Isn’t Brexit Britain fun? Waiting around to see how bad it’s going to get, watching the pound fall as thousands of people risk being displaced from their homes. Good, honest, British fun – a bit like croquet – all in the name of regressive, jingoistic politics that cut this stupid little island off from the rest of the world. Jolly good!
Of course, Brexit has claimed many casualties already, but this week saw a real milestone in the, “Wow, we fucked it here, lads” timeline. On Wednesday, the government voted down an amendment to negotiate continued membership of the Erasmus scheme: an EU-wide initiative that allows university students to study abroad while receiving a small subsidy every month. Millions of students have benefitted from the programme over the years. It’s not just a way for British students to swan around Barcelona for a year, drinking Sangria and shagging someone called Carlos, either. Erasmus has financial benefits for the country, too – many European citizens end up staying in the UK and paying taxes here.
While Britain could still negotiate its way back in later (the Department of Education has said that it is committed to staying part of the scheme, despite this vote), losing Erasmus is a tangible reminder of the cultural and financial losses of leaving the EU. Another cherry on the shit cake.
For my exchange abroad, I spent a year at the University of Oslo, studying English literature, eating vaffler and brünost, and being largely quite bored. At 20, I chose the cold, Nordic country for its progressive credentials and socialist history, knowing that as a society, it is one of the most equal in the world. However, while Norway's wealth gap is pretty small, this doesn’t exactly translate into big year abroad vibes.
What struck me pretty early on in the year was that most people who choose to study in Norway are really into Nordic history and Old Norse, and are kind of… lame? Plus, booze is inordinately expensive: I distinctly remember buying a pint of cheap larger from the student bar for £7. In 2014. Seven pounds. I don’t think I would have been able to afford coke even if I could have found anyone to buy it off.
So, what did I do with an expanse of time in a tiny, snowy city? Well, I went for runs around a lake, which was reasonably dull. I wrote a deranged coffee blog, high off the fumes of my £5 filter coffee. I travelled to the middle of nowhere with a family of Norwegians who told me I was “very trusting” to come with them, and convinced myself I was going to be murdered and dumped in a Fjord. Oh, and I started a small business selling hotdogs around my campus, which failed dramatically. Most of the people I met I didn’t like, and I was really lonely the vast majority of the time. I don’t regret it a single bit.
I'm not the only one lamenting the loss of this blessed exchange scheme and all the mad memories it created. “One evening, I was wandering around Madrid looking for weed,” says Matt*, who spent a year in the Spanish city. “We’d heard there was a cannabis cafe but as we were walking around looking for it, we saw groups of people smashing windows and trying to break into stores and what not."
He continues: "We just stood and observed for a bit until we heard shots. I don’t think it was gunfire, just rubber bullets. After that, we decided to call it a night and go back to my flat. Turned out, it was a riot.”
While some, like Matt, were caught up in civil unrest on their year abroad, others got to experience altogether more romantic European scenes. “Once, I got a lift on this guy’s bike who I didn’t really know, and we BOMBED it to the club,” says Niamh Smith, who spent a year in Maastricht, the Netherlands. “When we got there, he was like, 'Holy shit, I’m glad we made it. I’m off my face on coke right now.'”
RIP Erasmus, you gave us so many great memories. Gone but never forgotten.
*Some names have been changed.
Additional reporting by Kathryn Jenkins.