There was this white house. It was settled behind a river, and the river’s water drifted towards Loch Ness. The house looked peaceful, standing still in a world where time moves by so quickly.

Our car drove by so fast I barely caught it. But I thought if I lived there, I could forget about all my worries. I could walk along the edge of the river and roam without the numerous amount of doubt floating in my head. Maybe I could read more books or find more time to take photos. But maybe the lives within the house aren’t so wonderfully perfect because nothing is so perfect… I’d like to imagine it could be.

And this is one of the reasons I love traveling so much. I get to see different ways of living that could put my definition of happiness into another perspective. A better perspective.

Paris, I miss you.

I miss the aroma of pain au chocolat and baguettes in the cobblestone streets. I reminisce lounging in Jardin du Luxembourg with friends, eating delightful macaroons to our heart’s content. Swiping my Navigo each time I leave Montgallet for Trocadero, where I spent my summer interning. I miss watching Eurocup games at the bars on the Seine. Paris became my home so easily but goodbye came much too early.

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I’m trying to describe in words what I love so much about Paris, but, I’m finding it easier to say through photographs. And maybe, it’s more than just the city that I loved, it’s who I was in that moment in time.  

Better Off In

BrexitOn April 22nd, 2016, President Barack Obama visited the United Kingdom and urged British voters to remain in the European Union. Obama stated, “The United Kingdom is at its best when it is helping to lead a strong Europe. It leverages UK power to be part of the European Union”. The United Kingdom’s European Referendum has been a major issue that is not only affecting British citizens, but also politicians all over the world. The topic was commenced by David Cameron, who promised voters if they would elect him, he would open a referendum where British voters can choose whether or not they wish to remain apart of the EU or become an independent country. Due to the United Kingdom’s dominating presence in the world, the outcome of the referendum can establish the UK either as a truly independent nation or one that loses its influence in Europe. Obama is one politician who is against Britain leaving the EU because America wants a strong partner and the UK is strong when it is apart of the EU. Through comparing and contrasting key issues such as trade, immigration, currency, jobs, investment, security, and legal issues, British voters will decide and ultimately cast their votes on June 23rd. This is the first time a country is voting to leave the EU, and the outcome of the decision is primarily based on predictions; the long-term effects are speculative and Britain will ultimately not be better off withdrawing from the European Union.

Many individuals believe the European Union has a “democratic deficit”; however, the coined phrase made prevalent by the media is not entirely true. Many citizens fail to vote for their European Parliament since the issues the European Parliament focuses on are not directly relevant to them because “Its main work is about regulation of markets, consumer standards, environmental standards, foreign trade and aid. The issues that matter to most voters – employment, social security, education, health, taxes – are handled at national level”. This lack of understanding the European Union’s objective leaves room for misinterpretation and begins the disagreement on Britain’s exit.

First and foremost, leaving the European Union would result in an immediate saving of membership fees. Last year, “the UK government paid £13 billion to the EU budget, and EU spending on the UK was £4.5 billion. So the UK’s ‘net contribution’ was estimated at about £8.5 billion”. Although £8.5 billion is an expensive price tag, one can also argue that the advantages of free trade and the benefits of businesses involved in a single market outweighs the cost of the initial membership fee. Leaving the EU can also give an opportunity for the UK’s government to invest in programs within the country like the NHS or welfare benefits.

