Next up we have Sophia. Sophia had just moved here to Toronto before Covid-19 hit and she moved back to Ireland as a result. Read her story below.
1.Where in the world were you living before Covid-19?
2.How long had you lived there for?
3.Was this your first time living away from Ireland?
4.What’s your favourite place you have ever travelled to and why?
The Rocky Mountains (Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Drumheller).
It was absolutely beautiful. I spent 3 weeks travelling around the Rocky Mountains in a jeep. From the Calgary Stampede, the Colombian Icefields, Lake Louise and visiting the hoodoo’s in Drumheller, it was by far the best experience I have had so far.
Second favourite destination is San Diego, the vibes are SO chill!!
5.Why did you leave Ireland initially?
I initially left Ireland as I was beginning to feel a bit ‘stuck’. I’m twenty-two years old and have been working in the beauty industry for almost three years now. I wanted to do something that would challenge me, give me life experience, independence and most of all, travel opportunities. Nothing like a bad breakup to give you a little push! I felt Ireland couldn’t offer me what I wanted to achieve right now so, Canada for me was an ideal destination, far enough to get away from home but, not so far that if something was to happen (a pandemic for example) I could hop on a plane. The IEC visa was so accessible, the process was so straight forward.
6.What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about moving abroad or heading off travelling for an extended period (after the pandemic is over), but is nervous to do so?
I can relate to this a lot because to be frank, it is me.
If you turned back the clock to one year ago, I had begun to save and prepare myself for when the time came to pack up my life and head solo to a brand new city, to start a new chapter of my life. It was brave and took strength to leave my family and friends.
On the 24th February 2020, I was on a plane to Toronto and one week later, I had a fabulous apartment by the waterfront, two amazing room-mates from Ireland and a job I enjoyed.
I was just about settling, finding my feet. However, within four weeks it was taken away.
You would think, considering I have managed to move on my own once before, that I am totally okay about doing it again. I’m sorry to say you are wrong.
No matter where you are in the world right now, it is a strange, surreal time for everyone. The uncertainly of what the future holds for us is a massive worry and for me, is making me more anxious about going back to Toronto than ever before. Will I have to isolate? Will I have a job? Will I have to wear PPE? The questions are endless.
These would be worries for people in a familiar setting, surrounded by their loved ones and home comforts. I can safely say that the worry multiplies by 100 when these are questions someone who is not a citizen of the country they’re living in and who is away from home is asking themselves.
So, my advice would be to wait until you are comfortable, ready and the time is suitable. The thing is, this pandemic will end and yes, there may be another one ahead. Ultimately, we can’t let these things stop us from living life and pursuing our dreams. When the time is right, the opportunity will present itself. What is meant to be, will be. And what is meant to be, will never pass you by!
7.What are some major differences you’ve noticed between where you were living, and Ireland?
For me, the main differences were firstly, rent prices. I can safely say that compared to Dublin, Toronto is much better value. You get what you pay for in Toronto. Whether that be location, size, quality etc. In Dublin, you would pay much more for what you get. It’s disheartening for young people for sure!
Secondly, the transport system. When I found out it costs $3.25 to travel anywhere on the TTC within a two-hour frame, my jaw hit the floor. Compared to Dublin, this is super cheap. Also, their transport system as a whole is super convenient and reliable.
Thirdly, cleanliness and city maintenance. One of the first things I noticed about Toronto was that the streets were super clean. I later found out a substantial amount of tax goes towards maintenance of the city but, how and ever it’s great to see the money going to good use and they are doing a good job! The city is immaculate compared to Dublin, in my opinion.
7.What is the best thing about living in a new place, in your opinion?
FREEDOM! (lol) I think this is why I settled so quickly. I fell in love with having independence. Even taking responsibility for my food shopping and my laundry made me feel so confident! I thrived on having my own space, not having to answer to anyone and most of all, having this amazing new city to explore!
I won’t deny that initially, it’s scary as hell! My first night in Toronto, I was essentially homeless. It was terrifying and I felt so lonely. But, once I had my space I knew I could go home to, the city was my oyster! In the short but sweet time I was there, I had made so many friends, started my job which allowed me to see more of the city. I was exposed to so many different cultures, it was fascinating!
8.Covid-19 caused you to make a decision to go back to Ireland, can you explain why?
