Fiona Thompson left the UK in June 2015, she lives with her partner and their Romanian rescue dog.
1) How did you feel on 24th June when you heard about the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
I stayed up to watch the results coming in from each region but as soon as the exit poll result was announced, I had a terrible sinking feeling. The next day I was tearful and couldn’t eat anything. It was a really hot day and I had to go to the supermarket but I kept bursting into tears and eventually just sat down in front of the frozen foods section. As I come from the north-east, it was especially painful. I felt like I didn’t have anything in common with the community I come from and that, like “European people” I wasn’t wanted either. I had only been in Slovenia for a year so it was also a time of worry because nobody knew what the future would hold. That was one thing that made me particularly angry: how can you have a referendum based on a concept, one that didn’t have a clearly defined remain or leave when nobody was saying with any certainty what leave meant?
2) What were the key driving factors that made you decide to leave the UK?
We had been visiting Slovenia since 2004 and really loved it. It just felt like a place where we could live. We bought a small apartment for holidays in 2004, not in a touristy area but a modest little place in a normal residential area in the country’s second city. My partner had been working for the DWP for twenty-odd years and the idea of doing something different kept cropping up. Eventually, he got the chance to take redundancy which meant that we could leave with some financial security behind us so we made our decision. We moved because we could: it was something that EU membership made possible, so why not take advantage of this brilliant opportunity?
3) How/why did you choose your current country of residence?
We’ve travelled a lot in Europe but Slovenia was somewhere we felt could be home. We like the lifestyle – very outdoors, the sense of community where we live (everyone says hello on the street whether you know them or not), there’s a strong focus on growing your own food and buying local, people work hard but the typical work day means you have much more time for leisure activities after work. The geographical position was also a factor. We are half an hour from the Austrian border, an hour from Hungary and Croatia and about two-and-a-half hours from Italy. Vienna is three hours drive and from there you’re just a short hop to Bratislava.
4) Do you have citizenship for your current country? Do you still have EU citizenship? If no, are you hoping to obtain it?
In June 2020, we hit our five years of temporary residence which means that the next step is to apply for permanent residence, which we intend to do in the coming weeks. We’d have to be here ten years to apply for citizenship. I’d like to do that but it’s some time away.
5) Do you plan to return to the UK or hope to move to another country in the future?
As much as I love living here, I could imagine another adventure in the future; Italy is especially appealing, or maybe Croatia. It definitely wouldn’t be back to the UK.
6) What was the most difficult aspect/greatest you challenge you faced in moving?
There wasn’t anything particularly difficult but the language is not easy. Unlike with, say, French or German, there aren’t really any classes in the UK you can take before you go. Once you’re in Slovenia there are free courses for people from third countries but people from EU countries are deemed to be able to fund their own classes and therefore must pay. Maribor may be Slovenia’s second city but language schools will only run a course if they have a minimum number of students so we had to wait a while to start a course. On the bright side, lots of people speak English here and I also speak German so there was often help for us.
Another troublesome thing was Slovenian bureaucracy. There were quite a few occasions where we omitted to do something quite important simply because nobody had told us we needed to do it. When we later found out and when back to the local administration offices, we’d ask why they hadn’t told us this information and the answer was always “Because you didn’t ask.” Now, we always end the meeting by saying “Is there anything else important we need to know about this procedure?”
7) What do you miss most about the UK?
Having spent a couple of years in search of a sofa, I’d say I miss the greater selection of products in some areas of shopping. I’m not a great shopper but I sometimes find the choice here a bit limited. I also miss browsing in bookshops. There’s a real “salesperson knows best” culture here and the staff jump on you as soon as you’re through the door. And they shrink wrap books! Takes the pleasure out of browsing in a book store.
8) What do you love most about your current country of residence?
The great outdoors. We have mountains, a tiny coastline, the vast Pannonian plain in the east, rolling hills covered with vineyards in our region, cycling is a popular pastime and cyclists and hikers are well looked after.
9) Do you consider yourself to have a “European identity” and what that does that mean to you?
Yes, I absolutely feel European. I speak several European languages and my life isn’t confined to Slovenia. I go shopping in Austria, I go to the dentist in Hungary, I holiday in Croatia and Italy… I work as a proofreader/editor and I have clients in several European countries.
10) Do you still consider yourself to have a “British identity” and how do you feel about it?
I definitely still have some “British characteristics” – I get twitchy if I think someone is jumping the queue and I still can’t quite get over the Slovenian habit of asking quite personal and direct questions. But I feel less and less British every day. I don’t feel like I have much in common with British people any more. On the rare occasions I go back (twice in five years), I spend most of the visit looking forward to getting home.
Additional Questions (relating to Corona Virus)
11) How has the Covid19 pandemic affected your life?
As I work from home anyway, I’ve not been affected much on a day-to-day basis. However, Slovenia introduced an inter-municipality travel ban at the height of the epidemic here and our municipality is rather rural with few amenities so it did become quite isolating. We don’t have a car and there was no public transport running so after a few weeks I really started to feel hemmed in.
12) How do you feel about your country’s response to the Covid19 pandemic compared to the UK government & media?
Slovenia is a country of just over 2 million people and its health service is underfunded. As we border Italy, the borders were closed quite quickly and as a result the number of infections was kept pretty low; the number of deaths stands at 111, many of whom were residents of nursing homes. We were the first country to declare an end to the pandemic but it was short-lived because as soon as the borders opened, we had infections coming in and now new infections are rising again. The problem here is that many workers are from other former Yugoslav republics where they currently have very bad epidemiological situations, and the Slovenian government did not insist they quarantine on return. Now we have to wear masks on public transport and in enclosed public spaces again. One municipality has gone back into full lockdown. It is disappointing that Slovenia did so well at first and acted quickly but came out of the measures too soon and was too lenient with incomers from abroad.
Another issue is that we have a very right-wing government which has taken more and more powers for itself in this period and every day a new scandal is unearthed (there’s an ongoing investigation into irregularities with the purchasing of ventilators, among other issues). On Friday evenings in the main towns there are “cycling protests” (because it wasn’t allowed during the special measures to hold a rally with social distancing rules) so the anti-government protestors take to their bikes to make their point.