One of the greatest benefits of the European Union is the single market in which there are no tariffs imposed between imports and exports. The single market “establishes the right of companies and people to sell their goods, services or labour, or to invest, in other member-states – the so-called ‘four freedoms’. It [also] reduces the cost of potential exporters having to comply with 28 different rule books.” The UK is highly dependent on the EU because “the EU is the UK’s main trading partner, worth more than £400bn a year, or 52% of the total trade in goods and services”. The benefits of trade within the EU is obvious; however, many political leaders, such as Nigel Farage, the United Kingdom Independence Party leader, believes the UK will be able to negotiate a deal similar to Norway and Switzerland. Although both countries are not apart of the EU, they have access to the single market and are not bound by EU rules when it comes to “EU laws on agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs”. Being free from the EU can create possibilities of creating new trade deals with countries like China, another one of the UK’s biggest markets. However, David Cameron, the United Kingdom’s prime minister and advocate for Britain remaining in the EU, believes leading EU powers, such as France and Germany, will not allow Britain to simply pick and choose which trading bloc rules they would like to follow. Norway and Switzerland also have to abide by many of the EU’s rules without any influence as to how they are created. The Economist predicts Britain has the ability to lose 2.2% of its GDP if it leaves the EU, but global trade is constantly in flux, and the outcomes are unpredictable. If the UK strikes a successful free trade agreement with the EU, then the best case scenario will increase Britain’s GDP by 1.6%. The EU is also currently in the midst of finalizing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, soon to be one of the world’s greatest free trade agreement proposed in history. America is warning the UK that leaving the European Union will not ensure a new trade agreement, rather “Brexit would put UK at ‘back of the queue’ in trade talk”. The uncertainties of the future of the United Kingdom on the issue of trade is unpredictable, so the question for Britons is whether or not they want to take the gamble. Are the short-term economic costs worth the long-term benefits of a free economic policy that may or may not make the U.K. more competitive?

Millions of jobs are dependent on the European Union, not particularly in relation to the political union, but jobs that are associated with trade and investment. Due to the constant bombardment of statistics, British citizens fear 3-4 million jobs may be lost after Britain’s exit from the EU because many jobs are dependent on or associated with membership in the EU. A recent survey conducted by Institute of Economic Affairs believes differently. These jobs are associated with trade not a political union; therefore, “There is no evidence to suggest that trade would substantially reduce between British businesses and European consumers, even if the UK was outside the EU”. Even if hypothetically these jobs do decrease, there will then be an increase in jobs that arise from import substitution. The Institute of Economic Affairs fails to address the possibility of job loss due to investment and manufacturers. For example, global manufacturers may choose to move to lower cost EU countries. Global manufacturing firms, such as Airbus, can decide to move production to France or Germany. Recently, some of Britain’s biggest companies have signed a letter stating an EU exit would “deter investment in the UK”. The signatories stated: “Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs. Britain will be strong, safer and better off remaining a member of the EU”. However, more than two-thirds of the companies listed in The Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index did not sign this statement. Prime Minster David Cameron argument for this reason is, businesses generally do not like to play a political stance. Whether Cameron’s argument is true or just another tactic for self-defense, the issue of job loss is prevalent to Britons. Investment and jobs are correlated with one another. More than 7,500 United States companies currently invests over $558 billion dollars in Britain and employ more than 1.2 million Britons. The UK is still one of the most attractive markets; therefore, investment and manufacturers may not be so quick deter from one of the prominent markets in the world.

One of the biggest reasons the United Kingdom wants to leave the EU is because of immigration; immigration will mostly likely be the key issue affecting the vote for or against the UK remaining in the EU. Under EU law, Britain is not allowed to stop migrants from another member state from coming and living in the country. The current scale of immigration is 330,000 migrants a year, half of them come from the EU. At this current rate, the population growth is subjected to rise half a million a year and this puts pressure on public services. In order to keep up with the rise in immigration, the government will need to build a house every six minutes to supply the current demand.  In the event of Britain exiting the EU, the government can control future immigration laws through introducing work permits for EU workers, restricted to those in higher skilled work. Movement for tourism, study and to live self-sufficiently could remain unaffected. The result of this would be to reduce immigration from the EU by as much as 100,000 a year. Current EU migrants will be protected by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and will therefore be unaffected by Brexit. There is also currently no clear evidence that migration is a benefit to society. Prime Minister David Cameron is an advocate for Britain to remain within the EU despite clear immigration concerns. He has negotiated with the EU on worker and child benefits, but Cameron had to ultimately compromise his demands. Cameron wanted to ban migrant workers from non-contributory-in-work benefits, like claiming tax credits and housing benefit, for up to four years from the time of commencement from employment. He wanted to restrict migrant workers from claiming child benefit money when their children are living elsewhere than the UK. Although the EU, agreed to the first demand, they chose to reduce the government’s rates of providing child benefit money to these migrant workers instead of eliminating it entirely. Immigration is one key issue where the cons seems to outweigh the pros for British citizens.

