EU citizenship is something we have all taken for granted at some point in our lives, whether we like to admit it or not. Born in Staffordshire and raised in Yorkshire, I grew up in a Franco-British household, first experiencing freedom of movement as a newborn baby when visiting relatives in northern France.
I was aware of English populism and the general resentment some had towards other nationalities from a young age. At school, I was often called ‘the French kid’, despite being known as ‘the British guy’ everywhere else in the world. But I was also aware of how lucky I was to be a dual national.
My grandfather, who would go on to back Brexit in 2016, reminded me of the gifts that would come my way thanks to my bilingual upbringing. Back then, my mixed heritage was not something I wished to discuss, but I have since learned to embrace it as a result of the many opportunities that it has afforded me.
At school, I was often called ‘the French kid’, despite being known as ‘the British guy’ everywhere else in the world.
My parents, who both worked for decades as university lecturers with backgrounds in modern languages, taught my brothers and me about the importance of multilingualism and the pleasures of travelling to other countries.
The gift of language learning
I was studying German and Spanish at school when I had my first taste of the adventurous life of working abroad. As a result of my language lessons, I did a week of work experience in Segovia, Spain, as a retail assistant in one of the local music shops.
Fast forward one year and I was studying Modern European Languages at the University of Liverpool. Here I picked up Portuguese, keen to later find work internationally with a variety of languages under my belt. Together with French and Spanish, Portuguese opened the gateway to other Romance languages such as Catalan, Italian, and even Romanian.
My time at university brought me further opportunities to live and study in mainland Europe. I moved to Porto, Portugal, to teach English at a secondary school and then to Universidad de Alicante, Spain, to study translation and literature. While the British Council helped to fund my time in Portugal on the Comenius programme, my study in Spain was part of Erasmus, two schemes that provide participants with monthly EU funding to support their student lifestyle in a different country.
My year abroad was the first time I had been away from England for more than a couple of weeks. Immersing myself in another culture was, of course, daunting. I missed my family and friends, and the unfamiliarity of Porto and Alicante made me begin to worry about my conversational Portuguese and Spanish. However, I soon made a diverse group of friends and regained confidence. After that, life abroad was a thrill!
Little did I know how fragile the elements that had brought me there — internationalism, freedom of movement, and British participation in EU programmes — would become in just a few years’ time.
The power of a passport
After graduating, I worked in international sales for a small company based in Yorkshire, specialising in exports to France, Germany, Ireland and Spain. This company is a prime example of an SME that will suffer the consequences of Britain leaving the single market. Although I was not keen on cold-calling and could not work up much enthusiasm for the pest control products we were manufacturing, I did get to travel on a monthly basis, visiting clients and attending exhibitions across Europe.
Once again, travel and languages were my mainstay. I decided to study for a postgraduate degree in order to broaden my professional horizons. I enrolled on a three-part multilingual business Masters that allowed me to live in Spain and France, in addition to the UK.
My citizenship allowed me to study and work throughout Europe without any bureaucracy or constraints. By contrast, I also saw the difficulties imposed on classmates coming from East Asia, North Africa, and Latin America when it came to dealing with an exhausting visa process, having to apply well in advance and pay extortionate amounts of money just to be able to study for a short duration in another country.
While I later experienced this myself when working for a Hong Kong law firm, I did find my EU passport very useful for visa-free travel of up to three months around some Asia-Pacific countries. This enabled me to discover cultures, try new foods, and make everlasting friendships.
My dream job: Defending the rights that brought me here
As well as having the freedom to live, travel, study and work in any EU country, I currently cohabit with my Canadian partner in Brussels, Belgium: another right I enjoy as an EU citizen. My language skills and rights as an EU citizen have allowed me to work across the world, and, because of the opportunities they have afforded me, I am delighted to now be working for the European Commission.
I use my position to share news on the benefits that EU investment has brought each of its member states, while combatting any disinformation spread by the British tabloids, where populist mentalities seem to persist.
I find it difficult to take pride in something that happened purely by chance, but I do feel fortunate to have been raised in the UK. Even though my dual nationality gave me some grief during my upbringing, my dual citizenship has ultimately led me to where I am today: in my dream job, defending the rights and opportunities that have brought me here.
My British passport will gather dust if Brexit goes ahead
Amid the chaos of Brexit Britain, the recent acquisition of a French passport is my ticket out of this mess. I am sad that my British passport will gather dust if Brexit goes ahead. I am sad for those who share progressive and forward-thinking values of peace and unity, as well those who, seeing no alternative, voted for an uncertain and destructive future. Their rights — the rights that I have benefitted from and enjoyed — are being taken away.
Language skills and the opportunity to use them across the EU have built my career, my relationships, and also my identity. As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’
I am thankful for my dual citizenship and lucky to have been offered a lifeline at a time when protectionism is worshipped and isolation is celebrated. My citizenship is who I am, and without it, I probably would never have moved out of my hometown. That realisation chills me to the bone.