created by Ross Gillam
Do twenty-somethings really need to leave London to experience the world?
London. The centre of the world. The world’s international city. London truly plays host to just about everything any young and adventurous person could want to experience. Right? Well, perhaps not. Hang around with any group of twenty-somethings and the conversation will almost inevitably turn to the topic of ‘living abroad’.
“Oh think of the time you’d spend outside”, they say about Sydney. “It’s really up and coming”, you may hear someone innocently say about Dubai. “It has a great expat community” those hyping up Hong Kong will chime.
By why do I, and thousands of others with London on our doorstep feel compelled to trot out such statements to try and justify why we might want to move abroad? And why do so many young people feel like swapping London and all it has to offer for a place they may know little about?
Partly, and this is perhaps more of a male trait, there is a reluctance to admit that actually, I’m quite happy where I am – and there’s undoubtedly a testosterone fuelled compulsion to uphold the pretence that one can still be carefree and adventurous, whilst hiding the fact that the topic of babies and dogs is a more frequent occurrence in conversations with their significant other.
How many people blurt out the comments above in order to give off an air of independence and to demonstrate overt ambition? In this respect London is its own worst enemy. Thanks to a cauldron of pressure and the need to demonstrate drive, some people may spout off about moving to the ‘Singapore office’ in an attempt to try and conform to the perceived pinnacle of the jet-setting young professional. In reality, it’s often just a façade.
But then, what about the few that do take the plunge?
Whilst there are a number of reasons 20-somethings, and indeed older generations do move abroad, there are some more obvious ones – a lack of ties, namely a girlfriend/boyfriend and/or job, seemingly the most common. In search of something new and exciting, the more heart-driven seek to fill the hole that London (and Tinder) may not be able to plug. Of course there are many cases where genuine or unique career enhancing opportunities present themselves, but the out of work experiences seem to be the driving force more often than not, and why not?
However, in an age where it’s hard to go 15 minutes without selfies appearing on your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds of a long lost first year university friend who now lives in a place where its seems to be endlessly sunny, there are clearly other pull factors at work. Londoners hibernating in offices during the winter could easily be fooled by social media in to thinking that living abroad doesn’t involve work, but this is clearly a fallacy and one of the distortions social media places on reality. Let’s not forget, much like the first school friend reunion at Christmas following the opening term of University, no-one wants to admit they aren’t having a good time, particularly after they’ve moved half way around the world. Social media gives them a platform to justify their move, but just don’t be fooled. Clearly, this isn’t unique to the internationally inclined but a sun-filled photo with the caption #postworksurfing is more compelling than yet another one of The Shard with #thethames.
Realistically however, although I’ve talked about living abroad, and whilst I will not rule it out – obviously in part because that would also mean admitting I’m no longer spontaneous in some manly sort of way – the likelihood is diminishing. But this is where London arguably comes into its own.
As a global melting pot with endless activity it’s possible to see and experience a spectrum like no other, including meeting people of all nationalities – I for one have worked with Americans, Egyptians, Chinese, Italians, Swedes and a Columbian. Through osmosis and the blending of cultures many Londoners become international beings with a worldly view. So even if Londoners don’t move abroad, we can feel confident knowing that arguably we’re already living an international life.
Ross Gillam writes for www.futureforeignpolicy.com
Follow him @rossgillam