2017 is already proving to be a tumultuous time for many of us, particularly if you happen to be a British citizen living and working in one of the countries in the European Union. I am one of those people. My name is Kate and I’m 21 years old. I moved to Paris in August 2013 to start my studies at the University of London Institute In Paris. Back then, the exchange rate was in our favour, so my student loan went far. I was a wide eyed optimistic individual who was ready to grab any potential opportunities and adventures that presented themselves. Fast-forward a couple of years and I have my degree in French with History and I’m currently working as an intern in a digital marketing agency. However, the future looks quite uncertain for myself and many recent graduates as we don’t have enough experience in the “real world” to warrant the sort of jobs that we dreamt about at the beginning of our academic careers. In fact, it is hard enough to find one that pays the bills. The Post-Brexit European job market is looking more and more unpredictable and things look certain to remain uncertain.
Photo taken by Leah Chernick for Our Paris Stories.
I am by no means a political commentator so I won’t bombard you with statistics and heavily opinionated stances, however it’s clear to me that the main Brexit factor that worries my generation is the future with regards to job security and opportunities to progress. Referred to as “Millenials”, we are often scoffed at for our inability to save money and our desire to go to university before getting into the murky world of employment but, given the current climate, can you really blame us? In order to highlight the difficulties we face, I’ve described five stereotypes based on people I know to better explain the situation for many recent graduates like me.
First let’s take George. He graduated with a good 2:1 in an Arts degree from a well-known red brick university in the UK. After applying for a few graduate training schemes, he was offered a job in London where he could work his way up from the bottom. First making coffee then filing papers until eventually doing something interesting, essentially giving him some job security as long as he isn’t a complete catastrophe. Does he enjoy what he’s doing? Is it related to his degree? Does it matter as long as he gets to clock off at 5pm and has enough cash for a couple of pints at the weekend and 5-a-side football on a Thursday night? He seems happy, but will it be the same in 5 years?Emma studied in Paris. She got a great degree and has a wealth of incredible life experience thanks to her time in the French capital. However, in order for her to progress in her field of interest she requires an MA. This involves more loans to pay tuition fees and a part-time job which will eat into study time. She tells herself that it is an investment in her future, but how likely is she to get her ideal job afterwards? Moreover, where will she work and how much will she have to earn before she can pay off her student debt which will stand at around £50k? All these questions rattle around her head when she should be working on her thesis or trying to relax at a cafe with her friends. She never completely switches off and she relies on support from her family to get by. What would she have done without them?
David did alright. He lucked his way through university pulling all nighters to get essays finished and was a regular in the student bar where he learnt all of the social skills necessary to get a job as a dog’s body in an enterprising start up. Working his way up, he now manages a team of like minded people in a contemporary office space. However, his university friends didn’t fair so well and had to head off to London to see if they can do any better there leaving him very much isolated in Paris away from his family and best friends. Even though he’s doing well in his career, will strains in his personal life force him to do the same?
Steph worked in a bar to get her through university and after she graduated she struggled to find other employment, so she’s still slogging hard pulling pints and wiping down tables while the only time she gets to see her friends is when they come in trying to get free drinks from her. 12 hour shifts leaving her too exhausted to look for something else, she resigns herself to the fact that this could be her lot. She has greater ambitions than this but what choice does she have? Afterall, rent doesn’t pay itself.
Let’s take my situation. I love France. I love everything about being here. The culture, the food, the people – I can’t get enough. I can use my skills as an English speaker with a degree in French to try and get the best job possible. I love what I do now, but as an intern, I’m not guaranteed to still be earning money this time in six months which leaves me in a difficult situation. Brexit has made this particularly difficult. I don’t know whether I will have to wade through a mountain of paperwork in order to stay in my adoptive country. I don’t want French citizenship as I don’t want to give up my Britishness however I do want to be able to move freely around Europe in search of new and exciting opportunities. Brexit makes me doubt that this will be my future.
Native Anglophone French speakers are a prized commodity thanks to their cultural awareness and linguistic talent which are vital in the fields of customer service, translation, teaching and so much more. Translation is not my strong point plus you need further qualifications in order to be able to even get an interview. The same applies for teaching unless you apply through the British Council before you finish your degree. This is all coupled with the fact that I don’t actually know what I want to do, therefore the tightening up of the job market presents me with an almighty conundrum. Keep calm and carry on, or get out and find something else.
Another issue we have to face is the question of Study Abroad and the Erasmus programme. Personally, I took this to the extreme by spending my entire degree in France. What is going to happen to all of the language students who need time abroad in a European country to perfect their language skills and cultural awareness? I’m a massive advocate of spending time away from the classroom in order to learn more about the world, as it is vital for the study of languages. There are phrases and ways of life that I could never have learnt in a classroom but that I picked up here, helping me relate to the people around me. Thus, I am better in the work place because I understand different ways of thinking and how to empathise with them. Will we lose these vitals skills when we break from the European Union?
Fellow Europeans always complain that Brits can only speak English. Will Brexit make this situation worse? Most probably. The freedom of movement in the EU in addition to lots of funding will make it much more difficult and bureaucratic to spend study time in the EU. Meaning that fewer people will end up doing it therefore our domestic job market is going to be severely lacking in graduates with adequate language skills who can be the link for the UK with the rest of the world. We seem to have a very egocentric view of the world which is nicely summarised in the common phrase “Everyone speaks English.” Well, actually that isn’t true. We need people who speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and so many other languages in order to prosper in the way we believe we can.
Photo taken by Leah Chernick for Our Paris Stories.
Although I’ve presented this situation as all doom and gloom some people do have luck. They go into the profession they dreamed of as a child and are very happy. Recruitment agencies are very efficient and some people happen to be in the right place at the right time. As a language graduate who has benefited from many aspects of Britain’s membership in the European Union, I am disheartened by the current situation. I knew I wasn’t guaranteed a spectacular job right out of university.
I naively thought, however, that the world was my oyster and the privileges that I had experienced during our membership would continue for ever more. Healthcare, freedom to travel, a warm reception in a room where you’re the only English person. After the turmoil of 2016 we can’t second guess anything, but one thing I would like to ask a crystal ball is, given the job market before we’ve even left, what will happen to me and my fellow recent graduates when we make our break from the European Union? Goodness only knows.
Kate Goodbody is writing in a personal capacity and her views do not represent those of the FrancoBritish Chamber of Commerce or other organisations with which she is associated.You can read more of Kate’s observations on life in Paris on her blog here . The photographs are courtesy of Our Paris Stories, which recently featured Kate.