Utvekslingsstudenten Marloes Winkel fra Nederland har brukt ett år på å studere i Norge. Hun har reist som Erasmusstudent, og har fått føle hvor lett det er å være EU-borger i EØS-området. I går var hun på valgvaken for Europaparlamentsvalget til Europeisk Ungdom, og i dag skriver hun om hvorfor hun valgte å benytte stemmeretten sin:
I have doubted a long time about writing this blog, but today I realized I should just do it. No dinners, parties and far away journeys this time, but a blog about Europe in order to get as many people as possible to the voting ballots next week.
I have already voted myself, but still I have the feeling that I owe this to my object of study (about which I wrote an exam yesterday) and the organization that pays me 220 euros every month to study here. I won’t write about vague reasons such as ‘The EU made us rich’ or ‘Thanks to the EU we live in peace’, but about practical, almost touchable things that I discovered here (even though I’m fascinated by the idea that my French and German friends could happily have killed each other 70 or 100 years ago. A lot has changed indeed!).
The voting was not that easy for me. Even though everything else can be done digitally nowadays, I had to send quite some letters and it cost me quite some Norwegian kroner in order to finally cast my vote. And still I did it. Not only because of all the reasons that I will tell you later, but especially because I met people here who are not able to vote and I now realise how special it is that we can actually vote for something. Here I have become a firm believer in human rights and this right, which so many people don’t have (for example already one billion Chinese, but also five million Norwegians who don’t have anything to say about EU-policy but still have to implement it!), should be used. Moreover there is the argument with which my parents raised me: if you didn’t vote, you’re not allowed to complain. And since there is a lot of complaining about the EU, the message here is clear.
«If you didn’t vote, you’re not allowed to complain.»
Last week I read an article by someone who stated that the EU is most successful if you don’t notice it. All the things he described as things you don’t notice, are things you won’t notice when you stay safely hidden behind a dike back in The Netherlands. Now, it’s clear that I have not done this and thus I can tell you exactly what I did notice.
This already starts at the airport and the fact that you can pass the gates with your ID-card (or in my case even my driver’s licence once!). Take the plane to the UK in order to see how it can be done differently, but even there you get a certain VIP-treatment with your EU-pass and you enter the country a lot faster than others. Now we will get to the really special things that are even more special since I have heard how they are for non-Europeans.
On August 8th I happily entered Norway. The only thing I had to do was fill out a form and hand it in at University (which would pass it on to the police) saying that I came to Norway and that I would stay. Afterwards the police send me a letter saying that everything was fine and that I could stay as long as I wished. A comparison: my Canadian friend Thoby has to leave the country latest August 31st. I won’t bother you with stories about applying for a visa, since they are not great fun. A little while later I went to the Norwegian tax office and told them that I would like to have a Norwegian ID-number. This was perfectly possible and three weeks later I had one. I will keep this number for as long as I live, just in case I would ever decide to come to Norway again. I used this number to open a bank account and with it I could get a job, get a Norwegian insurance and do all my other stuff related to the Norwegian authorities. Thoby needed to show proof that someone offered him a job before he could get such a number, which of course caused him a lot more trouble than my metro trip to the tax office.
«I will keep this number for as long as I live, just in case I would ever decide to come to Norway again.»
Lastly, I have the same right to health care as Norwegians have. I could go to the first aid with my painful foot and pay the same as my Norwegian language partner would have paid. All of this sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? All these things just happened for me and most of my friends and that was also the way we looked at them: everything made sense, and everything was normal. Only once in a while you have to face the facts. When my American friend Nick (who joined us to Finland) needed a surgery in Norway, we understood that the way we had been treated was not to be taken for granted. His study debt was just raised with 90.000NOK.
It’s strange how we forget how it could have been, especially when you hear how hard it is to get a visa from other people, and when you are told that YOU did not have to do it (and you hear this little hint of envy), or when you hear about your ex-flatmate who is now ‘locked up’ for a year in Ireland because it is not a part of Schengen and therefore her visa only counts for Ireland (while she could travel through all of Europe last semester when she was in Norway).
