To begin, this column is designed to highlight a different country around the world every week, and with that, discuss the country’s economic and political standings, as well as some interesting current news events within that country. To get a further perspective, I will chat with a student who studied abroad in each country to ask them a few questions, as I myself have had the opportunity to study abroad and find interest in hearing about students’ first-hand experiences living abroad.
For this week’s edition, I decided to discuss a controversial country over the course of the past year– the UK. Much has occurred on the western side of Europe in recent news, and Brexit in the UK is one of the top news stories since last June. The UK’s statement to leave the European Union has caused several shifts in their environment, perhaps some of the largest ones coming from the economic environment. Though the economy was expected to be at a large loss after the announcement, Britain’s economy has not yet seen much damage. Technically, this is because the UK has not officially left the EU yet, as Theresa May (Prime Minister) enacted a two-year decision deadline at the end of last month in order for the UK to figure out the settlements behind Brexit. Thus, Britain may be seeing larger negative impacts on their economy soon.
Currently, the UK has had positive impacts on their economy, with their GDP increasing by 0.7 percent, mainly caused by the strong manufacturing industry. Though GDP is on a rise, the overall business investment has shifted to a lower point and the service sector hit a five-month low up until February of this year.
Although many thought the opposite would occur, post-Brexit pound value dropped by 15 percent compared to the dollar, and 12 percent compared to the euro. However, the drop of the pound has caused issues in the tourist sector, as it has become more expensive. This change in the pound has also helped export levels, but it caused higher import costs for manufacturers. Exports and imports reached good levels in January of this year, lying at £400m for exports and £300m for imports.
Another shocking change in the economic climate in the UK was its recent interest rate change. In late August, the interest rates were cut from 0.5 percent to 0.25 percent. Currently, they stand at 1.8 percent. Britain’s housing prices also rose by about 5.1 percent and a two percent rise is expected to occur over the course of 2017. The unemployment levels have seen good results not just now, but over the course of the past five years, as they continue to drop, and wages are rising (the three months to January, the pay increased by 2.3 percent).
In terms of rising news topic in Britain, there has been recent controversy regarding the parties of the UK and the US against Russia and Syria. Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, has made statements that the G7 countries (Japan, US, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Canada) need to place heightened sanctions on Russia due to the occurrence. Both Theresa May (UK Prime Minister) and Donald Trump have given Vladimir Putin a threatened chance to stop the backing of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The intense situation came after the Syrian president was responsible for not stopping chemical attacks on Syrian citizens. Johnson also claims that he believes that Russia is damaging their own country by associating themselves with the Syrian president after the occurrence. He spoke with communities in Moscow and Italy to get support on this idea in order to prevent something similar from happening in the future. The financial sanctions in mind will target specific military forces in Russia and Syria. The US and the UK have both agreed that they will give Russia two options: either continue to support Assad yet receive incredulous punishment though sanctions for doing so, or drop their backing of the Syrian leader and join forces with the G7 countries. Others have stepped up to the plate as well, such as the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who stated that the countries must all work compatibly in order to gear Russia in the right direction. In the US just last week, President Trump declared that missiles be launched on Syria as he and other officials stated that the priority at this point is taking down not just Assad, but the corruption of Syria as a whole. Though Johnson has claimed that he supports the attacks on Syria through missile launch, the plan is warranted as extremely detrimental and a recipe for disaster. So far, Russia is not happy with the US’ plan to act with weaponry in Syria.
To gather more information and perspective on the UK, I interviewed my close friend, Jennifer Souza, to discuss her experience studying abroad in London over the course of last semester. Here is a brief of our discussion.
- HW: Describe a normal day in London. What is the culture like? Cultural norms/routines?
- JS: A normal day in London can be very hectic. The city is always busy (no surprise there). Trying to squeeze on the tube (what they call the train) at rush hour can seem nearly impossible, and the door sometimes even closes on peoples’ bags as they try to squeeze on. As far as the culture, most people keep to themselves. Most people from the city do not open up to you unless you know them really well. That being said, I had a positive experience with everyone I met. And finally, yes, there are red buses and black cabs EVERYWHERE.
- HW: What was your level of culture shock in London? What took time to adjust to?
- JS: For me, it wasn’t as much culture shock, but more getting used to living in a city lifestyle. I hated relying on public transportation to get me to class on time; that was by far my biggest adjustment. It was also hard to remember to keep my phone in my pocket and my purse zipped while walking through the streets; two friends got their phones stolen while holding it out on the street. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and curious to hear where I was from.
- HW: Tell me your favorite part about studying abroad in London.
- JS: My favorite part of studying abroad in London was the nightlife. There was always something to do and somewhere to be. Although many of the clubs and events came at a pretty high price, it was all worth the memories.