit-based news, I often must remind myself that that it’s not all politics—the community aspect, the shared cultures, the human connections you make are all too important. Naturally, it’s rather discouraging and incredibly disappointing that the UK government seems to want to cut off its nose to spite its face. However, let’s remember the other side of politics: the human side. Unity is incredibly precious and staying linked and united today has never been more important.