By Kate Graham
With clothes strewn all over the bedroom floor and two suitcases waiting to be
filled, Ginny Jukes could be any woman agonising over what to pack for an
Except she’s not preparing for an indulgent trip, or even a delayed gap year.
Instead, 34-year-old Ginny is packing up her entire UK life, in order to
start again in Zambia – far away from the stress and worry that has taken
over her life since she joined the ranks of the unemployed last summer.
“When I lost my job as a town planner in May 2011, I felt like my world had
come crashing down around me,” says Ginny from Birmingham.
“You read about the tough economic times we’re in and rising unemployment, but
you can’t really understand the turmoil it causes until it happens to you.
“Suddenly the recession was knocking at my door and turning my happy life
So far, in these gloomy times, so sadly familiar. Unemployment has now reached
2.67 million – the highest level since 1994. Across the UK, people are
finding that their jobs have disappeared or are seriously at risk. Many have
resigned themselves to living on benefits or their savings, filling out
endless job applications and desperately hoping to land a job for which
hundreds of other people are also applying.
But not Ginny. She has become a “recession runaway” and is leaving the UK for
the next two years to take a role as a town planner in Zambia with VSO, a
charity that helps UK professionals to work in developing countries.
Ginny, who’s single, explains: “When I first became unemployed I started
applying for other UK town-planning roles. Competition was fierce, but I
managed to get to the final interview stage for one job, before I decided to
“However, seeing friends who’d also lost jobs get new ones, only to lose them
again, didn’t give me any confidence that landing a new role would give me
any security,” she says.
“All around me people were negative and scared about their futures. So I
decided to move, and accepted a job in Zambia. A new job, plus the
opportunity to live somewhere exciting, where there are opportunities to
gain unrivalled experience, was too good to pass up.
“My friends are really jealous. Obviously my family are a bit worried about me
moving so far away, but they’ll come and visit – and they see it’s the right
thing for me to do.
I know getting out of here is the right thing to do
“In the interim I’ve been working in a local pub to keep an income coming in –
and seeing qualified professional people like me coming in asking if there
are any vacancies has only confirmed that packing my bags and getting out of
here is the right thing to do.”
Ginny is not alone in her plan to start a new life elsewhere. Emigration is
booming with more than half of all under-25s seriously considering leaving
the country due to the high rate of youth unemployment. Twelve per cent of
18-34 year olds believe they can ride out the recession abroad.
Professionals and experienced managers make up the majority of people leaving
the UK, with over 1 million now living and working abroad.
A large number of these recession runaways are women. According to the Office
for National Statistics, the rate of women leaving the UK has increased at
twice the rate of men emigrating.
This comes as no surprise to psychologist and stress expert Dr Caroline
Schuster. “Women have a higher emotional intelligence and so are more
receptive to the general feeling of the people around them,” she says.
“They absorb that emotional energy because they have that empathetic
connection. My belief is that they are depressed by the relentless
negativity around at the moment, and this is fuelling their decision to
“Many women have the flexibility and forward-thinking to take calculated
risks. They won’t wait for the bad news to hit, like losing their job.
They’ll move away before it happens, thinking: ‘Once this all blows over I
can come back’.”
Sarah Keane, 25, from Dublin, is one woman who took that risk and saw it pay
“After completing a degree in International Relations at Dublin City
University in 2008, I took a Masters in European Studies at King’s College
London. That was when I started to worry about how the economic climate
could affect me,” says Sarah.
“I was interning on a political campaign and we had so many applications for a
second internship it was crazy. That’s when I got scared. Some applicants
had two Masters degrees and were fighting for unpaid positions. Would I end
up like them?”
Sarah’s worst fears came true. After her internship, she spent months applying
for jobs and unpaid positions, but was turned down time after time.
“I was so disappointed in myself. Here I was with all these letters after my
name, sitting at home with no job and no path to follow. I felt like I’d hit
a dead end at what should have been the start of my career. That’s when I
knew I had to start thinking differently about my future,” she says.
