Emigration, Irish Abroad, Travel

A Decade Abroad

I left Ireland in May 2010 to teach in South Korea for a year. I knew I wanted to go to Australia after that, so I thought all-in-all I would be gone for 2 years, however, I was always opened to the idea that it might end up being longer. Fast forward 10 years and I now live in Toronto, and have not resided in Ireland since I left for Korea in 2010.

When I set foot in Dublin airport that fateful day, I think a part of me knew deep down that I might be gone for a few years, but I’m not sure I ever imagined that I still wouldn’t have returned a whole decade later. To my family, my friends, everyone I knew, I said I’d be back soon and at the time, I thought I meant it. However, life came along, and once I got that taste of wanderlust, I got greedy and wanted more; I wanted to see more of the world, learn more about different cultures, experience a different way of life. And so, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past decade – and what a decade it’s been.

Like a lot of emigrants, I live with a sense of guilt, it’s just something that is part of me now, and most of the time, I don’t even notice it’s there. Guilt for leaving my family behind, guilt for leaving my friends, guilt for missing out on monumental events back in Ireland, guilt for sometimes putting my travel wants and needs ahead of a trip back home, guilt for not being there. This guilt just becomes apart of you when you emigrate and I’m not sure if it worsens or reduces over time. It just simply is. I’m very lucky that my family or friends don’t add to that guilt, the guilt isn’t there because they are saying or doing things to make me feel guilty, the guilt is my own doing. My family were, and continue to be supportive of my decision to leave Ireland – even when I was leaving as a solo 23 year old female heading off to South Korea, my parents encouraged me. I know many emigrants who get the dreaded question from family every time they call home “so, when are you moving home?”, but thankfully, my family doesn’t ask that question. Possibly because they don’t want to hear the answer, but nonetheless I appreciate it.

I’ve missed countless things back home in the 10 years I’ve been gone; my grandad died and I couldn’t attend his funeral, my sister’s hen party and the whole wedding planning process, my sister being pregnant and having her baby; friends finding love, getting married and having babies, my best friend’s hen party and her first pregnancy, family weddings and gatherings, my brother and his wife having their first children – twins, although they were living in India at the time, so we all missed that! You name it, I’ve probably missed it. It doesn’t get any easier to miss this big events, but you do grow used to it over time. You start to come to terms with the fact that their will be milestone events in the lives of the people you love, and you won’t be there to celebrate with them.

When you live abroad, and especially, when you live on a different continent, it’s not easy to make it home for every occasion. There is quite a big price tag on going home, not to mention, it eats into valuable vacation days. Up until this year, Phil only had 10 vacation days a year, and the vast majority of these have been used on trips back to Ireland. As people with a passion for travel and exploring new places, this starts to wear you down a little. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love going home, and we always have the best time while we are there, but going back to Ireland every year is not a “vacation” for us. Our trips are usually jam packed; calendars full, trying to move around between Laois (where I’m from) and Galway (where Phil is from), hoping to squeeze in as many visits as possible with family members and friends. In all honesty, trips back home to Ireland are usually mentally and physically exhausting, and we return back to Toronto totally drained. Our trips home are usually planned around a wedding, so add the wedding festivities to that mix, plus copious amounts of alcohol, and you can understand why we are usually in bits after our time at home! Then there is the emotional toll; not to sound dramatic, but from the second we land home in Ireland, I’m already starting to think about the goodbyes that will come at the end of the trip. I’m a very emotional person and this also wears me down, I know I have a limited amount of time with my family and my friends and then it’s goodbye again, so that is always lurking in the background of a trip home. I often think that this is something that other people don’t quite understand, if you’ve never lived away for an extended period, it’s not something you even think about.

A pet peeve of mine is when somebody asks me “How long has it been since you were home” and whatever response I give, they say “oh that’s not too bad!”. If I haven’t been home in 8 months, you don’t get to say that’s not a long time if you’ve never gone more than a few weeks without seeing your family. Because then it makes me feel like I’m over-reacting, or I shouldn’t feel down for not seeing my family. The longest I’ve gone without seeing my parents is 2 and a half years, which is a crazy long time and I’ll never do that again. So yes, in comparison, 8 months is not that long, but if you see your parents every other weekend then don’t come around here and tell me 8 months is not a long time Karen!

Despite all this, I wouldn’t change the past 10 years at all. If I could go back and do it all again, I would do it all the same way. There are some serious highs and lows once you emigrate, but that’s what you sign up for when you take the plunge. The life I’ve lived over the past decade; the experiences I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met – all this makes up for it. I’ve lived in South Korea, Australia and Canada, and traveled to numerous other places, and I truly believe that travel is one of the best forms of education you can receive. I’ve learned to view the world in a different way, I’m more empathetic towards others and their lived experiences, I’m more open minded, I’m less judgmental, I’m more independent and sure of myself. If I can leave Ireland alone at age 23 and move to South Korea – I can do anything! I’ve made friends from all over the world, but I’ve still maintained my relationships with my friends back in Ireland.

To anyone thinking of emigrating, yes it is scary, and yes, parts of it are hard and parts downright suck; you will be sad at times, you will be homesick, you will feel like you’re missing out, you will get tired of using all your time off – and your money, on trips back to Ireland at times, and you will be upset when you miss out on things back home, but you will also (hopefully) love it! You will love the new experiences, you will enjoy meeting new friends, exploring a new place and learning a new way of doing things. You will love your new life – and if you don’t, you can always go back home, there is no shame in that. I think often times people are scared to move abroad they fear they won’t like it and feel it will be embarrassing to then move back home. But really, which is worse, taking the leap and trying something new to learn that it’s not actually what you wanted? Or sitting at home thinking that you should have tried it when you had the chance,and spending the rest of your life wondering what could have been?

Will I ever move back to Ireland? Hard to say, as most emigrants will tell you – never say never!

Regret for things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

Sydney J. Harris

Until next time 🙂

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