Natalie Morris gives her thoughts on a new survey on young expat life.
“Fully 96% of young expats who work or study in Belgium are satisfied with their expatriate life.” This is one of the undoubtedly positive conclusions of the survey conducted by BNP Paribas and the think tank ThinkYoung on young expats in Europe. It was completed by 2,881 young expats between the ages of 18 and 28, currently residing in Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy and Poland.
The results of the survey are being presented through three main pillars: push and pull factors (what makes young people relocate to Belgium, for instance?), expatriate finance and expatriate banking. Being a sort-of young expat, with non-Belgian parents but a French-speaking education that goes back to my earliest years of primary school and continues as I complete my fourth year at the Université Saint-Louis in Brussels, it was mostly the push and pull factors that drew my attention. How do people of my generation, whether they are students or professionals, experience this town where I grew up and which I love, while never truly feeling at home?
The results of the survey unveil a globally positive image of the way in which expats view this country. Among other things, it seems clear that Belgium offers a wealth of opportunity for young professional expats: a whopping 82% of respondents chose ‘career advancement’ as one of the benefits of relocating to Belgium – the global European figure is 67%. The second most important benefit was an increased or more developed social life.
As for students, the first obvious interpretation that jumps to mind is the apparent success – and importance – of student exchange programs and the network of internship opportunities across Europe. Indeed, 53% of students claimed their decision to come to Belgium was due to an opportunity given by their previous university or school, making it the biggest pull factor for students.
After this, it’s a tie between ‘experience another culture’ and ‘learn another language or improve language skills’. Although it’s great that students abroad are curious about Belgian culture and evidently see the opportunities in moving to such a multilingual town, it is frankly a wee bit disappointing to see the reasons ‘availability of better/quality education’ and ‘more affordable and more accessible education’ rated comparatively low – 15% and 8% respectively, whereas seeking quality education is one of the main reasons for relocating to the UK, and affordability is one of the main pull factors for students moving to Italy.
Perhaps even more frustrating is how these numbers change when asked about the benefits of attending a Belgian university or school: ‘quality education’ soars up to second place this time, with 59% percent of students claiming it as a main benefit. ‘Affordable education’ also gains points as 30% of respondents said it was a benefit of relocating. Belgium has by far one of the cheapest higher education systems in Europe, in large part thanks to student unions who fight tooth and nail to keep Belgian schools good and accessible. So what does this mean, if anything? Should we be investing more in promoting our education system, in making sure its benefits are better known throughout Europe?
It has to be said that a good number of expats do not seem to have the most positive view of Belgium and its indigenous people, in spite of the fact that 96% of young expats are happy with their expatriate life here.
This number may mean one of two things, or perhaps a bit of both: on the one hand, it could simply mean that although some expats don’t care much for Belgium or Brussels as such, they don’t need to in order to have a good time here. On the other hand, as this was a study conducted on young expats, including students, it could be that the trend is changing. Indeed, I have never met an exchange student here who didn’t love Brussels.
Among people my own age who were here of their own accord and plunged into a Belgian university with Brussels natives, I have only ever encountered enthusiasm. According to them, Brussels is laid-back, friendly, interesting and fun. These students may well become young professionals with perhaps a background in European studies and decide to relocate to Brussels, and, although they will be caught up in the wonderful melting pot that is expat life, I hope they will remember to stop and appreciate this town for what it is – laid-back, friendly, interesting and fun.
You can find the full results here: