“For me as a person, I think it’s incredibly important to travel and not only travel but live and experience other cultures and see new perspectives that you haven’t before.”
That is how Swedish student Antonia Tilda Nilsson summed up the opportunity she had to study in the Granite City for four years.
The 23-year-old was one of a group of EU current students studying at Aberdeen University who met Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead on Monday to share their experiences and concerns.
Antonia is a fourth year business management and international relations student, who is due to graduate from the university in June.
The 23-year-old said: “I applied to plenty of different places in the UK but when it came down to it Scotland was the wisest choice for myself financially but also for all the opportunities that are provided here as well.
“On the day of the Brexit vote there was plenty of uncertainty about what would happen.
“I remember it very clearly as it was mid-summer in Sweden, which is a big holiday we celebrate, so I had relatives from all over visiting and questioning what would happen.
“The same afternoon, the day after the vote, the university sent out an email saying we would be protected and that we would still have the same rights as if it hadn’t happened.
“They weren’t quite sure what would happen to future years students but they knew we would be covered.”
Although Antonia had “trust in the institution” and therefore did not find the process stressful, she does share concerns for future generations who may wish to study abroad.
She said: “My school in Sweden was an international school and plenty of the students there always looked towards studying abroad.
“I think for our friends in Europe it will definitely affect the way their decisions are being made and where they’re looking to.”
I think it’s incredibly important to travel and not only travel but live and experience other cultures and see new perspectives that you haven’t before.
And what did Antonia’s experience being educated in the Granite City teach her?
She said: “I think it’s the most important thing a person can do if one has the privilege and one has the ability to go abroad.
“It’s hugely beneficial to yourself as a person. I can’t stress the benefits it’s had on my CV and the jobs I’ve been able to have, not just while studying but the future career prospects I’m looking at.
“For me as a person, I think it’s incredibly important to travel and not only travel but live and experience other cultures and see new perspectives that you haven’t before … I think in today’s political climate that’s something we’re turning away from and I think that’s incredibly dangerous not only to ourselves as people but larger communities and countries.”
There is a “clear divide” between what Scotland stands for and what the UK is currently moving towards, Antonia believes.
She said: “I wouldn’t say the UK stands for these values. I wouldn’t say the fact that one referendum — which in my opinion was heavily shifted and at times voters were misinformed — I don’t think that’s representative of an entire nation.
“But I will say Scotland has clearly taken a stand and shown itself to be distinct in values and identities and remains dedicated to proving it and walking the walk rather than just talking the talk.”
“I wasn’t really expecting Brexit”
Flavio Spadavecchia is a fourth year international relations and linguistics student who hails from Italy.
The 22-year-old was taking his final exam at school on the day the result of the EU referendum was announced.
He said: “I really wasn’t expecting it to be honest. What I thought at first was just that it would just slide into the European economic area and nothing would actually change.
“I haven’t really been stressed but I have been on Facebook groups and have followed everything that happened especially with the negotiations on citizens rights.”
Flavio says he was “happy more or less” with the results of the settled status but it could “create problems” for him personally as he hopes to study a masters abroad before potentially moving back to the UK.
I know some young people who voted Brexit and they don’t realise how hard it is to emigrate to another country when there’s visas and everything in place.
He added: I’m happy the university were really helpful and they confirmed like a thousand times that they wanted people to stay with the same conditions.
“I was happy with the way the university at least dealt with the situation.”
The ease and relatively low expense of studying abroad within the EU are among some of the benefits of EU membership, according to the student.
He said: “You can go to university in any country but it will be a lot more expensive.
“The thing with the EU is you’re paying tuition fees at the same rate so it just happens to be free as it is free for Scottish students.
“Moving was a lot easier. I also studied in Japan and opening a bank account, getting a phone number, it’s a whole process.
“I know some young people who voted Brexit and they don’t realise how hard it is to emigrate to another country when there’s visas and everything in place.
“Of course it’s not impossible but it’s more stuff you need to go through.”
Studying abroad ‘really opens your mind’
Amy Ferguson is in her final year studying business and Spanish at the university but spent her third year abroad in Madrid as part of the Erasmus scheme.
The 22-year-old said there’s “so many benefits” to choosing to study abroad, including skills which prospective employers look for.
She added: “It increases your employability when you come back, your language skills will improve and your soft skills, including communication, will improve.
“It really opens your mind to other thinking and other cultures.
“The people you get to meet you might not get to meet if you’re staying in the same country.
“There’s so many benefits to going abroad, it’s really important.
“I think what’s scary is if it wasn’t as possible then you’re not getting those skills that are so necessary now as the world is so international and businesses are so international.
“When you go into the place of work I think those skills are really important and so I think that’s a scary thing about what might happen with Erasmus.”
“There’s so many benefits to going abroad, it’s really important.
The fourth year student said fellow EU citizens were puzzled by the UK’s decision to leave.
She said: “I think when you don’t want to come out of the EU or when you don’t agree with what’s happening, it’s difficult to justify because there’s so many benefits of Erasmus.
“I think for the people in Europe they don’t understand why we don’t want to be part of that experience.”