My name is Mark and I’m a postdoctoral researcher working on music and religion. Having finished my doctorate at City University, London in 2014, I moved to Germany almost two years ago now after struggling to find a post-doctoral position in the UK. Having built up some connections with the country over a period of a period of 5 or 6 years, Germany was somewhere that I’d often thought about living, but I’d never really known how it might be possible. On a little bit of a whim, I applied for a postdoctoral position in Erfurt and, after interview, was offered fixed term funding for 1 to 2 years to carry out research and to apply for further grants. After agonising over whether or not to make the leap I finally plucked up the courage to move, and I’m glad now that I did.
Adjusting to life in Germany hasn’t always been an easy process, and in my early months here I often looked forward to trips back to the UK as a means of escape back into a familiar environment, but I’ve found myself supported here in my work financially and institutionally in a way that I never really achieved before. It feels that many of the people and organisations here want me to succeed, and that has been a profound encouragement in my research. My network of friends around the country have also been an incredible source of life for me, and I have loved exploring the different cities and states via the luxury of the ICE network.
The referendum result was devastating for me and has profoundly altered the way I think about my life here and the future. As someone on a temporary contract my position in Germany is far from stable. I am haunted by the possibility that if I don’t manage to find longer-term funding in the country now, then in future my opportunities here may be much more limited. The feeling of freedom to move back and forth as opportunities arise feels like it is slowly vanishing, and I have to now make a long term decision where to settle, putting in enough continuous time here so as to be able to seek citizenship to safeguard my future. Since the referendum I feel an increasing gap between myself and the direction that the UK is heading in – and I feel grateful for the insulation that living abroad gives me from the direction in which British politics seems to be heading. It feels a little bit like the UK has become a foreign country with a mindset I don’t understand.
As an academic and a musician, much of my life is built upon the circulation of people across borders, and the creative cross-fertilisation this makes possible. In some ways it is a position of privilege, but many within my network struggle to find work or positions to support them, often on low salaries. The referendum vote feels like a signal to say that people like me are no longer really welcome in Britain and that my European and international friends are no longer welcome either. It feels like it is beginning to cut off a whole realm of opportunity that I had learnt to take for granted in terms of employment and in terms of relationships. Of course much of the electorate wouldn’t voice intentional hostility towards Europeans, but the structural changes and the barriers which the government feel justified in putting in place to restrict immigration inevitably send that signal, and many voters seem to support that as a rational move.
Contemporary academia takes international collaboration somewhat for granted, and my current institution is full of people from all over the world – from Italy, India, the USA, the Netherlands, Canada, Poland, Denmark. Many rely on international funding and support in order to make their research happen, and as the UK moves further away from that as the default setting, UK universities are becoming, for many, less and less attractive places to work. I find it sad to see this happening, and I hope that this process be stopped or reversed, but everything seems so uncertain at the moment, and I have little faith in the current generation of politicians to make the right decisions.