Dr Schuster explains: “Our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism kicks in when times get
tough. At first you try to overcome the situation, and if you can’t, you
move away from the source of that stress, in this case by emigrating.
“Of course, not everyone is able to do this. If you have family
responsibilities, children or other ties, packing up and leaving may not be
an option. This emigration trend is likely to be led by young, single,
Sarah secured a paid position as a communications officer at the European
Geothermal Energy Council in Brussels, six months after graduating in March
2010. Leaving has paid off: she has a job she loves, new friends and a
“Young people want to do something, contribute, be involved,” she says. “When
I got to Brussels I was active again. I was back in charge of my life.
“I’ve recently moved to Copenhagen to live with my boyfriend, Johannes, 25, an
account manager, and I’m currently job hunting. As in Brussels, it feels
like there are more opportunities here than in Dublin and London. And the
experience I gained in Brussels will make me a good prospect to employers
here. I’d like to live in Ireland again, but I see myself being mobile for
many years to come.”
While Australia and America still top the list of countries recession runaways
are fleeing to, India and China have become hot options too, as their
economic strength grows while ours falters.
John Weir, an emigration specialist whose company Down Under Live runs expos
helping people to move abroad, plans to add China to the list of countries
at his emigration fairs. And CRCC Asia, a company that arranges work
placements for UK students and graduates in Shanghai and Beijing has seen a
300 per cent rise in participants since 2009. A third of them go on to
accept job offers and make a new life there.
Land of promise
That is music to Dafne Alonso’s ears. The 26-year-old former PR manager from
Bristol moved to China last month with her boyfriend William, 22. “I hadn’t
lost my job, I was ready to take the next big step, but the UK was at a
standstill,” she says.
Dafne plans to teach English in Beijing, and learn Mandarin – this plus an
understanding of Chinese business culture could be her key to progressing
when she returns to Britain. William, who was a waiter in the UK, had been
trying, without any luck, to work in sound design. After one week in
Beijing, he landed his dream job.
“I’ve only been here a month, but I can sense it’s a land of
opportunity. There’s a feeling of growth and promise – things we don’t have
at home. Asia is where it’s happening now,” says Dafne.
“We’ve met other expats who came here for opportunities that weren’t in
Britain. We plan to return to the UK when the economy improves. But even if
it stays poor, we’ll use our new skills to stand out. Going to China and
speaking Mandarin, will make us attractive to international firms in the UK.”
Matt Cavanagh, associate director for UK migration policy at the Institute for
Public Policy Research, explains: “This is the first generation not
expecting to do as well, or better, than their parents. They’re told it will
be difficult to buy a house and get a job, and that it won’t get better for
at least 10 years. You can see why people consider going overseas.”
Nevertheless, moving abroad isn’t a guarantee of a rosy future – particularly
for those who moved to countries with economic problems such as Greece and
Spain, and are seeing their livelihoods destroyed as unemployment soars.
But Ginny, like Dafne and Sarah, is confident her move to Africa will help.
“There are international consultancies there,” she says. “In a couple of
years, my experience could put me above UK candidates. I’m looking forward
to this new chapter, and feeling secure.”
Thinking about becoming a recession runaway? John Weir gives his top tips…
Plan ahead Check out house prices, schools, crime, and especially the
cost of living in your chosen country. Investing time now will save you
money and stress later.
Be patient Getting a job and a visa can take time, so remember that the
wheels of bureaucracy often move more slowly than you’d like.
Expect the unexpected Life abroad may be very different to what you’re
used to. Accept this and embrace the changes.
Take advice Don’t try to do everything yourself. Some things you can
easily do but others, such as visa applications or pension transfers, may
need specialist assistance to avoid time-consuming and costly mistakes.
Get online Join forums where you can get advice on your potential new
life from people who have actually done it. For Australia and New Zealand,
and for the rest of the world, visit Britishexpats.com.