Olivier Trouille moved to Belgium in September 2015.
1) How did you feel on 24th June when you heard about the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
- Furious that all of the lies from the Leave campaign and the right-wing press had worked.
- Frustrated that such a small margin was enough to change the course of Europe’s history, bearing in mind many had used it as a ‘protest vote’.
- Broken on a personal level, as the son of an ‘EU migrant’ who felt like my family was never wanted.
- Betrayed by friends who’d put zero thought into the importance of such a crucial vote, until after it’d taken place of course.
2) What were the key driving factors that made you decide to leave the UK?
I didn’t leave the UK because of Brexit, but I did stay abroad because of it. I studied a masters in European business split between Bilbao (Spain) and Nantes (France) prior to the referendum, then came back up to Yorkshire briefly for the vote in 2016. I was so disappointed by the result that I hurried to find an internship in Shanghai (China) to get away as far as I could from the chaos that was unravelling. I used this opportunity to travel Asia for a bit with the money I’d earned and gather my thoughts before returning to Europe, where I then worked for a Scandinavian bank based in Luxembourg.
3) How/why did you choose your current country of residence?
French is my second language, and having already studied in France and worked in Luxembourg, part of me always wanted to get to know Belgium a little bit more. I was previously working at a Hong Kong law firm and my mum convinced me to apply for a job at the European Commission. As we hadn’t left the EU yet, the Brussels institutions were still actively recruiting British citizens, and with my knowledge of 4 languages I was lucky enough to have been selected for a traineeship in communication. Part of me just wanted to do it as a middle finger to the leavers who often say, “if you love the EU so much, why don’t you move there?”
4) Do you have citizenship for your current country? Do you still have EU citizenship? If no, are you hoping to obtain it?
Some Brits are lucky enough to be able to apply for Irish citizenship. My mother is British and my father is French, so my brothers and I are grateful to have been born with both nationalities. I successfully applied for my first French passport last year, as there was never previously a need to possess two different travel documents. If I’m completely honest, I can only see myself using my British passport if I ever need go back to the UK, to see my family over the Christmas holidays, since I’ll have more use for my French passport when it comes to being able to live, work and travel.
5) Do you plan to return to the UK or hope to move to another country in the future?
If the situation by some miracle clears itself up, I wouldn’t say no to coming back, perhaps to a nice liberal city like Liverpool where I have wonderful memories of being a student, or somewhere like Edinburgh where the people haven’t lost their minds. With my dual nationality and knowledge of other languages, I see my position as rather unique. My friends often ask when I’ll be coming back, but without trying to come across as arrogant, why should I choose to waste my time in a toxic and populist environment, when I could excel my career and flourish in one of the most international cities on the continent?
6) What was the most difficult aspect/greatest challenge you faced in moving?
Belgian bureaucracy is next level. My girlfriend moved to Belgium last year, and we quickly moved to a new flat, since my previous place was a grotty house share. She had to be registered at the local commune, even though we hadn’t actually declared the address change yet. As a Canadian citizen, she was only allowed to stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days, which was pretty tight. We found ourselves applying for legal cohabitation, allowing my girlfriend to stay in Belgium as long as we both live at the same address. This was a lengthy process where we needed to prove with all sorts of paperwork that we weren’t previously married, and that we’d been in a relationship together for at least 2 years. Once our application was approved by the old commune and transferred to the new one, my girlfriend received a temporary card to prove she was living in Belgium; the only snag was that it wasn’t valid outside Belgium. This meant she couldn’t leave the country for a 6-month period (without risking not being allowed back in), the time taken to apply for a residency card. It was a tough time for us as Belgium is quite a small country and we both love to travel, but it was a long and beautiful summer, where we planned several excursions to nearby places like Antwerp, Ghent, Namur and Ypres. She got her residency card in time for Christmas, when we visited my relatives in England and France, and spent the New Year together in Germany.
7) What do you miss most about the UK?
8) What do you love most about your current country of residence?
Firstly, I have relatives living on the French border, so it’s nice to be so close to them when, as a child, my family only tended to visit them once a year. I also had a great grandmother from Bruges, so moving to Belgium was in itself a great way of discovering more about my family history. It wasn’t too hard to move to Brussels as I already knew the city quite well, and had a group of friends from my masters that were already working here. The two main languages used in this country are French and Dutch, and living in such an international city makes me feel more European than ever before. I love that travelling no more than a couple of hours in any direction brings you to either France, Germany, Luxembourg or the Netherlands, which is perfect for a weekend getaway. More generally, other than the frites, chocolate and waffles, the beer they do here is on another level. Carling ain’t got nothing on this.
9) Do you consider yourself to have a “European identity” and what that does that mean to you?
Most definitely, and not only due to the fact that I’m a dual-national. We’re the world’s smallest continent, full of rich cultures and diverse traditions, and we’ve had a huge impact on the way the rest of the world functions today. We share the same history, and we have come so far together despite our differences. The European project is a step in the right direction, whereas Brexit is two steps back.
10) Do you still consider yourself to have a “British identity” and how do you feel about it?
As I was born in England and have lived there for most of my life, I do tend to feel more British than anything else by default. Raised in a bilingual household, I was encouraged to use critical thinking over blind nationalism from a young age. I don’t consider myself to have a ‘British’ outlook on global issues, as I’ve seen that certain people can be very self-absorbed and not particularly aware of life outside the British isles. For this reason, I would never consider myself ‘proudly British’, as I don’t understand how you can take pride in something that happened purely by chance. I don’t see the harm in loving your country, as long as it doesn’t negatively affect your perception of people coming from other countries, just for the sake of it.
11) How has the Covid19 pandemic affected your life?
It initially provoked higher levels of anxiety; I was quite ill last month and was worried that I’d contracted it, but in the end I think it I’d caught something else. As I began working from home mid-March and developing a routine, things have definitely calmed down in recent weeks. It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of this crisis, and I don’t see Brexit having a positive effect on the situation.
12) How do you feel about your country’s response to the Covid19 pandemic compared to the UK government & media?
Belgium implemented the lockdown as soon as France had announced theirs. People are still allowed out of the house for exercise and to buy food, as opposed to countries like Italy and Spain where you need to fill out a form or risk getting fined. Regarding support for the NHS, I know it’s not a competition, but people over here have been applauding their health workers every single evening at 8pm, at least a week before the first clap sounded in Britain. While everyone at home was very proud and emotional on social media and eager to say “same time next week lads!” I have to say this was old news on the continent. But then again, the majority of our European neighbours actually fund their respective health services.