Sunshine brang sad realisations as it finally dawned on the Ukrainian group that June 9th 2016 would be their penultimate day sailing down the Danube as part of the 2016 UCL Global Citizenship Programme. We arrived, bleary-eyed and sleepy, at the amazingly air-conditioned lecture theatre after working so very hard the day before. Rebecca Handler, who works for the Home Office dealing with immigration, was patiently waiting at the front of the lecture theatre to give a presentation on Competing Ideas of Citizenship: Legislation and Perceptions. Unfortunately, as a civil servant, Rebecca had already entered purdah, which is a pre-election silence period, so she was not allowed to answer political questions such as those concerning the recent EU Referendum debate.
After a brief introduction by Eszter, all of the Danubians witnessed an eye-opening presentation that covered topics such as the media’s portrayal of EU migrants, the reasons as to why people are worried about migration and what it means to be a citizen. It was revealed that all countries overestimate their level of immigration, and that many migrants are well-educated before coming to the UK. These facts were intriguing and at the end of the lecture, some open questions from Rebecca were raised, such as:
‘Is immigration a “real” problem or is the perception of immigration influenced by fear? How is that fear generated and what can or should be done to counter it?’
A discussion was held after the lecture, where members of the audience were invited to ask questions and comments. Anecdotes were told by various people, mostly relating to the portrayal and view of Eastern Europeans and it was shocking to hear that as soon as some people can “detect” that a person is of Eastern European descent, they will start attacking and verbally abusing them. As a UK citizen, I was incredibly disappointed, embarrassed and ashamed to learn of the attitudes of some other UK citizens towards Eastern Europeans and I feel very strongly that nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable here in the UK because of their heritage and culture. I only hope that in time, changing attitudes in society will make those who belittle and threaten others realise the dangerous and divisive consequences of their actions.
After the lecture and discussion, we had a relaxing lunch break before we met up again in the sunny outdoors to discuss our plans. We argued with a Brexit campaigner before his anger got the better of him and he became very aggressive towards our group navigator; swearing and shaking his finger at her. After he was pulled away by his cameraman, a feeling of shock fell over the Ukrainian group as we realised that we had just seen the anecdotes in the morning discussion come to life. Determined to be resilient, we reeled in our anchors and set off again, this time to see Dieter about our movie. Noémie did a fantastic job with the movie footage and the sound, and as a result, we now have a movie that we are extremely proud of. We can’t wait to share Olga’s fascinating story with you!
On behalf of the Ukrainian group I would like to thank Liisa Tuhkanen, our utterly amazing group navigator; Marta Jenkala, our incredibly patient and supportive Ukrainian language teacher and all the group navigators and staff who made the Danube so successful. We’ve had a life-changing couple of days and as a team, we’ve enjoyed every minute of the cruise and feel fully prepared to sail to bigger seas in the future.
Over and out,