I have now spent more of my adult life in Australia than I have in the country of my birth. That realisation shocked me to say the least. I left my home in Ireland in 2004 when the Celtic Tiger was in full swing and job opportunities were in abundance. It wasn’t always that way. When I started University in 1994 there were empty train carriages to Dublin every morning. Couple this with unemployment rates bleak enough to worry me four years in advance, and it wasn’t the best of times. But fast forward a few years to me completing my degree and if you got a standing space on the train it was a good day. Ireland was in a massive boom by the late 90’s and I breezed into work at the first time of trying. It was a job I was still secure in 3 years later when I decided to take flight to far shores.
My stock answer when asked why I was leaving was ‘to gain more experience as an engineer’, except that wasn’t true. At that stage I had spent 8 years traveling back and forth to Dublin for college or work. Despite the boom there was no work for engineering close to home and living in Dublin was of no interest to me. I had tried it during college and while I had fun, being that close to friends and family, but only seeing them on weekends, seemed silly at the time. The real truth was I wanted to experience life in another country, get exposure to different cultures and opportunities. That sounds like a slight on Ireland, and the culture I had grown up in, but it was far from it – Ireland inspired it. We are a nation of story tellers with a long history of leaving our familiar shores; the majority of it forced by circumstances rather than wanderlust. For a small nation we have made a large impact on the world around us through our culture and travel. Currently over 750,000 Irish live abroad which is roughly 16% of the population of the Emerald Isle. We have itchy feet and tend to want to see what is over the next hill. For me, by 28 years of age, that had become a potent desire.
Since my move I have split my time in Australia between Melbourne and Brisbane, for a total of 12 years down under. Given the life, you make and break friendships easily as the Irish tend to move about, to see as much as they can. It means you make the most of the time you have with friends when you know it is finite. This is in contrast to what I had experienced at home, with friendships born of childhood still holding true today. You grow together and share life’s milestones along the way. When you travel you miss a lot of big moments but you try to make your own, so the next time you are home you have something to share.
I return to Ireland this summer for the first time in 6 years. I do so with some trepidation on how my home has changed since I last visited. I have used the old adage ‘some things never change’ about Ireland many times. But if I am honest, for me, that doesn’t hold true. It’s a thousand minute changes, across a myriad of things. When you emigrate, ‘home’ is snapshot in time. The moment you step on that plane time freezes, your understanding of how much it will change woefully inadequate. You make it immune to progress, to modernisation, to tragedy and to age. The longer you take to return, the more jarring the experience is, bringing you further from that precious snapshot than you would want to allow. This is not a criticism of, or an argument against, change. Change will happen whether you accept it or not. But when you have lived abroad you become a child of two worlds, never really belonging to either. Change undermines the memory you have clung to for so long, reminding you how far away from home you really are.
The feeling is eased by family and friends, seeing the faces of those you love. The heart of any home is the people, they give a place more meaning. When I walk through a familiar place, evoking memories of childhood, I am never quite alone. You remember your playmates and the devilment you got up to. You remember your parents, your siblings and every embarrassing story that only you could laugh at. When you live so far from home, ‘home’ takes on a meaning it always had, but you never fully understood. One of the less charitable comments I have had put to me about missing family, is that it was my choice to go abroad and leave them. I have never disagreed with that, but the statement tries to simplify a complicated decision into a simple A or B scenario. It wasn’t me choosing country over country, lifestyle over family, money over culture or in some way saying that one was better than the other. You have to live your life. You can’t live it for others, nor can you expect them to live their’s for you. I would rather know, than wonder and that simple dictum drove my decision.
In my time in Australia I have been asked for advice on whether someone should make a similar move abroad. I would say make sure it is for the right reasons. If you are moving just to make money, you are wasting your time. Don’t get me wrong, you will make money – if you put the effort in. But, there is so much to experience and slaving away just to bank some dollars lessens the opportunity. If you are leaving for a short time until work picks up elsewhere, then it will be a life experience you can’t put a price on. If you are making a move for a new life, I say remember why you are doing it and make the decision. Just do your homework on where ever you are going. But nothing comes without a price. It could be the distance from family, friends, lifestyle, culture, or even a discarded dream. We all compromise in some way each day. The key to any goal in life is owning your decision. If you are going to compromise, do it for something that makes every moment of it worth it.