I left university at 21, and by the time I was 24 I knew a regular job was not something for me. I had bounced around between call centres, customer care, sales, and even tech support, but nothing felt right.
One evening in 2007, I was on the phone to a friend moaning about yet another awful day with my dreadful boss when my friend interrupted me: “Why don’t you hand in your notice and come to Greece with me to get a TEFL certification? You’ve always been good at English and you’re bossier than anyone I know, you’d be a great teacher!”
I thought about it for a few minutes and agreed. Six months later I passed my Teaching English as a Foreign Language exam with flying colours and went on to teach in China, Croatia and Italy, before finally settling in Spain in 2014.
Fast forward five years and I now have my own language academy in the south of Spain, a husband, two dogs, and a mortgage! And all of it was made possible because of freedom of movement: the ability to just drop everything back in 2007 and travel around Europe doing something I discovered I truly loved doing. All I needed was my passport, a suitcase and the means to cover my initial travel expenses.
Brexit makes Brits less employable
Losing freedom of movement means more than just longer queues at the airport. It means that the opportunity to try something new like I did in 2007 will be denied to the next generation of budding English teachers. Sure, it’s not to say that it will be impossible, but it will be much, much more difficult than it currently is.
Teacher recruitment sites are already displaying a preference for EU members on their postings, making it clear that they’d prefer to hire from within a member state. Employers where I live, myself included, are worried about hiring teachers from the UK for the next academic year. No-deal Brexit would mean headache in terms of paperwork, possible visa requirements and all the other legal issues that are necessary when employing somebody from a country you don’t have agreements with.
It’s much safer to hire somebody from Ireland, or even a non-native speaker with an English language qualification, than to risk bringing in somebody who, through no fault of their own, may become unemployable for a time while their status is being legalised. Even for teachers who are already abroad but haven’t got residency status, taking them on is just too risky especially for smaller academies like mine.
And then we have to think about teaching experience. Most schools in Europe expect a minimum of two years’ classroom experience from new hires, which is usually gained from doing volunteer projects or summer camps. To do these things, being flexible about where you go is of the utmost importance. You could be in Prague one month and Sicily the next!
Without free movement this flexibility is gone and your only option left is to go further afield to a country where the demand outstrips the need for experience, like Russia, China, or Korea. Not that there’s anything wrong with those places. I loved China, but it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and the hours are often long, difficult, and fraught with cultural clashes.
And then, once you have experience, returning to work in a European country of your choosing is likely to be at least as long-winded and expensive as it is to work outside of Europe now – with visas, work sponsorship and all the additional costs it entails. Had that been my reality back in 2007, I doubt I would have gone to Greece and retrained in the first place.
Freedom to try something different
Travelling and teaching has given me a wonderful life. I’ve seen the sun set over Stromboli, stood in the shadow of the sanctuary of Zeus in Nemea and walked along the Great Wall. Throughout it all I’ve had the honour to touch the lives of hundreds of students and help them reach their goals in life. Without freedom of movement, I would never have done these things. Without it, I would never have met my husband.
Brexit is many things to many people. To me, Brexit is the loss of freedom, the return to isolation, the snatching away of opportunities to live, work and love freely in 27 different countries.
I hate the thought of somebody out there being frustrated with their boss, their job and their life, moaning to their friend on the phone before sighing, hanging up and going back to an office they hate – instead of taking a chance and gaining the wonderful experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have.
As the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett said, “the worst thing you can do is nothing”. I truly believe that freedom of movement is something worth fighting for.