All these things don’t have anything to do with the Erasmus programme. Erasmus students have a certain status at University, one of the reasons being that so many things are different (read: easier) for us since we are EU/EEA-students. Erasmus is a lot more than these 220 Euros a month, however. It also facilitated the contacts between all universities and thus facilitated exchanges not only financially but also institutionally. This is why not only I, but also more than one million other students got the chance to study abroad and I can tell you that all clichés about this are true. Yes, you get to know yourself. Yes, you learn a lot about the world. And yes, you get friends everywhere.
Although I know people from all over the world, not in the least my flatmates of course, most people who have become real friends are Europeans like me. I have often wondered how it’s possible that I click with them on such a deeper level than with most of my flatmates (except for one, who’s from Switzerland) even though I like my flatmates very, very much. I think it’s because we agree on a number of essential things: of course we are against capital punishment and of course we are all equal and have the same rights (and we agree on which ones as well), we don’t even have to talk about it.
“Don’t you know how many Euros that is?!”
Well, not everybody on this planet agrees with this. Furthermore we know the same things: we all know (unfortunately) Wilders and Le Pen or politicians like them. We went on holiday in the same places. We learn each other’s language or we learn the same. And almost all of us pay with Euros. Those who never believed that the euro could unite people should go to a non-euro country like Norway with some Germans, Spanish or French people. Very soon you will notice that they are the only ones that do understand you when you sigh: “Don’t you know how many Euros that is?!”. They will nod approvingly, while a Czech, Brazilian or Japanese still doesn’t understand how expensive something is here.
Of course there are differences: in what we eat or at what time, in how noisy we are or in how we deal with people we just got to know. These differences however turn out to be very small when you compare them to the differences you discover when you meet people from other continents. We are less of a world citizen than we think, even though this is exactly what we accuse others (read: non-Europeans) of.
«These differences however turn out to be very small.»
It struck me and my friends how Chinese students only seem to know other Chinese, Japanese only other Japanese and how Brazilians seem to know every place where a fellow Brazilian lives. My Indian flatmate often plays cricket with other Indians and every flatmate that I have ever seen having someone over for dinner, spoke his or her own language (except for one, the Swiss). We were surprised about this, but how do they look at us? Could it be that they think we only have other Europeans over for dinner (because this is true)? We think it’s very exciting, cool and/or tiring that we have to speak English all day, but don’t we speak that English with a little more exotic version of ourselves? Don’t we choose the same easy life as the average Japanese but we just don’t realise because we have to communicate in another language (which we all speak well)?
Are we, to them, the lazy Europeans that didn’t even have to take pains in order to get where we are and who don’t even realise how special it is that we are here? Are we the spoiled Europeans who don’t really travel far away because they have the rest of their lives to discover this continent and for whom this is also a lot easier? Are we the only ones planning to meet each other next year, because it turns out to be easier than we thought? How lazy and spoiled are we? Probably a lot more than we think ourselves! Hey, we did have to write a motivation letter! And maybe Oslo was not our first choice! And people from other EU-countries get more Erasmus money than us, isn’t that unfair? Well, we can put all of this in perspective now.
So far I have not met a single Erasmus student with whom I talked about this who did not agree that he/she felt a lot more European than back when he/she left his/her home country. And that’s why I voted.
It took some pains, but these pains are very small compared to the pains I would have had to take if there would not have been European cooperation.This is the very least I could do to return the favour.
Consider it a sign of gratitude for everything we Europeans have which other citizens of the world don’t have. For all these new friends that I can visit so easily, for the fact that we even became friends! I now realise very well what it means to be born in this continent and in an era where only the differences between European countries are emphasised, I think it’s even more important to realise what unites ‘us’ and not what drives us apart. That what unites us is worth so much more! A lot more than those billions of Euros earned thanks to the common market!
As a student of European Studies I know very well that Europe is not perfect, but there are places on this planet compared to which the EU is paradise. Everything that’s not perfect can be improved, but then we have to let know how we want this. We can do this in many ways, but one is very important: go vote! The undemocratic monster of bureaucrats in Brussels will not get more democratic or better if no one uses this special right to vote.
One out of five hundred million