With the recent attacks on Paris and Brussels, terrorism has become a huge issue for countries all over the world; the UK understands it is time to ensure security not lose it. There are conflicting debates between whether or not the EU is beneficial to protecting UK citizens from terrorism. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Smith is in favor of Brexit because he believes the current EU laws are not stringent enough to migrants because the open border policy does not allow one to check and control individuals entering the UK. There are also plenty of counterarguments offered. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon believes the UK is “better off in [the EU], safer off within it”. He claims the UK already has a restrictive border policy, which is the reason why there are so many refugees in Calais who are unable to cross the English Channel. Being within the EU also allows the UK to exchange criminal and passenger records that allows countries within the EU to work together on counter-terrorism.There are varying opinions on whether the EU will help the UK in times of terrorist attacks, but it is clear that more security is better. It is better to have a union with a strong foundation then to battle a war alone.

The last issue is a legal quandary when it comes to establishing rules for the UK. The European Union “now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges.” Supporters of “Brexit” do not UK want laws to be tied down to laws mandated by the EU, and “One focal point for alleged European control over U.K. laws is the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, which in certain high-profile cases has made it harder to deport foreign-born criminals. If the U.K. moves away from the ECHR’s influence, it would be in company with isolated Belarus as the only European countries not to comply with it.” British citizens and politicians oppose the lack of control Britain has in creating laws that are issued by the EU in regards to businesses, trade, human rights, environmental laws. However, Britain, like every other country in the EU, has an elected European Commissioner. There are currently 751 Members of the European Parliament; these members are voted by citizens of the EU and allocation is distributed between population size of each country. These laws are created democratically and reflect the general consensus of the twenty-eight member states.

From membership fees, trade, jobs, investment, immigration, security, and legal issues, the benefits of staying within EU outweighs the benefits of Britain leaving. Much of this decision is weighed on the disproportionate amount of uncertainty; there are simply too many hesitations as to whether or not Britain can succeed without the backing of the EU. The 8.5-billion-dollar membership fee is an excessive amount, but the effects of issuing a free trade agreement once Britain exits the EU may be impossible especially because strong nations within the EU may not agree to these terms. Comparisons to a trade agreement like Norway was proposed, but Norway is still under heavy restrictions and laws implemented by the EU. Some other the countries in the world like the United States do not want to create a free trade agreement with a single, independent nation. Immigration is a huge issue for UK citizens. The amount migrants coming into the country each year creates demand greater than supply can manage. This is an issue many of the biggest cities in the world have to overcome, and the UK can create new deals with the EU if it believes its open door policy is too unrestrictive. Jobs and investment may not shift drastically, but security is more important now than ever with constant terrorist attacks in Europe; Britain being a very likely target needs all the support and safety it can obtain. The outcome of any country withdrawing itself from a political union, especially the first of its kind, is bound to create much negotiation and consequences; therefore, the United Kingdom should remain within the European Union in order to retain its dominance in the world as a leading power.

Studying Abroad

Today marks the end of my third week studying abroad in London. As I stand on the precipice of my last essays, presentations, and final exams, I feel overwhelmed and slightly terrified for the future of my next two weeks. I should explain that the study abroad program I chose was five weeks in London and nine weeks in Paris. I admit, I was greedy, and I wanted the opportunity to explore two countries, learn two cultures, and speak one new language. 

Now I come from a university where the definition of stress has no limits; each semester I am pushed beyond boundaries I thought were impossible. I heard from individuals that studying abroad would decrease my stress levels; the classes would be easier and I was essentially “paying for an A”. I thought the universe dealt me the perfect hand, but once again, I realize life is combination of moments that are idyllic and moments that are chaotic. Nothing ever goes as planned, but I have to be okay with it. 

