Why I care so much about brexit

As the UK triggers Article 50 today and starts to leave the EU, a phrase I thought I had left behind popped into my mind: ‘third culture kid’. It describes those who move between cultures when they are growing up. Usually, the first culture refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second refers to the culture in which the family currently lives and the third refers to the amalgamation of both cultures. I’ve never been completely comfortable with the phrase, but I am undoubtedly a third culture kid myself.

against brexit northern ireland border communities

‘Border communities against brexit‘ sign spotted on a recent drive in Northern Ireland

I have an Irish passport, I grew up in Luxembourg and I studied in the UK where I met my now-fiancée. My Irish parents live in Luxembourg, my brothers are in different countries and my friends are scattered across the world.

Brexit speaks to the worst part of having a so-called ‘third’ identity when growing up: that of not knowing where I belonged. A sense of rootlessness and dislocation that can at times be overwhelming. I still remember crying in the car after we moved back to Luxembourg. In many ways, until today I had moved beyond the label of a third culture kid and truly felt at home calling myself a European.

But when UK Prime Minister Theresa May made the case for brexit, she did so by saying: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” That third culture kid dislocation came swirling to the surface again.

I, like many third culture kids, overcame this dislocation by developing a wider, transnational, yet still genuine, sense of belonging. It is possible to be from more than one place, to learn to fit in anywhere, to identify with values that transcend borders. To be a citizen of the world. People have far more in common than they have differences.

It is because of this I have such a strong sense of European identity. The EU has its flaws, as does every system of government. But its vision of democracy, peace and cross-border collaboration fits my values and life. It is senseless for us not to work together in the era of global travel, climate change and tax-dodging corporations. Friendships, romances and families all transcend borders. We should be fighting to tear down barriers, not putting more up.

In Luxembourg, I saw the European institutions every day on my way to school. Not as closed off, bureaucratic ivory towers, but working office buildings with the flags of every EU nation on display outside. I made friends with the sons and daughters of proud workers representing almost every country in Europe. At school, I sat in an ‘English-speaking section’ and followed much of the UK curriculum. Many of my closest friends and past teachers are from the UK. My heart breaks at the thought of Britain leaving. 

It truly feels like I am losing a part of my culture, even though the UK hasn’t actually gone anywhere physically. When I was born, the UK had been part of the European Community for almost two decades. Winston Churchill is one of the EU’s founding fathers. The EU was shaped by the UK, no matter what the eurosceptic press would have you believe. The UK’s destiny remains bound up with the Europe, by simple history and geography. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a third culture kid, it’s that you can’t deny your roots or your geography. The UK can take itself out of Europe, but it can’t take Europe out of its future.

brexit march for europe westminster flags european

On a march for Europe at the UK Parliament in Westminster, London