I’ve just finished watching the BBC Three programme ‘Young, Foreign and Over Here‘. If you can access it, it is available on BBC iPlayer until Wednesday 2nd November 2011. This is the description from the BBC Three webpage:
Five young Eastern Europeans reveal the harsh realities and culture shocks of life as an immigrant coming to Britain and hoping to stay. They think they know what to expect, but have they got it all wrong?
These people in their mid 20s have left their countries with no idea what to expect when they arrive in the UK. When they get here, they face a real drop in their standard of living. Many of them come from well-off families in their own countries, then end up sharing houses and flats with many other people, often in very poor conditions. They have to do everything in a foreign language that they have worked hard to learn. They have been led to believe that the UK is a form of paradise, which will mean good jobs, good money and a better life.
One part of the programme shows interviews with British people saying that they should have been kept out of the country, with statements like:
We don’t see other countries, like Australia, you don’t see them turning up in boats with 200 fucking weird people.
England is England, right. It should just be English.
One of the depressing things about that segment was the fact that many of the students I have met could express themselves in a much better way than these two people. It also showcases the ignorance of other cultures which some Brits suffer from.
Quoting from one of the subjects of the programme (Norbert):
I wanted to be a German speaker. Show me any British person who can speak another language. I speak English, German and Hungarian. I can’t even get a job as a street cleaner.
And from Anthony:
I don’t think the guys here would be able to go abroad, learn a different language, communicate in it freely. It’s not easy, so I think that most British people have an idea how difficult it is for immigrants.
Norbert and Anthony have really made my point for me. As many of you already know, I think it should be obligatory for people in our country to study a foreign language, at least until the age of 16. The three years between 11 and 14 when it is currently obligatory is nowhere near enough, not only for cultural awareness, but the future of our economy. People all over the world are learning English. They speak their own language too, so automatically have an advantage over the monolinguals of the Anglo-Saxon world. Even a low level of another language can open doors and offer an insight into how difficult language learning is.
Another thing which should be in some way compulsory is spending at least a week abroad alone. That way Brits might begin to appreciate how much effort all of these people have put in and how difficult it is for them to come to the UK and ‘steal our jobs’. The jobs that they are stealing: working in warehouse on a minumum wage, driving a dangerous rickshaw in London.
When British people stop being so introverted and start to look at the world around them as an opportunity instead of a threat, I will be much prouder of my country. As it is, I prefer to be abroad, where multilingualism is the norm, not rare, where other cultures are more appreciated (I write this knowing that there is still racism in some of the places where I have worked) or at least tolerated, and where if the jobs are available, you can get work which reflects your experience.
Throughout the programme, all I could think was how lucky I am to have a British passport and to be able to be an English teacher, with the ability to travel and work around the world. I have lived in a few countries now, and I have been lucky enough to always have a job and a place to stay when I arrive. I have always been made to feel welcome, and I have always had enough money to live comfortably, even if I’ve had some jobs I’ve hated (factory work, cleaning caravans).
I love my job, and I think one of my responsibilities as a teacher is to show my students the realities of life in the UK. I know that I come from a comfortable working/middle-class background, but then so do almost all of my students. If they only see the ‘best’ parts of my country, it is no wonder that they have this image of life here.
I wish all of those in the programme luck and the fulfillment of their dreams.