Every year a new batch of Gibraltarian first year undergraduates move to the UK to start their degree. Like every other student having to live abroad to study and obtain their qualifications, the experience of having to fend for oneself in a different environment away from family will potentially be a daunting one. Typically, the experience will be no less daunting for the student born and raised in Gibraltar. But being a Gibraltarian student in the UK fosters very unique and idiosyncratic concerns.
Something that isn’t usually a concern is finance. This is not only thanks to the relative wealth that Gibraltarian middle classes earn but also thanks to the Government student grant scheme for students which gives a great amount of economic freedom to students. This makes one feel an irrational sense of guilt and embarrassment when discussing tuition fees with fellow students at the university who have had to pay their way more and face strong financial pressure. In fact, one is advised in Gibraltar to refrain from mentioning the grant scheme that has served students well for years.
If you do mention it, you can face alienation from the peer group as you don’t form part of the same struggle, even if you sympathise with it. In Manchester I recently attended a march against grant cuts with over 80,000 people – nearly three times the Gibraltarian population. Or, and arguably worse, you’ll get pestered for your money to buy drinks for students and strangers.
Something that can gravely concern a Gibraltarian student is being alone. It is a badly kept secret that we are a very close knit, family-orientated society. Our family is the community and usually until the age of 18, it’s all we know when it comes to everyday life. Moving from the Rock to a city like Manchester where you’re the only Gibraltarian on your course and there are only two of you in the entire university could certainly be daunting for some.
Undoubtedly, it makes one appreciate the homeland climate and way of life even more, even though the weather has been relatively decent so far this semester. [This piece is dated already – ed] It’s not just the climate; university life and budget takeaway mealss create an insatiable appetite for Mediterranean cuisine and homemade gourmet grub.
It is not completely rare that Gibraltarian friends try to ensure that they stick together somewhat for university for that extra comfort. Hubs such as Leeds, Kingston, Cardiff and Twickenham are known to consistently feature Gibraltarian students. In order to fight this fear of loneliness, the Gibraltarian student is left to socialise with new groups of people (while refraining from small-town boasting. Leave the talk on your grandfather’s political career or your experiences in the UN and EU for later) who are also likely to want to make a good impression so as to make friends.
This process can be interesting when you tell people where you’re from. A barrage of fairly obvious and often repeated questions (at least to the Gibraltarian) will be spewed forth ad infinitum. The topics will range from monkeys to national identity and sovereignty; but it’s rare that many will understand the unique complexity of the latter when it comes to Gibraltar. Some don’t seem to understand why a mostly autonomous nation would want to remain British. Others don’t seem to understand why Gibraltarians don’t want to be Spanish. Hence, the small talk elevates to a speech on international relations, the Franco dictatorship and self-determination.
And just like that you’ve lost potential friends…or gained them if you’ve managed to be convincing enough to lobby them. Political ignorance among students is largely a media myth but the Gibraltarian has to keep a composed front and explain Gibraltar’s political and historical landscape simply because it merits clarity; and also because you don’t want to be mistaken as ‘the Spanish guy’, or perhaps not nearly as worse, ‘the Gibraltan’.
Please, it’s Gibraltarian or British.