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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 13:49 GMT
Growing up on the Rock
School girls from Gibraltar
Universities in the UK await Christina, Alison and Lianne
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Inside Gibraltar Catherine Miller

By BBC News Online's Catherine Miller

"Some people do go out in Spain but I don't tend to," says Lianne Vella, who is studying for her AS-levels at Westside school in Gibraltar.

"My Mum's not happy about the idea of me going over there at night because she feels it's not as safe as when I'm here."

"When you're in Gibraltar you feel like you'll always be home in five or 10 minutes."

Westside School badge
There are only two senior schools in Gibraltar
With Spain only a 20-minute walk away the difference is, she admits, psychological.

The close-knit, some might say claustrophobic, community on the Rock has just two senior schools - Westside for the girls and Bayside for the boys.

Co-ed education is not an option.

But meeting the boys is not difficult. "At the weekends you're all going to end up in the same places anyway," Lianne says.

And as Christina Cortes, who is studying for her A-levels, points out, in Gibraltar the chances are you will in any case be related one way or another.

"It's friendly but at times it can become a nuisance, you don't get much privacy," says Alison Latin, who is also studying for AS-levels.

Breaking away

University is the girls' big chance to get away from the watchful eyes.

"It gives you a chance to break away, to figure out how you would cope on your own," says Lianne.

Despite the proximity of Spain, further education there is not an option the girls have considered seriously for themselves.

If I wanted to go into a career there was no room for here I would stay in the UK

Lianne Vella
Although they are bilingual in conversation, they don't feel their Spanish would be up to the rigours of a formal education there.

Having followed the English academic system, UK universities are their first choice.

But though Britain's influence on their upbringing has been strong, the place itself is almost entirely unknown.

"I've only been there for a week but it was just more or less a blur because we were just shopping around," says Alison.

"It's going to be a very very big step, it's quite daunting but in another way its quite exciting as well, it's a new place," she says.

But after the adventures of the UK, will the girls ever come back?

"If I wanted to go into a career there was no room for here I would stay in the UK," says Lianne. "It would be nice to be in a place where there is so much possibility."

Limited career options

"You have to choose between home and career," agrees 24-year-old Alex Zapata.

He knows only too well how hard that choice is.

Having returned to Gibraltar after studying computer science in Cardiff, he worked as an IT specialist but is now unemployed, getting by on freelance work.

Career opportunities for graduates on Gibraltar are limited.

They tend to end up in the off-shore financial centres, irrespective of their academic degrees or interests.

And the Rock's clannishness further reduces what is on offer.

I would rather be a shopkeeper here than an IT specialist in Spain

Alex Zapata
Many of Gibraltar's businesses have been in family hands for generations and favoured friends and relations tend to be first in the queue for any new jobs.

Despite the situation, Alex is not considering taking a job across the border.

"I would rather be a shopkeeper here than an IT specialist in Spain," he says, saying that Spanish wages are so much lower that it would not be worth his while to pursue his profession across the border.

If the jobs situation does not improve, he says, he will consider returning to the UK.

Alex's generation still has memories of the time, from 1969 to 1985, when the border to Spain was closed.

As a child, he used to take the long round-trip, via Morocco, to visit his grandparents, who lived in the Spanish frontier town of La Linea.

Otherwise, his parents would shout family news through the fence.


Most young Gibraltarians feel at ease in Spain .

Many, for example, support Spanish football teams and they were glued to the Spanish version of Big Brother - but the Rock's history is ingrained in them and mistrust of the Spanish authorities remains, reinforced by the troubles they face crossing the border.

On an individual level our relationships with Spain are fine - it's just not part of who we are

Lianne Vella

While they would be happy to see better cross-border co-operation, there is little support for any change to Gibraltar's status.

"We don't think of ourselves as Spanish - it's not that there's anything wrong with the Spanish way of life, with being Spanish - on an individual level our relationships with Spain are fine."

"It's not part of who we are," says Lianne.

"I think it's a misconception that we're very patriotic about being British," says Christina. "It's just, we're British because we've grown up being it and it's part of being Gibraltarian."

This is the second of a series of reports from Gibraltar, as Spain and the UK attempt to end a longstanding dispute over the British dependency's status.

  Click here for the Rocky road to Spain<

See also:

22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar row rumbles on
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
'Gibraltar wants to remain British'
06 Feb 02 | England
Scramble for Rock votes
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
04 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar talks 'still on course'
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Dispute continues on Gibraltar talks
12 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Officials dismiss Gibraltar 'deal'
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