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Graduating from my Master’s degree at long last!

This Friday 29th November 2019 I will graduate from my Double Master’s degree in European Politics and Society – a degree I started way back in September 2016 at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Take a look at my blog posts about the Masters to find out more. After 3 years of study, research and writing, I’m thrilled to have finally completed this chapter of my life and to graduate ‘cum laude’ with an 8.5 / 10 in the Dutch grading scale, which is equivalent to a First Class / Distinction grade in the UK.

The course was initially supposed to take 2 years full-time, moving to a different country every 6 months under the Erasmus Mundus scheme. Half-way through the Euroculture Master’s however, I finally succeeded in getting into the exact career path I’ve desired for over 10 years, so I was forced to accept the job offer and I ended up completing the second year of the Masters part-time alongside a full-time job. Not ideal, I can tell you, and I would seriously, deeply, advise against following my path! It was a huge struggle and time commitment to work and study at the same time, so I requested an extra year to complete my mammoth 111-page-long thesis. And here we are, three years later, with the Master’s finally complete!

For the sake of any future Euroculture students, I must mention that there isn’t normally a part-time option for this Master’s, and they made an exception for me. I had to write a business case to persuade the Exam Board of the significance and relevance of my job offer to the Master’s subject, and I was told that my request was only granted in exceptional circumstances because of my strong academic record to date. In hindsight, I would strongly advise against combining work with study, so you shouldn’t start the Euroculture programme thinking that this is viable option. 

Aside from travelling back and forth from London to the Netherlands every Friday for 8 weeks (!) in spring 2018 for mandatory full-day classes, and completing smaller assignment and group projects, my main challenge in the past two years has been completing the 30 ECTS credits thesis – a huge solo project. I had decided to research the impact of Brexit on the identity and significant life-course decisions of EU27 citizens living in London, through conducting in-depth qualitative interviews with three nationalities: Italians, Polish and Romanians.

Here’s the official abstract of my thesis:

The UK’s departure from the EU marks a pivotal moment in the history of intra-EU migration, one which foretells significant consequences for the identities and future plans of EU27 citizens who call the UK home, as they try to navigate the uncertainty and xenophobic othering sparked by the referendum result in June 2016. This thesis proposes five hypotheses on the cause-and-effect relationships that link migrant identity to subsequent decision-making in the context of Brexit, through coping strategies and other determining factors. Findings are based on thematic and comparative analysis of qualitative in-depth interviews with 22 Italian, Polish and Romanian citizens living in London, which were conducted between March 2018 and April 2019, prior to the UK’s departure date and during a period of considerable uncertainty regarding their future in the country.

In terms of Brexit’s impact on their identity formation, xenophobic othering plays a key role in reinforcing and reconfiguring collective identities, and provokes contests to citizenship-identity hierarchies within the EU27 community in London. Despite the three nationalities’ differing patterns of belonging and resulting identity reconfigurations, Brexit has broadly increased their attachment to, and solidarity through, a transnational European identity. In terms of the practical impact of Brexit on significant life-course decisions, the referendum has not triggered a ‘Brexodus’ or mass emigration of EU27 citizens from the UK, as emigration decisions are primarily governed by individual and circumstantial factors. Citizens who do not emigrate either face analysis paralysis and adopt avoidance tactics to delay decision-making, or they opt for instrumental naturalisation which often leads subliminally to a greater sense of belonging in the UK. Alongside the general hypotheses, this thesis also depicts the diverse attitudes and coping strategies that differentiate Italians, Polish and Romanians from one another, with regards to their distinct national and cultural backgrounds.

Keywords: belonging, Brexit, European identity, identity, interviews, London, migrant identity, migration, othering, social identity, uncertainty

I accumulated over 30 hours of recorded interviews, some of which revealed quite shocking experiences of xenophobia and discrimination, all of which revealed a sense of othering and the consequences of living in a state of uncertainty. The thesis includes many direct quotations from the interviewees which bring their experiences and stories to life. This particular quotation embodies how many of them were feeling:

If this research sounds of interest to you, then you’ll find more about the subject and my findings on The Well-Travelled Journal, as well as the full thesis and these slides I’ve prepared on the subject.

 

I’m grateful to my managers in the UK Civil Service for giving me several days of study leave to conduct the interviews, and to all those 22 interviewees who opened up to me about their experiences of Brexit. Recruiting the interviewees was more challenging than anticipated, but truly enjoyable to meet every single one of them, and I remember that as my favourite part of the whole research process. My least favourite part by far was the endless late nights and weekends of coding, analysis and write-up in June and July 2019, when my personal life went AWOL, as I dedicated every spare hour of my life to the thesis.

I stayed in the office most nights until midnight or 1am working at my desk, since sleep would be too tempting if I were at home! I cancelled and declined all social occasions, except my 30th birthday of course! Once the Jersey Triathlon was suffered/completed in mid-June, I completely stopped exercising. I barely slept, averaging 5 hours/night for weeks on end. I didn’t cook once and ate a lot of crap, easy food. I missed the entirety of the early summer heat wave. In short, it was grim! But when the entire thesis was finally submitted in August 2019, I felt the most immense sense of satisfaction and relief that I hadn’t given up. Giving up would have meant that 12 months’ full-time study in 2016-17 was wasted, meant only having a Bachelor’s on my CV, meant failing – becoming a drop-out. Failing to complete the Master’s would have eaten away at my self-confidence and self-worth, placing seeds of doubt into my ability to achieve any future difficult endeavours.

Why did the thesis take me so long?

Couldn’t I have rattled off any old 25,000-words of rubbish in two weeks to just scrap a ‘pass’? I’m sure some people would. But perfectionism and my own high standards were at the heart of my procrastination in 2018, as I couldn’t bear to do a crap job, having worked so hard on the rest of the Master’s and obtained high grades I was proud of. This inability to get properly started grew worse and worse, hanging over my head like a dark cloud just waiting to pour down its contents. In early 2019 I finally pulled on waterproofs and wellies, grabbed the umbrella, and stepped out into the thunderstorm, all thanks to the gentle motivation of a peer, my fellow student Jessica. If only I had realised sooner that the key missing ingredient was having the mutual support of other students around me! Another reason why I would strongly advise against attempting study and full-time work simultaneously. Once I’d finally got my toes wet, and regained my passion and interest in the topic, I got into the swing of the research, and the rest is history.

What next with the thesis?

On Friday my family and boyfriend will be in Groningen with me to help celebrate my graduation, with my thesis supervisor saying a few words about the thesis too. I’m very keen to share my research, as I uncovered some important findings about the ongoing impact of Brexit on EU27 citizens. I’ve already presented these slides on my research LINK to two teams in the UK Government, which will help to improve and shape the way EU27 citizens are treated going forwards. I’m keen to share my research with expert academics at the Universities of Sussex and Southampton, who I cited in the thesis, and hopefully present my research to other interested parties. If you know of relevant organisations or groups that I could present this research to, please do get in touch!

For now though, I’m in celebration mode as I look forward to returning to Groningen for my graduation ceremony!

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