The Brexit Encounter – by an EU Citizen in London

Our son, Thomas, attending LSE in London, shares his Brexit experience.

Flooded London

On the night of the referendum, I found myself at a ‘Brexit Results Night’ event in the common room of my postgraduate student accommodation. As we were watching the votes from various counties of the UK trickle in, beers in our hands, there were casual debates over what would happen if the country actually decided to leave the European Union. Despite some apprehensive glances at the numbers, none of us took the possibility of this outcome seriously. I only managed to stay awake until about 1am to follow the live TV coverage, though I know many who were up the whole night. I went to bed thinking that the whole thing was nothing but a political spectacle; overblown and unlikely to succeed anyways.

As I presume many others did, the first thing I did when waking up was to google the result of the referendum. To my shock and dismay, the British public had voted (with a 52% majority) in favour of Brexit. David Cameron had given an emotional speech announcing his resignation. Motions of no confidence had been passed by Labour MPs with the aim of removing Jeremy Corbyn from its leadership. Scotland had agreed to legislate for a second independence referendum. Various European politicians had taken Brexit as a cue for movements towards their own country leaving the EU.

A large part of my day was then filled with browsing Facebook and reading posts from (university-aged) friends, who, unsurprisingly, were aghast and absolutely crestfallen at the decision that had been made. My news feed was rife with accusations of racism, xenophobia, and foolishness, with only few admitting defeat. Above all, there was a seething resentment towards the older population who had voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving; a palpable sense of betrayal by a generation who appeared ignorant towards a globalising world, and uncaring of the younger generation’s employment prospects. Nothing had whipped up social media into a frenzy quite as much as this had. The collective outrage and disappointment left me reeling.

On the Saturday following the referendum, I was quietly working near an open window on the top floor of my university’s library. Suddenly, I heard a deafening roar booming through the skies. Looking outside, I saw a squad of jets flying in formation and releasing red, blue, and white smoke into the sky. ‘The colours of the Union Jack, They must be celebrating their independence!’, I said to my neighbour. ‘I hate this country’, she replied.

Thanks for your contribution, Thomas.

Quote of the Day

Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.

– Oscar Wilde

paper balls

My Short-Term Experience with an Au Pair

More than ten years ago, I was approached by an expat’s cleaning lady who asked if I were interested in taking her daughter for a week, like an au pair*. This arrangement was meant to be an exchange  – her daughter would live with us (an English speaking family), converse/practice English and have free room and board. Her share in this would be taking care my two children (with one in school) and doing easy house work, while I was working.

Sounded like a fair trade, but it turned out to be a complete farce.

First she was to stay with us for a week. I’ll call her Emily (not her real name), a pretty 17-year-old from one of the Eastern Block countries. On the second morning, she informed me she’d stay for two weeks. Well, I thought, there might have been some miscommunication. I knew I had said one week, but “when in doubt, throw it out”. I apply the same principle to my fridge, and mind.

She had arrived on a Saturday evening and we let her have Sunday off, of course. As a matter of fact, my husband played tour guide for her and took her down to Frankfurt, while I stayed home minding the kids and working. Uuuuhhh, it’s so nice to have a live-in child carer. Too bad I wasn’t the one out.

That evening, I informed her of what was to be expected from her for the week to come, such as getting up at 8am, help take care of the children as soon as I started teaching, help with the shopping, etc. I had to get up at 6:30 to get ready for work and figured 8am would be a reasonable time to take over. I did not know the sleeping life of a teenager then.

Monday morning, I tried to wake her up  six times. She finally did get up, when my student sat down for her lesson, with Emily in bed right next to our desk. This pattern continued for two weeks. At first, I felt embarrassed for this lack of professionalism on my side. But I tell you, with each day it got easier. I just introduced the sleeping teenager as my “helper around the house”. My students looked confused, but I carried on.

When I reminded her of her duties, she acknowledged them each time by saying, “OK, OK, OK!” and then she walked away. Once I had asked her to vacuum before my next lesson and she made no move towards it. I was worried she’d pick up the vacuum cleaner at the worst time, when it needs to be quiet during the baby’s nap time. I needn’t have worried. She never even picked up the vacuum cleaner once.

Emily slept in the teaching room. I ended up taking care of my daughter while teaching at the same time. While I was teaching in the morning, Emily would leave her bed then and continue sleeping on the couch. When I went back to teaching in the afternoon, she stayed on the couch to watch MTV. Once or twice every hour, I had to get up to ask her to turn down the volume. When I asked her to take my baby daughter as she was getting too restless on my lap during the lesson, Emily only raised her hand to show me her freshly painted nails and said, ” I can’t!”

She walked into our bedroom at night without knocking. We told her not to do this anymore, but you know…. OK, OK, OK! and she’d do it again.

She was told not to shower after 9 pm as the baby slept in the room next to the bathroom. Of course, she’d go in after 9 pm. When I told her to shower earlier, I got the standard response of “OK, OK, OK!”. I reminded her to ask is something was not clear, but she never did. When I asked her if she could dry the dishes, she’d ignore it. Then I showed her the meaning of “to dry the dishes” by demonstrating it, just like I would do in a lesson.  “Please dry the dishes”, I said. “OK, OK, OK!” was her response. I let you guess what she did next. Everything, but drying the dishes.

