I came to London 18 months ago, with the intention of studying here and going back to Germany when I got my degree. In the blink of an eye I fell in love with the British capital, its cultural diversity, its intellectual capacity and – of course – its amazing nightlife. After six months I was certain that I would stay as long as I could.
I paid for my education, I paid the horrendous rents in London, I paid £4.95 for a pint, all of it with foreign currency from my family. When I was not able to make a living off my income as a freelancer after graduating, I did not sign up for benefits but took work I am overqualified for because I was embarrassed to take money out of a system that I had not paid into.
Now I can finally live off what I make. It is not much, but enough to enjoy life in London and pay a bit of tax by the end of the year. That is also thanks to the British system, which gives everyone a chance and is much more flexible than in continental Europe. Besides my journalistic work, I teach German and politics, despite having no teaching degree. In Germany that would be simply impossible, people want experience and qualifications before they employ you, here they just give you a shot. If you are good, you are hired; if not, try something else.
That’s one of the reasons I like the UK so much. Its system is pragmatic and liberal, but still not as cold-hearted as somewhere such as the US, for example. If you make an effort to get somewhere, people appreciate it; if you are in trouble, they are still there for you.
This does not only apply to the labour market, but also in your private life. Brits are much more open-minded than Germans, they will not hesitate to invite you to a party or a drink, even if they barely know you. If you get along you stay in touch; if not – see you around, mate!
Needless to say, you have to make a bit of an effort to integrate. I speak good English, I have been to football grounds most Londoners have not even heard of, I do not impose German punctuality on everyone I meet since I am always late anyway and sometimes I’ll even try to taste ghastly food. And I hang out with British people, which is not always the norm as a foreigner in London.
Unfortunately not everyone tries as much as I do and I can understand the fears of British people regarding the cultural shift the country, and especially London, has gone through over the past decades. But migration is natural and the question of who is entitled to live somewhere is complicated.
This country hugely profits from EU migrants – economically and culturally. And don’t get me started on the cuisine – I don’t know how British people did not starve to death without the Italian, Turkish or Indian restaurants they have now.
I think most people actually know all of this deep down, and it would be an enormous shame if a whole country betrayed its European values because of a cockfight between two spoiled boys from the gentlemen’s club.
That is why I have decided to leave the UK if Britain should vote no. I will not go through the humiliation of getting a visa, and tackling even more border controls because David Cameron went that bit too far to secure his power. In a globalised and increasingly post-national world, more borders would be nothing but anachronistic and without the welfare corrective in Brussels the Tories are on course to turn the country into a neoliberal casino. It is time Britain realises it is not an empire any more, and that most problems nowadays are global and can only be solved within a supranational context. I will not live in a country that defies values such as the solidarity and human rights that a postwar Europe – including Britain – worked so hard for. If you vote no, you do not just say no to the Romanians and Bulgarians you are so irrationally afraid of but to all the visitors who enrich this country.