Working as an intern translator in Milan has allowed me to learn lots of new Italian words every day. However, there has been one word in particular which has frequently resurfaced in everyday life since the Brexit ordeal: I’m talking about ‘extracomunitario’. Since Brexit unfolded in June, myself, along with any other Brit who works in Italy, has apparently gained a new title: we are now ‘extracomunitari’! Don’t let the exclamation mark fool you, we haven’t won a competition and this isn’t exactly a triumph: the connotations of the word are far from positive, but does that mean it should warrant cause for concern?
Although Brexit may seem less of a talking point in recent weeks, it has undoubtedly provided food for thought during the months I’ve spent here. As my brief Milanese experience draws to an end, writing this article gives me the opportunity to reflect on and write about the impacts of one of the most significant events in current news that has unfolded in the past three months, from a personal standpoint.
I consider my absence in the UK during Brexit a blessing. I was strongly rooted in the remain camp, and like so many others, felt bitterly let down with the outcome on 23rd June. However, being in Milan at the time enabled me to see the situation from a different perspective, almost as an outsider looking in. Work colleagues curiously asked what I thought on the matter, to which I responded despondently with an element of embarrassment, feeling that the British nation had just let itself down enormously and the “Great” in Great Britain had been demolished in a matter of hours. Nevertheless, being overseas helped me distance myself from the waves of outrage which flooded the younger generation during those days (and understandably so, in my opinion). For this reason, escaping the tsunami of dissatisfaction and finding refuge on Italian soil, to an extent, was a savior: I believe I would have felt even more demoralized surrounded by Brits who shared my disappointment.
That’s not to say I took on the ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach, rather living in Italy actually brought me closer to the reality of Brexit’s consequences and made me realize how costly this vote is, both for myself and so many young people in the UK, particularly those who wish to create a life for themselves in Europe. It seems relevant to mention that, for Brexit, we may have sacrificed the Erasmus scheme, which, as any language graduate will tell you, is probably the most invaluable element to gaining a degree in languages. For me, my Erasmus meant actually learning Italian. Despite previously studying it for two years in the classroom, I was not able to speak the language, and that’s the honest truth: 4 hours a week simply aren’t sufficient. By the end of my 12 months abroad, I had by no means nailed it, but the improvements were clear. And the linguistic capacity is just one side of the experience; the people you meet, the places you visit and the cultural understanding are all possible only through immersion for a significant period of time in an authentic environment: it’s fact. As is the harsh reality that Erasmus now remains uncertain beyond the year 2017. I am lucky enough to have completed mine, but I feel deeply saddened that, had I been born three years later, I would be facing the same dilemma that so many other language students will face in future years.
It’s also extremely worrying on a more emotive level. Without wanting to sound overly cliché, potential friendships and relationships (not to mention Erasmus babies) could be lost as a result of scrapping Erasmus, which is nothing other than tragic.
So before this post becomes too ‘pesante’ and proceeds on a tangent, I will return to my favorite current word of 2016, learned here in Milan: ‘extracomunitario’. If you have reached this far yet you are still wondering what it actually means, here is your long awaited answer. Besides defining non-EU citizens, another of Wordreference’s suggested translations is “illegal alien”, which made me (quite literally) laugh out loud. It may not be the most satisfying answer but laughing in the face of adversity would certainly be the most British response. So, in light of this discovery I thought it would be fun, upon meeting new people, to begin introducing myself in the following way: “Ciao, sono Hannah, sono extracomunitaria, piacere” (“Hi, I’m Hannah, I’m an illegal alien, nice to meet you”), just to seem more exotic.
Joking aside, this new word – which initially made me feel belittled and, to put it bluntly, rather stupid – has actually, after some thought, shed light on the importance of remaining positive despite Brexit’s ploy to transform Brits into remote extra-terrestrial creatures. Of course, I’m exaggerating. Yes, Brexit means that, in years to come, organizing working visas could present greater bureaucratic chaos for foreigners in Italy (and it’s already pretty complicated as it stands), but I am positive opportunities will remain here and in the rest of Europe. And as they say: where there’s a will there’s a way. The way I see it, Brexit has provided an occasion to rise against negative stereotypes that may have been inflicted on Brits in the European context. But above all, it’s opened my eyes to imperfect outcomes; and this I will take back with me as “life experience” when I travel home in my UFO as an illegal alien.