Two mornings a week, our baby daughter was with the child-care mother up the street. On the forth morning of her first week, I asked Emily to pick her up (we had gone there together before). She refused and only said she couldn’t. When I asked her why, she had no response.

In addition, when I asked her to help carry some of the shopping bags, she conveniently walked away. She lacked common sense and I also sensed some pride, her feeling clever in avoiding work. This was my first time with a possible case of passive aggression. I am no psychologist, but her behavior was very odd, if not aggressive towards me as hostess. There was no sense of doing things together, she only wanted to watch MTV and spend hours in the bathroom.

Quite normal for a teenager, but not as a household helper or the so-called au pair.

She also had the audacity to ask me for English lessons. I can’t remember if I laughed or cried at that moment.

I’ve learned a few things from this experience:

* The following time somebody offered me this short-term arrangement, I politely said, “No, thank you.” Motherhood, a professional life, and family management leave no time for a short-term solution, which requires a lot of prep time, getting used to each other, and training.

* Even though this arrangement might come about through a friendly relationship (visiting distant relative, a friend’s daughter, etc.), a clear structure needs to be set up. This involves a contract with set hours, clearly defined assignments, a daily planner, and a sign-off sheet. There is no room for assumptions, on both sides of the fence.

* What looks like help might be no help at all.

When Emily left, I was quite relieved and happy. I thought I had been tired before Emily came. While she was here, I contemplated taking Prozac. Just kidding. She only had to leave. That was the best remedy.

Anyway, she was like a third child, a teenager who not only did not pull her weight, but added extra work. Yet, she was a stranger, so I kept trying to be polite in asking her to help. Hindsight, I should have yelled at her.  Not that it would have changed her, but I suppressed too much during that time.

I did not realize then how much I suppressed by trying to keep life going. Now I know. But even turning this around in my head, I now know nothing I could have said would have mattered to Emily.

I like to think she is an isolated case, because there are many good people out there. But finding the right one is real tricky. I wasn’t even looking for help, but instead got a real burden on our family life.

Whenever I feel down, I just need to remind myself that Emily isn’t here… and then I feel better.

*au pair (ˌō ˈpe(ə)r/)
a young foreign person, typically a woman, who helps with housework or child care in exchange for room and board.

Student Life at University of Nottingham – A Roar Or A Snore?

This guest-post has been written by Thomas Shipley, a former Frankfurt International School (FIS) student and a current English Literature student at the University of Nottingham. And yes, we are related.

After spending months at home in post-IB rehabilitation, I wondered what living in England and going to university there was going to be like. Were the rumors of sleeping in, little work, and much partying true? Was English food going to be as bad as us continental Europeans make it out to be? Would I have difficulty making friends?

After a term at the University of Nottingham, I have already gotten my fair deal of student life! Freshers’ week, or week one of university, was probably one of the most exciting times of my life – seven days of meeting new people, going to clubs and events, and drinking. Lots of drinking! Oh and some introductory lectures too, let’s not forget about those.

Settling into my course wasn’t easy, as was the navigation around campus, enrolling myself into modules, and figuring out my timetable. I was so used to having my academic life all laid-out for me that it almost felt like too much freedom. Lectures were a bit daunting at first; two hundred students in one hall, all quiet, all listening to one professor’s voice. Seminars (lessons in a small group) felt like being in school again, just everybody was speaking in various English dialects.

As an international person, part-American part-German, I’ll admit that I felt a bit of an outsider in an otherwise quite homogenous group. Sure, there were foreigners – mostly Chinese – but otherwise I was surrounded by English people. The one thing that helped me along was the fact that English is my native tongue, albeit with an American accent, so the “wrong” type of English. At least that’s what the perpetual teasing has taught me. One English friend would greet me with a grin on his face, yelling at me in his best American accent: “Oh my gawd!” Since this fellow is a Northerner, I would retort: “Ay up!” (a typical Yorkshire greeting to a Lancastrian is not always advisable… see The Wars of the Roses for more information).

I guess what I like most about university life are the societies and the social life. However, there won’t be any more hall socials next year, as I’ll be forced to live in a flat. And maybe I’ll have too much work next year to attend any of the numerous societies’ (e.g., Philosophy Society, Chinese Society, Sailing Society) meetings; I already have a considerable amount of assignments as it is. But all that might get old anyway once I’m in year three. Who knows?

I wonder where my degree in English may lead me. I have a few ideas that I will delve into, such as journalism or advertising. A friend scoffed and asked, “A degree in English? You know what they say about English majors…” Some German friends and family have asked: “English? That’s a useful language to learn nowadays! It should be easy for him, he has an American father!” To them all I say: Well, then you try explaining to me Dickens’s view on the effects of utilitarian education and rapid industrialization on our society!

Quote of the Day

Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is high.

– Norwegian proverb –

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