Last night's Brexit results broke my heart. I don't live in England anymore, so maybe I shouldn't care so much — but I do. I spent nearly 10 years in England, and being an immigrant was one of the most important things I ever did. It helped me to become more empathetic, to understand how to assimilate into another culture and to understand the difficulty of being an outsider.
I made England my home for some of the most important years of my life. I did my best to leave a positive mark. I feel like I achieved that. But I don't feel like I would be welcomed back.
During my first year at the University of North Dakota-Williston (now known as Williston State College), the Internet was still a very new thing. I was fascinated with the idea that I could meet someone from anywhere else. I knew almost nothing about computers, but eventually I found a chatroom, and through it, I met a lot of different people. One of them was a guy my own age in England. Over time, I realized we had a special bond, and I became determined to meet him in person.
When we graduated, I got a six-month student visa to England. It was an incredible experience that completely changed how I viewed the world. I was so happy in my relationship that I started trying to figure out how to stay in England. Eventually, I figured out that the clearest path was further education and I applied for a master's program.
I had to leave for nine months to save up money, and then I returned. My program included 14 people from seven different countries. It was amazing to work with people from all over the planet, but I was feeling the pressure of what would happen next. As the end of my visa neared, my boyfriend and I discussed the future of our relationship. We both knew that the best way to stay together was to get married. I am sure some people wondered at us both, but it was the best decision we ever made.
When I started on my journey, I never imagined I would spend most of my 20s and my early 30s in a foreign country, but that is how it worked out. Some people were welcoming to me, and the kind things they said made such a difference in my life.
But I also encountered negativity, and through it, I began to understand what anti-American sentiment was. We all have our general impressions of what people from different countries are like, and those impressions can be dangerous. Human nature is international — every single person has reasons for being who and where they are, and those reasons are important to them, even they seem foolish to someone else.
I am reminding myself of that today as I try to process the outcome of the EU referendum in the UK. People had their reasons to vote the way they did, but I don’t know if they considered how many people they would hurt because of their decision. I am heartbroken for all my friends who will be affected by this, and I am hurt by the message it sends to me. I made England my home for some of the most important years of my life. I did my best to leave a positive mark. I feel like I achieved that. But I don't feel like I would be welcomed back.
My husband and I left England and moved to Round Rock in May 2011. There were a lot of wonderful things about living in England, but we knew we needed to take a chance on a better life. The extremely high cost of living and relatively low wages there meant we were never able to put money into savings and buying a house was impossible. In Texas, we achieved our dream of home ownership, and in 2013, our long-awaited child was born.
We have seen many dreams fulfilled since we moved here, but we will always be tied to England. My husband's family is there, and we have friends scattered across the country. I hope that none of them suffer as a result of this decision.