Recently, I’ve been reflecting on why I love living in Europe out of all the places I could go. And, yes: publishing this post as Britain perches precariously on the brink of Brexit is ironic. Having worked in Vietnam, India, Sweden, Tenerife and Slovakia, I have realised that Europe feels more like home.
The Challenges of Overseas Residency
First of all, living overseas means navigating complicated bureaucratic procedures and reams of red tape to ensure your residency. In the past decade, I have spent hours in unfriendly police stations and stuffy foreign offices to live in Asia. In addition to this, I carried papers to prove my legality, I was interrogated by immigration as I arrived, and I paid substantial fees to get papers processed. Often, they were bribes disguised as ‘fees’. The process is neverending and stressful.
However, thanks to my EU passport, living in Europe is simple (for now). For instance, when I received my Swedish Personal Number I was able to do many things. I could open a bank account, get a SIM card, register with a doctor, and pick up a prescription. All by citing one number. No papers, no ID cards, and no visits to the police station. In Tenerife, I registered as a resident in under an hour. Admittedly, Slovakia is more complicated, which is perhaps a remnant from communism. It’s true that visiting the Foreign Police here is easy compared to dealing with the FRRO office in Mumbai.
Wellness and Balance
Here in Slovakia, I work in a wonderful International School (don’t be fooled – there are some shocking ones out there) with fun, supportive colleagues. Moreover, I enjoy teaching my students who come from countries such as Korea, Denmark, Ukraine, and Kuwait, amongst others. These days, I can’t imagine teaching in the UK at a school without such a wealth of cultures in my classroom.
Unlike schools I’ve worked in elsewhere, Europe has a healthy attitude toward wellness, and so schools have a strong pastoral system. This means our students choose yoga, mindfulness colouring, dog walking, running, and Indian head massage amongst other things. Schools employ a trained counsellor to support students with their emotional wellbeing. This person is the most valuable staff member in the school.
Furthermore, Slovak schools adhere to local laws that provide teacher wellness incentives. Due to these laws, teachers enjoy massages, yoga sessions, or they can take language classes. EU labour laws restrict overly-heavy workloads, protecting sickness, holiday and maternity conditions. In short, teachers have a high sense of job security and a manageable work/life balance.
Freedom of Movement
My biggest concern as a British passport holder in a post-Brexit world is losing the freedom to travel. Mostly, I don’t want to deal with lengthy visa and immigration procedures when I travel in Europe. I live close to three international borders, and so it isn’t unusual for me to shop in Czechia, or eat lunch in Austria. Some days I might visit a Hungarian spa. It will suck if I have to apply for a visa to do these things.
Recently, I went to Sweden for a weekend. The outbound flight departed at 1800 from an airport 63 km away. In India, when I lived 7 km from the airport, I wouldn’t have made a flight soon after finishing work. This is because the road infrastructure is poor, and the traffic is congested. In Slovakia, I leave work, take a bus (over an international border) to Vienna airport, and arrive in Sweden 3 hours later. All without encountering any customs officers. I’m going to miss my burgundy passport.
In conclusion, there are many reasons to love Europe. I love the beautiful parks, lakes and rivers. I appreciate great cheese, good wine, clearly defined seasons, sidewalks I can walk on, and traffic users that follow road rules.
Most importantly, I am so close to home. A few months ago, I was thinking of moving to Hong Kong, but I realised that I like living in Europe too much. For now, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Brexit won’t force me back to the UK any time soon.