How Brexit made me quit my job, pack up my life and move to Sweden

How Brexit made me quit my job, pack up my life and move to Sweden
Ellie Day in Uppsala's Botanical Gardens. Photo: Private
OPINION: The result of the UK's Brexit vote has had far-reaching implications for many Brits. The Local contributor Ellie Day writes about how that, and a sense of not wanting to lose her European identity, made her take a leap of faith, quit her job in London... and move to Sweden.

As the dust settled on the Brexit results on Friday, June 24th 2016, Twitter and Facebook were alight with outrage. In the hollow echo-chamber of left-leaning social media feeds across the UK, the consensus rang out clear: if Britain must leave the EU, we must leave Britain.

Across the country you could practically hear the sound of millennial keyboards furiously tapping out in unison, “how to move to Spain/France/Germany/…. Canada?” Anyone with even one long-lost aunt who once lived in Dublin was frantically working out how to go about claiming Irish citizenship. The wheels of migratory action were in motion.

Yet, more quickly than you can say “Brexit means Brexit”, incredulity began to subside, anger turned to apathy and the idea of upping sticks and moving abroad for political reasons became nothing more than a quaint, sepia-toned memory. We moved on with our individual lives, much as before, with the vague understanding that, at some undefined point in the future some undefined changes would be made to our undefined collective identity as 'Europeans'. So far, so unclear.

But for me, something had changed. The vote had sparked a Brexistential crisis that I couldn't shake; a low-level longing for something outside of our rainy island, away from the BBC and a pub on every street corner and endless small talk about the weather (caveat: I still very much enjoy all of these things).

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Despite being the proud owner of a job I enjoyed, living in a city I loved, with friends I adored and a busy, chaotic schedule, I felt unsettled by the fact that 52 percent of the country – of my country – had voted in a way to which I couldn't relate. I had never been more keenly aware of my EU citizenship. It wasn't just a case of geography; of 'European by default' –  nor was it a childish case of an entitled millennial throwing their toys out of the pram at a vote going the 'wrong' way. I felt – still feel – European. I, as was everyone born in the UK after 1973, was born into EU membership and the idea of having that identity taken away in the interests of a loose, woolly concept of 'wanting to take back sovereignty' seemed ridiculous – until it became a reality.

Having had the luck of spending a year living in France and Spain as part of my undergraduate degree, then being granted a place on an EU-funded graduate scheme after university, I'd benefited greatly from what the EU had to offer and the idea of future generations not being afforded these opportunities felt grossly unfair. So, it was with a crackly, figurative montage of 'my EU Best Bits' playing through my head – from the three months spent in Seville trying to teach Spaniards the words to R Kelly (Ignition, in case you were wondering), to the time I 'gave skiing a go' in the French Alps (I ended up trapped in a snowdrift and had to be rescued by a ski instructor friend) – that I did what any sane person would do. I googled “progressive countries, Europe”. And that's how the tricksy hand of fate picked me up and set me on the path to Sweden. 

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As Sweden is one of a number of European countries which offer free Master's degrees to successful applicants within the EU/EEA (an opportunity which is little-known in the UK), going back to university seemed a no-brainer.  It was certainly a choice which elicited much intrigue among friends and family, who considered the decision to return to student life the sign of something akin to a worryingly precocious mid-life crisis, at the age of 28. Resolute, I enrolled on a course at Uppsala university – Sweden's oldest higher education institution – quit my job in London, bid farewell to loved ones and hopped on a plane to Nordic climes, arriving in Uppsala on a sunny Saturday in late August.

Sweden, a democratic utopia, the land in which gender equality is sewn into the fabric of society, where taking fika is a national institution, where the 'Right to Roam' is as important as any law you'll find. To be completely honest, I didn't know any of this before I came. I just knew that any country with Abba as national musical icons was all right by me. Everything else could come later.

As kneejerk reactions go, it was an extreme one, admittedly and one month in, it's too early to tell if it will quiet the call from the wild for a Big European Adventure. While the adjustment to the weather (cold, even for a Brit) and the cost of living (prohibitive) have proved a challenge, the abundance of cinnamon buns and the newly-found ability to cycle everywhere have more than made up for it – and one thing's for sure: I'm not ready to say hej då to Sweden yet.

This opinion piece was written by The Local contributor Ellie Day. Follow her on Twitter.

READ ALSO: How to get Swedish citizenship or stay here permanently