Words by Carly Hamilton, a journalism major at the University of Missouri who studied abroad in London during summer 2016.
My study abroad experience this past summer in London, England revolved greatly around the Brexit vote. Prior to my arrival in the UK, I heard buzz about it but wasn’t able to fully understand the significance of this vote. Upon landing in London, that started to change.
I arrived in mid-May and the vote was set for Thursday, June 23rd. Every morning on my walk to work, I would see people standing on the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee bridges. They were just talking to anyone who would listen about why the UK should stay in the European Union. It seemed that every day, the cover of each newspaper had something to do with the upcoming vote. My interest in the matter grew immensely as I started to understand that I would be present for such a huge moment in history, especially if the vote was to leave.
Once I got more comfortable at my internship with the travel PR agency known as the Brighter Group, I spoke with my supervisor, Stephen, about the vote and what it meant to him as a UK citizen. In summary, he explained to me that anyone who wanted to leave the EU was an idiot. He felt that the UK wasn’t nearly large enough to function on its own and that it would be a disaster if the vote were to leave. It was clear that everyone else in the office felt the same way, although they didn’t voice it as boldly.
Everyone I interacted with and walked past encouraged people to vote for the UK to stay, until I had a run-in with the manager of Conway Hall, the flat we were housed in for the summer. He sat down at our kitchen table and explained that he viewed the EU as a “sinking ship” and the UK would be jumping overboard just in time to save itself if the vote was to leave. I truly wish I had taken notes on the specifics of what he said, but that’s the gist of what I remember.
On the night before the vote, London partially flooded. It rained so incredibly much that night that tube and train stations had to be closed the next day because of standing water. It was pouring when I left for work, and after waiting 30 minutes at Waterloo and being 20 minutes late I stopped at a coffee shop to get Wi-Fi and text Stephen about the situation. He assured me it was alright because half the office was stranded at home due to train closures. I literally ran across the Golden Jubilee Bridge, drenching my shoes and pants. As I approached the station, a sign and a chain blocked off the entry, confirming it was shut down. At this point, I was thoroughly frustrated and extremely wet. I trekked to Temple, a nearby station that was inevitably way overcrowded.
When I finally got on the Circle Line toward Victoria, it was jam-packed. As the tube shot through the dark tunnel, we approached Embankment and saw a heap of standing water on the opposite track and platform. Suddenly, the conductor announced “Hold on tight, we’re about to make a sudden stop.” When it rains that much, it’s not unusual for tube lines to lose signal… It’s essentially the equivalent of stopping as fast as hitting a brick wall. Before I knew it, everyone standing fell over as we stopped out of nowhere. That split moment made me realize the pure chaos that seemed to fill London that day. As I stepped out of the tube into Victoria station, the crowds of people were just plain panicked. It was as if the chaos the rain caused represented the state of the UK and Londoners' resulting panic at what would happen if they left the EU.
The next morning, I was at Luton airport really early on my way to Portugal. At about 6am, we were standing in the security line when the news was released that the vote was to leave. My mom encouraged me to spend as little as possible until everything settled down because the pound was losing value drastically. We were shocked. It seemed that the majority of London and Scotland voted to stay, but apparently Wales and much of the rest of England felt differently.
Since that day, my coworkers continually discussed the negative state of their savings accounts and all they had worked for as their money lost value. When David Cameron stepped down as prime minister, more panic filled the city. It was truly fascinating to be a part of this time in history.
I think it will be quite an experience to travel to the UK in the next couple years and be able to see how it changes as it prepares to leave the EU. This change has interesting complications for the travel industry, as demonstrated by my internship. UK citizens may feel it less important to travel as their money doesn’t stretch as far currently and they may not as easily be able to access European countries. However, I think keeping travel a top priority will help make the transition easier. Students traveling to London in the future will certainly have a different experience than I did, but no doubt it will still be just as great.
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