One of the most difficult things about studying abroad (for me) is the difference found within the culture of the classroom. At Berkeley, eight hundred students in a lecture class makes it easy to hide behind the crowd; however, my classrooms now consist of twenty students. A discussion based lecture terrified me more than I could have imagined. My anxiety levels surge when I either answer questions incorrectly or lack an opinion on the subject matter. I get embarrassed when other students are avidly fighting for their beliefs, and I cannot muster the same courage. But what I learned was, it is perfectly okay to be interested in a subject, to fight for a belief, to have a passion even if other students seem more knowledgable. It doesn’t make my interest worth any less, and it doesn’t mean I am not worthy of my passions. I have the right to be just as obsessed as they are and, comparison is truly the thief of joy. 

The second issue is finding the right balance between studying and playing. I know this is a struggle most students face, but studying abroad exacerbates the situation because you’re in a new country. Your country is probably surrounded by so many other countries and traveling every weekend seems like the norm. It all comes down to priorities and what type of you can you fall asleep with at night. It’s important to find this balance in the earlier weeks of studying abroad before you’re filled with regrets on one end of the spectrum. 

And on the topic of social media. Social media is fun, but it’s also deceitful. So many people believe I’m having so much fun and life is easy and worry-less, but no one’s life is filled with happiness twenty-four/seven. My mind is constantly going between happy, anxious, excited, sad, just like any other person. We tend to show our best selves on social media, and I’m guilty of it too. 

Studying abroad is always teaching me something new everyday, and here are just a few extra lessons I learned. I realized I wish I took more classes in Political Economy before I declared my major. I love spending time with other people, but I also needed more alone time than I would’ve admitted a year ago. The fear of missing out is so real, but it’s going to happen and it’s going to be fine. And there are days when nothing is perfect and everything is going down the drain, but if I can remember where I am and still be in awe of my surroundings then I know that I am blessed and thankful.

Be kind to yourself when you’re abroad because you are bound to make mistakes along the way, but studying abroad is worth it. It takes you away from reality because working, participating in clubs, volunteering – these duties disappear and they’re replaced with time to explore new surroundings. So amidst all the stress I am going through currently, I’m also really happy. 

 

A Fight for Equal Education

I never knew what it meant to volunteer, to give away your time, and be alright with it. Although I’d like to think human beings are inherently good, we are also so selfish. This past January I became a tutor at the Boys and Girls Club of America. I started because I wanted something to do, something to pass the time. Three months later, I want to say volunteering has finally shaken me out of my own world; I realized I want to fight for something bigger than myself: equal education.

In eighteenth century America, the emergence of the idea of a self-made man was created by Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, he addresses how he overcame the pressure of genealogy. As the youngest son, he was unable to inherit from his family, but his life and his accomplishments mirror the possibility of an ordinary person defying the odds to become an extraordinary person. One of his lesser known inventions is his creation of libraries. It reiterates his idea – despite the social status one is born into, with an access to education, anyone can make something of oneself.

Education is different nowadays. I grew up in a privileged family, and I took for granted a lot of the opportunities I received. From a young age, I had tutors and educational programs for any subject I desired. I was able to take piano, ballet, and art classes, and I believed this was normal because I grew up in a community where many kids had the same extracurricular I had. In college, I realized other students did not grow up in similar circumstances, but many more students had. This problem is complex because higher education is attracted to students with amazing test scores and well-rounded individuals; these are opportunities low-income students find much more difficult to receive. The root of this cause lies in income inequality. At the Boys and Girls Club of America, I know many of the children come from low-income or working class families. These kids are intelligent, and they deserve everything to succeed. It upsets me because I know many of them will not be granted after school tutoring programs, SAT, ACT, Subject test classes to make them one step ahead of the game. Some of them will continue to pursue education, fighting their way out of inequality, but some of them will see their classmates rise ahead in grades and test scores and lose hope. At the location I worked with, there are girls here who accept themselves even when others call them “weird”. There are girls who will not be afraid of playing sports with boys and are not afraid to dominate conversations. There are boys who come from broken homes and find it difficult to open up and make friends. Their stories broke me and healed me. I cared about their futures and their aftermath; I wanted to see them succeed. I want to be able to offer them guidance and education. I know I don’t have the answers to change the ways of society, but I want to play the role I know I am capable to doing, a role where I can even out the playing field ever so slightly.