Ode to Joy – or Despair

Jack makes it over the line with time to spare for a change – –

Although I’m not directly affected very much by Brexit it saddens me to see Scotland dragged out of the EU against the will of nearly seventy percent of her population. What’s particularly annoying is that Northern Ireland (part of the UK) has been granted special status as a ‘semi-member’, continuing in the customs and trading rules of the EU, while Scotland has been denied that. One result is that young people will no longer be able to study in Europe under the ‘Erasmus’ scheme.

Back in the 1990s when I was a Head of Department in a Scottish community college, I managed three environmental education projects funded by the EU through an initiative called ADAPT. As part of that focus I set up student exchange schemes with a college in Denmark and another in Slovakia. My college was in an ex-coalmining area and most of my students had very narrow horizons. They had very limited interest in the wider world and low expectations of their likely success in being chosen to participate. In fact, out of a student population of around four hundred each year I had to twist arms to get fifteen applicants. This despite the fact that there was no cost to them.

What made me persevere, though, was that I had already been touring around Europe with my folk band and wanted my students to have a similar experience – I wanted them to feel ‘European’ and meet young people like themselves who might speak a different language and eat different food, but had much the same outlook on life, It turned out that it actually was the language and food that most scared my students. Of course most of them had never been abroad before except maybe a family vacation in Spain where everyone would speak English and they’d get fish n’ chips.

The other reason I kept at it was that from the very beginning the returning groups were completely transformed by the experience. Many of them kept in touch with the friends they made and when the reciprocal visits took place with young Danes and Slovaks coming to Scotland these ties were reinforced.

To get the funding for these exchanges I had to show that the purpose was both educational and not covering part of the regular curriculum, so the focus was on environmental issues which were just becoming a ‘hot topic’ at the time. The idea was that when they finished their studies and went into employment they would have the knowledge and enthusiasm to affect policy in their places of work.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the EU and that has now gone for students from England, Scotland and Wales. The good news is that young people from Northern Ireland will be able to continue in the Erasmus program, but that just makes me more frustrated. Scotland can’t because we were dragged out of the EU alongside England and Wales—and against our majority will.

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

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