‘Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.’
Maybe things were that simple in the 90s. But nowadays, living up to the promise of Trainspotting’s iconic speech would mean hundreds of applications, knockbacks and achingly insincere ’we’ll keep your application on file’ emails. Although the level of unemployment for graduates is at its lowest since 1989, it doesn’t feel that way – 547,000 16-25-year-olds are still out of work at last count. So what’s the solution?
Well, for some, the answer lies overseas. I spoke to three globetrotting graduates to get the lowdown on what it’s like to move abroad for work.
After three elections in eight years (including one which spawned a coalition so dysfunctional it made the couple in that episode of Don’t Tell The Bride seem perfectly matched) it’s not massively shocking that politics are a big part of many grads’ decision to leave the UK. Will, 26, moved to the Netherlands after a series of short-term jobs and unpaid internships in Hertfordshire, partly because he was concerned the UK’s political situation. “The social and political atmosphere in the UK was growing less and less appealing to me and was leaning more towards the right,” he says – so he swapped home for life in one of Europe’s most liberal cities.
British politics also played a role in 24-year-old American Frances’ decision to leave the UK. A childhood dream to live over here meant that she spent her undergraduate degree studying Arabic and Politics in Scotland, but the 2015 general election and changes to immigration policy midway through her course scuppered Frances’ plans to stay in the UK after graduation. She told me: “It felt as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. It’s difficult to change life plans you have had for years. I had always wanted to live and work in London, and that seemed so achievable when I began studying in Edinburgh.”
"The social and political atmosphere in the UK was growing less and less appealing to me"
On top of her future being turned upside down (and not even in the fun ‘Fresh Prince’ way), Frances felt immense pressure to find work straight after graduation in order to pay off her enormous US student loans. Our £9,000 a year is a drop in the ocean compared to the size of student loans Stateside.
Happily, Frances immediately found a job in publishing which took her to West Africa, South America and finally Saudi Arabia, where she eventually settled and now works for a start-up. And money is something she no longer has to worry about: her salary in Saudi is tax-free and she enjoys a “wonderful lifestyle… that [she] would not be able to afford in London for many years.” She’s not exaggerating. Frances showed me a picture of her condo and it’s so nice that I had a small weep while scrolling through spareroom.com for the 10th time this week.
Will has found that lower lifestyle costs make Amsterdam even more appealing. He says, “Since living expenses are lower, it’s nice that I don’t have to do so many hours. I have also found it incredibly easy to find basic work here, and there seems to be a good amount of opportunity for professional jobs in my area of interest.” He also adds that “there is more joy to life because there is less need for money.” Once a philosophy student, always a philosophy student.
The decision to move abroad for work isn’t something to take lightly – but for Sabella, 25, neither was “the reality hit” of being unemployed for six months after graduation. Now she’s working as a lectrice at a Parisian university, a job she was offered by a former university tutor with under 24 hours to accept (RIP French bureaucracy), and says the professional development has made her move overseas a success. “Teaching at a university with not a lot of support or syllabus structure was terrifying for me in the beginning, but now I prefer the French approach. It gives me a lot of freedom to be able to discuss important and relevant topics in an analytical way with my students.”
"Since living expenses are lower, it’s nice that I don’t have to do so many hours."
Of course, for any UK citizen, and especially those working in Europe, we’re all currently living in the shadow of the valley of Brexit. Sabella’s concerns centre on workers’ rights – “especially for women, as a lot of these laws were passed through EU regulations,” she says. But Will is less worried about dramatic change. “Potentially I will have pay more tax or go through more red tape,” he says. “The worst case would be getting sent back to England, but it’s not the worst place to be sent back to.” Meanwhile Texas-native Frances could be the only one to potentially benefit from Brexit. “If EU citizens are treated equally to any other nationality for job roles … this could positively affect me if I wanted to find a job in the UK,” she says. “It would even the playing field, in a sense.”
Of course, the omnishambles of Brexit hasn’t been the only challenge the overseas grads face. From sexual harassment in France to opening a Saudi bank account and Dutch language barriers, there have inevitably been hurdles along the way. But despite this, when I asked the three whether they would return to the UK right now, the answer is unanimously: no. Cheaper living costs, uncertainty whether their current career path would translate over to the UK, and the friendships they have formed abroad mean that, for now, these intrepid graduates are staying put. (Will was keen to add that, thanks to his move to Amsterdam, he has now learned to ride a bike. So, there’s also that.)
And while interest rates rise and students in England continue to graduate with average debts of over £50,000, who can blame them? Landing a job with a new culture to explore thrown in for free: it really is nice work, if you can get it.
*Name has been changed