Expat Essentials

Terry Boyd: Is patriotism obsolete in a world of increasing global mobility?

On Monday, a European CEO told CNBC reporter Stacey Yuen about a trend that was unimaginable just a few years ago. A trend Dispatches is betting on.

Rolf Schrömgens, travel bargain site Trivago’s CEO, said he was starting to see “a brain drain” of talent from the United States to Europe, in part due to President Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim policies.

“We see that we, as a company based in Europe, we are way more attractive now for talents from all over the world, including talents from the U.S., and so our numbers of applicants from the U.S. have doubled in the first quarter from the quarter in the year before,” Schrömgens told Yuen.

An alternative to a new and angry ‘patriotism’

For a certain segment of the world’s population, the notions of national identity and patriotism have always been – to say the least – elastic.

Last year, Brexit changed citizenship rules in the United Kingdom overnight for more than 1.5 million British expats, many of whom had lived for decades in Spain, Portugal or France and considered themselves “European.” Now, with a “hard” Brexit, it looks as if many will have to choose between remaining UK citizens, or applying for citizenship in their country of residence.


In the America of Donald Trump, the Far Right increasingly seeks to impose a litmus-test patriotism – isolationist and nativist – based on racial identity, religious intolerance, and rigid conservatism.

Oh, and an infinity for Russian authoritarianism.

Step outside the Fox News fog and the reality is, the Western World is moving the opposite direction, especially Northern Europe.

From Norway to Portugal, European countries are altering immigration requirements to attract more international talent. More countries including Portugal and Malta are – in essence – selling citizenship.

In countries such as Finland and even the Netherlands, birth rates are low, populations are aging and too many top talents are leaving for the U.S. Which is ironic as America coalesces into two countries – one urban and progressive, one rural and reactionary. That trend makes cities such as Austin, Nashville, Charlotte and Atlanta affluent islands surrounded by struggling rural populations.

Are we Americans loyal to our city? To our state? Our region? Our country?

Citizenship is a contract

So, is blind patriotism obsolete in an increasingly fragmented and global 21st century? Is it unpatriotic for us expats to look around the world and weigh our options?”

For my family, practical won over sentimental.

We relocated to Europe because it offers us more opportunities and personal security. This is a core tenant of Dispatches … that worldwide, talent and capital are growing ever more mobile. We are doing what humans have always done: simply adapting to changing circumstances.

In college, I stumbled across the Latin phrase, “Ubi bene, Ibi patria” (“Where things are good, that is my country”) and I’ve lived by it ever since.

For 231 years, America has been good. It provided commercial and educational opportunities to my father’s ancestors, Scots-Irish who for centuries had the pawns of English kings and queens. To my mother’s ancestors, who included Mizrahi Jews fleeing the Middle East, it offered unimaginable freedom to reinvent themselves.

By leaving, I’m simply carrying on their tradition of searching for a better life.

That we left America is an unpatriotic act to some. But in my mind, patriotism might not be obsolete, but it is reciprocal.

Citizenship is, at its heart, a contract between government and the governed. The American Founding Fathers, influenced by Jean-Jacque Rousseau and John Locke, created a government based on social contracts that replaced the tyranny of arbitrary and capricious monarchs.

When governments violate the contract underlying citizenship, doesn’t every person have the right to seek a better life?

Warm welcome in Europe

In Europe, many countries are not just opening the doors to international talent, they’re competing against each other to lure innovators with capital.

Earlier this year, my wife Cheryl and I went through the City Deal Warm Welcome program in which Dutch officials are trying to streamline the immigration process for foreign entrepreneurs.

A city in Norway is reaching out to Americans of Norwegian descent.

For highly skilled internationals, it’s relatively easy to immigrate to a number of European countries including Sweden.

I think I speak for a lot of other American expats when I quote that great American philosopher Bob Seger, who once said, “I guess I’ll miss the USA. I guess I’ll miss it every single day.”

But the cold reality is, the United States of America wouldn’t be the first empire where malignant forces extinguished liberal democracy and rent the social fabric.

Ubi bene, ibi patria.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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