Living overseas for 6 years has taught me two Brexit-related things: (1) My nationality is worth less to me than my well being (2) A lot of people can’t clearly distinguish between Europe and the European Union.
In the six years I’ve lived in Amsterdam with my British partner we’ve bought a house, got married, had children, travel through three continents, run a business and actively contributed to the economy and our community. It’s been a busy time! I currently work for a EU funded organisation and my partner cycles between international organisations and local start ups. Our children attend Dutch nursery, they are experts on a bike and their first words adorably alternated between English and Dutch. And we have no intentions to leave the Netherlands, Brexit or no Brexit.
At first light, as the referendum result sank in we were desperate for the opportunities our children, our nieces and nephews and the children of our friends in the UK would lose. We felt genuine loss for the Euro-Brit identity we had embraced in our overseas life. As we considered our careers we wondered if being british would hinder us in a european market. And we felt anger, in oh so many directions. But as reality sank in, and this might not be the story you expect to read, we felt proud.
Proud of the people that we are, the opportunities that we have taken and the things we have achieved to get us where we are. It’s difficult to really think back to how I felt when I moved over, but I’m sure I took my right to live in the Netherlands for granted. I no longer feel like that – in part due to the positive influences of living amongst Dutch culture where everyone expected to do their bit to contribute to the wellbeing of society. And in part thanks to the life changing realizations Brexit forces you to address.
I still worry about how much of our freedom to live, work study and travel will be retained. For people in the UK, I worry about the effects of the slowing economy. I worry about the future rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and of those UK citizens who have retired abroad. But after a spring of churning over the what ifs, I felt a palpable sense of relief when I realised that (a) I could channel my energy into a positive effort to help others and (b) being a British citizen was just not as important to me as my well being and that of my family.
That last point isn’t meant to sound flippant. I really have learned a lot from living overseas, and being more open minded is yet one more positive change to report. However open minded I want to be though, is countered by the Dutch having a surprisingly firm stance opposing dual nationality. If I pass the tests to become a Dutch citizen, I will have to renounce my British citizenship. And if my Amsterdam-born but British citizen children want to change their nationality when they turn 18, they will too. If any of us do this to retain the freedoms and liberties we currently enjoy as EU citizens, I could live with that, and I suspect that again, I’d be a little bit proud.