The Collegian
Saturday, June 03, 2023

INTERNATIONAL OPINION: Living in London during Brexit

<p>Graphic by Claire Comey/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Claire Comey/The Collegian

I didn’t realize how profound an effect Brexit and its subsequent drama would have on my study abroad experience at Queen Mary University of London this spring semester. 

“It’s not my country; I’m not a citizen here, so it won’t affect me,” I said to myself. I quickly learned that it was naive to think that I would not assimilate with the people and the country.

In December, before I had left, my study abroad adviser told me that this Brexit situation is unprecedented, and that I would be their guinea pig for how UR study abroad programs in the United Kingdom will be affected by Brexit in the future. 

One main takeaway any study abroad student should consider from their international experience is the task of living within a different culture. Being subject to the laws and policies of any political system while traveling remains overlooked as one of the most important aspects of study abroad. One of my favorite expressions -- “The personal is political, and the political is personal” -- is applicable. 

I believe no matter how "apolitical" a person may claim to be, every national decision affects every resident. Globalization has made news that pertains to one country become breaking news on an international scale. 

Even though I thought I’d leave the craziness of the States by moving across the Atlantic Ocean, if anything, I moved closer to a city of political turmoil.

Since arriving in Britain in January, I finally have grasped the notoriety of the U.K. leaving the EU. I receive a daily morning briefing from The New York Times and at least every other day my inbox contains a headline about Brexit. 

The March 31 Times weekend briefing said, “[Britons] are losing faith in their political system.” My first reaction as an American was "join the club." In this time living apart from the U.S., and even lovingly referring to myself as a "Londoner," I didn’t realize that these two countries, two different worlds in my mind, would have such similar realities.

It’s been interesting to see my two identities -- American citizen and U.K. resident -- intersect into one. Living away from the U.S. for the semester was supposed to be a break from its tumultuous current events. 

However, I ended up moving into another country facing crisis. Now, as a temporary resident of the U.K., the news of Brexit has become personal to me, as if I’ve been a U.K. resident all my life. Way to go for cultural immersion!

As the March 29 Brexit deadline approached, my fellow American study abroad friends and I would half-jokingly hope that the pound currency would plummet in comparison with the American dollar. Living in London is expensive, so any drop to the currency exchange rate excited us, while our British friends groaned in frustration over the potential reality.

Looking back, and continuing to observe the present Brexit situation, I’m only reminded of how unique an opportunity studying abroad is, and it is a subsequent privilege to be part of revolutionary events such as this. 

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As Brexit continues to dominate international headlines, it will be just one of the many features of my life here in London and yet another story to bring back home to America.

Contact contributor Arya Pazhwak at 

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