“People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what – and who – we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.”
—Kofi Annan, 2001, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations
Given the latest ‘situation’ created by the lifting of work restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians in the United Kingdom and other European countries, I am going to try to express a Romanian’s view on the issue, but not from a political or an economic point of view. What I am going to do is talk about my experience of being a part-time resident of the UK, from a more socio-cultural perspective. I must agree that my perspective might be influenced by my beliefs and view about the world we live in, but I like looking at things in a more positive way and I like talking about their nice side. Even if the way I see things might differ from the way others do (and it most certainly does), and even if my perspective might not apply to everything and everyone, I like to believe that being a foreigner is not such a bad thing as many might think.
My British experience started 8 years ago, on a school trip around Europe, having London as a main destination. I was 14, really ecstatic about discovering the other side of the continent and very keen on interacting with different people. I didn’t care about what they said about raining all the time or being really crowded – I was going to London! We got there eventually and I was thrilled: the Big Ben watching over, the Thames shining in the sun, the people, the buildings, everything was impressive. It was different than what I was used to and I liked it. I was interested to see the rest of England and I liked being on the Island. For this reason, few years later I decided to apply for university in Salford, Manchester, luckily I got accepted, and soon after, I was embarking on the flight to my new experience. My family was there, my friends were there; nothing seemed frightening, even if I was going away.
After studying and living for almost three years in the United Kingdom my perspectives about the world we live in, and most particularly about the people we share the world with changed considerably. Throughout high school I have travelled in several European countries, but after living for long enough in the same place, I truly started to realise that we are all the same, but different. At first, I was influenced by the stereotypes I had in mind regarding different nationalities, so maybe my first opinion about others might have been a bit altered. Of course, I was not the only one being influenced by the stereotypical views; so were the British, so were the French, so were the Bulgarians that I met. Maybe it is part of our cultures to base our first opinion on stereotypes and prejudices, but after a while, if you get to know a person or a group of people, you might happen to see that your first opinion was wrong and the ‘other’ might not be so much different as you think (as it happened to me in several cases).
During my time at the university I was able to meet an amazing amount of people from all corners of the world – which was such a great experience! Besides getting to know more about a particular country, such as its politics, economics, society and many many others, being part of this diverse environment allows you to involve in others’ cultures. And this, again, is a great experience. What living in the UK taught me best is that being part of different cultures means to accept the differences and acknowledge that each person has his or her personal background which, to some degree, might be influenced by the culture they are part of. Throughout the years I have been meeting quite a range of people, having quite a range of backgrounds and opinions; this way I learned that even if we all have our stereotypical view about the ‘other’, it might not turn out to be that way. It was the same for me with England and the British: I knew that it was going to rain and I supposed the people are cold and distant. It turned out that YES, it was raining a lot (so this is not a stereotype anymore; plus, after 3 years of mostly rain, I started to care about it – I am not 14 anymore!), but the people there were not how I expected, some of them were really really warm and friendly. It’s true it was not always the case; UK also has sun and sometimes people aren’t that open, but you can’t always have it all.
Anyway, getting to meet people from various parts of the world made me understand that in some respects we are all so different, but if you are willing to, you can overcome these differences and learn from the others and the other way round. As Kofi Annan mentioned in his speech, people of different religions and cultures live together all around the world, and even if we all have different personalities or identities, we can still accept and learn from the others and at the same time remain fond of our own culture and background. Having lived in the UK for three years and being part of a diverse environment made me understand that if you want to keep up with the world you live in, you have to go beyond the cultural, racial, religious boundaries and get to know a person as you would like others to know you.
Until next time, open your eyes and your ears to what the world has to tell you.
By: Ioana-Alexandra Tache