A Husky Abroad Shares Perspectives Across the Pond

By Cyndi Perkins | Published

Blue shirts for "remain." Red shirts for "leave." A pro-Brexit essay written in chalk on Trafalgar Square and a Vote Leave Battle bus emblazoned with the slogan "We send the EU £350 million a week let's fund our NHS (National Health Service) instead."

He's no stranger to the news. But in the weeks building up to the June 23 United Kingdom referendum to leave the European Union, Michigan Tech Lode News Editor Peter Nouhan found himself immersed in the headlines from an entirely different vantage point. Before his eight-week study program took him to Scotland and then Amsterdam, he had front-row access to the debate on the streets of London. And he continues to talk to fellow college students concerned about the implications for higher education. Like his British friend who's a music student in London.

"He sympathizes with his foreign friends who study with him," Nouhan writes in an email interview. "They might have to leave London because their tuition will likely increase, and it might become more difficult to move between the UK and the EU. Currently EU citizens are free to travel to the UK and seek employment. Britain will likely become less attractive for students who want to study there."

Education and Research

The potential effect on education and research funding is also a concern, along with the future of collaborations between UK and EU researchers.

While there are parallel issues in the Brexit scenario, including immigration and health care funding, the atmosphere building up to the vote wasn't as charged as the current US presidential election.

Because traffic is so bad many Londoners take the Underground (subway). "It's faster than a bus or taxi," says Noouhan. "But there's no cellular service and poor Wi-Fi, so commuters rely on old-fashioned news delivery during their commutes.

Peter Nouhan in London
Peter Nouhan in London

"You can usually see everyone with a copy of the London Evening Standard or another newspaper," the Tech student says. "Every day there are people handing out newspapers at the entrance to the Underground. This is how I think most people kept up with the Brexit debate."

In London, where most people voted to remain, there didn't seem to be any major concern that the UK would actually leave the EU," he says. "Crowds did come out to protest—after the referendum."

The View from the Netherlands

Nouhan was already in the Netherlands on voting day.  

"The immediate aftermath was shock. Even the Dutch were shocked by the outcome. Nobody seemed to expect it would actually happen," he says. "You can still hear conversations regarding Brexit among British tourists visiting Amsterdam. A lot of them are concerned it will make travel between Britain and the EU more difficult. A lot of pro-remainers are calling for a second referendum, but I doubt they'll get it. The most likely candidate for Prime Minister, Theresa May, has already announced her plans for a speedy Brexit if she wins."

In mid-July May was indeed appointed prime minister.

A biochemistry-molecular biology major slated to graduate in spring 2017, Peter has two minors: psychology, and law and society. "I'm studying abroad to gain credits for my law and society minor," he explains. "I plan to apply to a graduate program for public policy administration. I'd eventually like to run for public office."     

The Case for Immigration

His final research project in London is titled "Let Them In: A case for immigration."

"What I said about fear and immigration is equally important for the United States, because we admit nearly one million immigrants annually," Nouhan says. "Both the United States and the United Kingdom have large number of immigrants in higher education. Depending on the field of study and the graduate program in question, foreigners might even outnumber native-born students. If we decide to close our borders to large groups of immigrants, we are essentially telling the people who already study and work here that they are no longer welcome. And if Americans or the British aren't able to replace this talent, which they're not, then the quality of the education systems in America and in the UK will be diminished greatly.

"I think that Brexit is a warning for Americans and for the rest of the European Union."Peter Nouhan

"We can achieve so much more when we work cooperatively to find solutions to address the problems in our world. That means bringing people from different backgrounds who have ideas that are different than our own into the mix as well," he says.

"One thing that I found interesting when I was in London is how much history there is between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. You see thistles representing Scotland, roses representing England and shamrocks representing Ireland together on lots of the older architecture, especially around Buckingham Palace. I was also fortunate to visit Edinburgh, Scotland; these symbols were on older architecture there. I think it's important to recognize that Brexit isn't just about Britain leaving the EU, it's also very likely that Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the UK in order to stay with the EU. I think Brexit might mark the end of the intimate relationship that these nations have shared for so much of their history. Brexit could likely mean the end of Great Britain."

The 28-nation EU bloc was established in 1951. Great Britain has been a member since January 1973. The EU's provision for a formal intention to withdraw, Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, sets a two-year exit plan in motion. It hasn't been triggered.

Who Voted to Stay

"There are a couple of interesting trends in who voted to leave vs. remain,” Nouhan wrote. “Most people from Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. This is particularly important because Scotland is now considering a second referendum to leave the UK. The more densely populated places in England and Wales also voted to remain (London and Cardiff). Those who voted to remain were often younger, more educated and slightly wealthier. Amazingly, more than 75 percent of young people age 18-24 favored staying in the EU. But only 30 percent of them turned out to vote.

“This is very disturbing to me because it's younger people who stand to lose the most from Brexit, especially if it affects their education costs and ability to seek employment," he went on to say. "What does it say about a particular society when the vast majority of young people aren't interested in participating in democratic institutions? This is also why I am deeply concerned about the Trump phenomenon. If young people, who overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, decide not to vote for Hillary Clinton or decide to vote for Trump instead, we might actually have a Trump presidency for the next four years. Hillary is only leading Trump by a few points in the most recent polls." 

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

Last Modified 4:45 p.m. February, 20 2019