Ruaridh left Scotland for the Netherlands in February 2016, he lives in a shared household whilst studying for his Master’s degree in Middle East studies
1) How did you feel on 24th June when you heard about the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
Shocked and appalled, to put it bluntly. My friends and I in Beijing, where I was living and working at the time, could scarcely believe that the UK would do such a huge and irreparable act of self-harm.
2) What were the key driving factors that made you decide to leave the UK?
My pre-Brexit departure from the UK to China was based on my desire to improve my Chinese, and the ease of finding well-paying work as an English teacher out there. Post-Brexit, I decided not to return to the UK and pursue my masters degree in the EU due to the spiralling cost of education in the UK. In addition to this, seeing how Brexit has polarised British politics and emboldened the far right, I simply did not feel that the UK was the still the country in which I had grown up anymore.
3) How/why did you choose your current country of residence?
I chose the Netherlands primarily because of the course and opportunities offered at Leiden University, but also because of the reputation the country has for a high standard of living and being an open and welcoming society. While life in the Netherlands is not without its issues, I am certainly not disappointed.
4) Do you have citizenship for your current country? Do you still have EU citizenship? If no, are you hoping to obtain it?
No, I have not yet been able to gain Dutch citizenship, though I am able to stay here on my current passport until the end of January 2021. The Dutch government does not recognise dual citizenship except in a few specific cases, so gaining it requires most people to give up their former citizenship. Suffice it to say that I will be willing to do this when the time comes.
5) Do you plan to return to the UK or hope to move to another country in the future?
I can’t say that I would plan to return to the UK anytime soon of my own volition. On one of my previous visits to visit family back in Edinburgh, my dad was driving me home from the airport; I saw a police van emblazoned with the words “IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT”, the first time I’d ever seen such a vehicle. While I’m aware that the organisation has existed prior to Brexit, seeing one of those vans driving through the streets of the city in which I’d grown up; one to which many people from the EU and further afield come to visit, live and, work. It struck a nerve. This wasn’t the country in which I’d grown up anymore.
6) What was the most difficult aspect/greatest you challenge you faced in moving?
Finding accommodation as a foreign student. Universities here in the Netherlands don’t see student housing as their responsibility, so while they offer some, it’s generally left to the students themselves to find their own. Dutch students are generally reluctant to offer rooms in their properties to incoming foreign students as we’re often only around for a year or so. While there’s a significant part of the housing market catering to expats, particularly in the “Randstad” area (between Amsterdam and Rotterdam) most of those places are generally out of our price-range as students. Immigration-wise, the Dutch government has been far more responsive and proactive than the British; updating us on the situation as it progresses, and what our position is.
7) What do you miss most about the UK?
I miss my family, I miss the friends I’ve kept in contact with, I miss the hills.
8) What do you love most about your current country of residence?
Practically-speaking, the public transport system: everything works with such efficiency, and it costs a fraction of what it does in the UK to travel between cities on the train. There’s also a far more relaxed culture here; more open to honesty and compromise, especially on the political level. I’ve also made good friends here, as well as finding someone special, which definitely factors into my decision to remain here.
9) Do you consider yourself to have a “European identity” and what that does that mean to you?
Identity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s as much a response to how the world perceives and treats you as it is shared cultural memory, expectations, and conduct. To this I would say that I do have a degree of European identity. Outside of Europe, I’ve often been differentiated as “European”, and returning after time away definitely makes me appreciate the things which we have in common here. While there may be larger players in Europe than others, no single language or culture could be said to dominate the entire continent.
10) Do you still consider yourself to have a “British identity” and how do you feel about it?
British identity, on the other hand, is something that I don’t feel as inclined to engage with. To me, it feels like Englishness imposed upon the rest of us. I can’t deny that the UK and its institutions have created a British identity and culture of sorts, but there’s a definite power imbalance within it between the English (particularly the southeast) and the rest of us. A case in point: if my mother spoke her first language at school, she would be caned by the teacher for not speaking English. While the recognition of minority languages and the eventual creation of the devolved parliaments in the UK did come, we have had to fight every step of the way for these things. All in all, this hasn’t endeared me to “Britishness” much.
11) How has the Covid19 pandemic affected your life?
Well, the pandemic has forced the university to close its campus buildings, though classes have continued online. Thankfully, almost all the resources we need, like the library collections, are online these days. However, I do miss being able to go to the campus building or the library and work there for a change. It’s certainly been difficult not being able to leave the house as much and meet friends, but thankfully we have Skype and discord etc.
12) How do you feel about your country’s response to the Covid19 pandemic compared to
the UK government & media?
The Netherlands has taken quite a similar “light-handed” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic that the UK has and has suffered significantly more deaths per capita than Germany, though things do not seem to be as bad here as they are in the UK. I still feel that the government could and should have acted sooner in this case.