The truth behind We Are International

When I wiped the professional make up off my face, I couldn’t stop thinking: I haven’t said enough. I haven’t said everything.

World Week Parade — celebrating our International community

Three years ago, I decided to study in the UK. Never until then have I boarded a plane. Never until then have I stepped on a foreign ground. Never until then have I left home. The last bit was probably the scariest thing, because I knew I would be homesick. I knew I would be afraid. Stereotypes were not particularly helpful either: cold weather, cold people, too much drinking. I thought: how can I call home a place that is so different, how can I get along with people that are so alien to my life?

I remember then stumbling upon the We Are International video. I remember the positive vibe from it. I remember that Romanian girl that briefly appeared in it and whom I identified myself with. I deeply wished I was in that video: confident, at ease, a part of it. In a strange way, I guess I found ‘home’ which made me decide to go to Sheffield. Funnily, home was not the place. Home was the feeling — the feeling that I was welcome, that I was part of, that I belonged. I’m glad to say Sheffield proved to be indeed a home for me. I’m also glad the weather is actually pretty decent and the people are friendly.

Three years later, however, Brexit happened and now all the UK universities wanted to clearly get across the message that we are STILL international, that we are still a welcoming home. So here we were, re-shooting the video with a wider focus and it so happens that I was asked to be part of it. I was more than enthusiastic. Being in the remake of the video that inspired me to come here in the first place was like a dream come true. Yet, after the filming, I just couldn’t stop thinking: I haven’t said enough. I haven’t said everything. But how could I, frankly? How can a human being condense three or more years of their life in three minutes? What were the questions I didn’t answer properly? What are the stories I didn’t have time to tell?

Where are you from? I was asked. And I replied Romania. I forgot then that my nationality is less relevant that my locality, that where I’m local from, my roots, my culture, my parents — they all are in a small village in North East Romania, that most Romanians here haven’t heard of, and somehow that supersedes my national identity because it’s more personal, it’s more accurate. How far did you travel to get to the UK? I was asked. And I replied very precise in kilometres, forgetting for a second that I should have measured that distance in the time it took me to overcome homesickness and depression, the time it took me to settle in and find friends. I travelled from far — culturally, emotionally, geographically, ideologically — and I’ve come far from myself in 2013 to myself now. But, I guess, more importantly, in front of that camera there wasn’t just a Romanian girl, there was an International person.

The question that made me realize that was probably: how did my experience in the UK change me? That question for me is crucial because it acknowledges the fact that we change, that we not only are international in terms of status or origins, but we become international, as an identity. Every single experience shaped who I am: the people I met, the countries I visited, the languages I learnt, the different cultural experiences I had . I was Romanian. Fully. I’m not Romanian anymore, not in the way I was. I’m not British either — far from that. But something from the British culture delved into my own and transformed me, something from every single International student I befriended got stuck to my development as a person. You’d call this a global citizen maybe, or simply an International. I grew into this new identity. And I haven’t said it enough, even though this is potentially the biggest truth of the We Are International campaign, beyond the promotional aspect: the fact that we grow into new identities.

We cease to be what we were before and we become more and more a conglomerate of experiences. The Romanian girl that came to study in the UK, the British student that went abroad on Erasmus, the third-culture child that had enough International experiences in one lifespan, the UK born that never left the country and, yet, met so many International students and worked or lived with them, the International student that volunteered in the community — we are all part of this We Are International identity, because we are the sum of our experiences and it so happens that our experiences are International. And I think the greatest thing about We Are International, despite me not saying everything I wanted in the video, is the fact that it’s true to ourselves. It’s true to who we are. So no matter what the government decides in terms of point schemes, visa regulations and borders, there is one essential thing they have no control over: Post-Brexit Britain has a We Are International identity and even if they kick all the International immigrants out of the country, this identity will still run through their veins. #WeAreInternational

Like what you read? Give Ana Gabriela Popa a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.