I don’t think I will ever forget the moment I had to make this decision. It started right after myself and my roommates watched Leo Varadkar’s (the Irish PM) first official address to the Nation. It was as if, in that moment, everything became real. Within days of that speech back at home, Toronto had begun to shut down. Within a week I had lost my job, to have gotten a new job that I was due to start that weekend. Before I knew it, everything had been put on pause. Offices, bars, restaurants and shopping malls had all been closed. We were put in a state of emergency and I was scared.
I had to weigh out my options. At the time, Canada offered me no funding as I didn’t qualify for IE. My savings that I had worked so hard for were decreasing by the day. I was isolated to a 3 bed, 1 bath apartment on the 18th floor of a building with my roommates. I, rightly so, began to feel isolated and claustrophobic.
However, on the other hand, travelling home meant putting my family at risk, and myself too. I also didn’t know if I would ever be able to return, and I was having such an amazing time, I wasn’t sure if this was a risk I was willing to take.
After about 10 days, I decided it was best to come home. Although I was warned at the time that Ireland was not a ‘nice place to be right now’, I felt it was best to be home and safe with my family. I had to self-isolate alone for 14 days. I wore a mask and gloves in my house, and I had to socially distance from my family. It was hard!
8.What was your situation in the city/ country you were in when the pandemic hit?
When the pandemic hit Toronto, my situation initially wasn’t too bad. I was still working in Sephora (although they had introduced new hygiene and social distancing measures), TTC’s were still operating regularly. The only thing I had really noticed were grocery stores becoming almost empty in terms of stock. Non-perishables and cleaning products were gold dust! And where they were available, profit margins had hit the roof.
As things began to get more serious, the atmosphere in Toronto began to really shift. Less people were walking on the street and taking public transport, grocery stores and pharmacies were practicing social distancing while department stores, mall and other non-essential businesses were forced to close. Office workers began working remotely, while others were temporarily laid off without pay. The vibes totally changed.
I was one of those who were temporarily laid off with no pay, leaving me financially worried. I was still obliged to pay rent and my bills for the month of April and as I mentioned previously, I found my savings getting lower and lower while nothing was coming into my bank account. It was a tough position to be in however, I’m sure people were going through a lot worse.
It was just after I had left, Ontario began to implement fines and prison sentences for those who were in breach of the new Covid-19 laws. It really was all so surreal.
Before I made the decision to come home, I remember calling my dad seeking advice from him. He said to me ‘you know Sophia, Ireland is not a nice place to be right now’. I think that says it all.
Ireland had introduced working remotely, it had closed all pubs, clubs and restaurants. Department stores and shopping malls had closed, leaving many of my friends unemployed and schools, pre-schools and nurseries had closed, leaving parents struggling to cope.
Ireland was worried and it was clear.
A week after my return home, Ireland went into what ended up being a 7 week state of lockdown. There was a 2km radius limit and a strict ban from socializing with those outside of your own households. It was strange to say the least. While this is currently still the case, I am hopeful that May 18th will bring us some freedom back and the country can slowly but surely start to recover from this.
9.Are you glad you went back to Ireland in light of what is happening?
At first, I actually felt quite guilty about coming home, especially when I got to experience what I was coming home to. I was left feeling selfish for travelling back to my family and putting them at risk. I also felt unsure about whether it was the right decision for me personally and mentally.
When you pack up your life, thinking you won’t be back for a minimum of 2 years and that you are starting to move forward in your life, coming home to the circumstances Ireland was facing was strange. I was reminded why I left Ireland in the first place and began to feel very down about it.
However, looking back now, I am glad I flew home when I did. I am happy to be in the company of my family and my puppy and to have the comforts and luxuries that come with being at home. I can imagine if I had stayed in Toronto, it would have been a very long, lonely few months.
9.How are you finding things back in Ireland?
Right now, I am actually quite content. In the beginning, when I started to settle back to being at home, it was hard to occupy myself and to fill my days productively. I began cooking, walking and enjoyed the little things like skin care routines and applying makeup.
When the possibility of me returning to Canada in the month of May (as originally planned) became slim, I decided to apply for an online College Diploma, in order to make the most out of my time at home. This has encouraged me to keep my brain functioning and to keep myself on track. As someone who has struggled with their mental health in the past, it was important I did something to keep busy so I could avoid becoming consumed by my own thoughts.
10.Do you plan to stay in Ireland, or will you leave again when this is all over?
I will admit, although I can defiantly say that I am feeling slightly more nervous and anxious about travelling back to Toronto this time round, it will most certainly not stop me. I thankfully have not lost sight of why I wanted to leave Ireland in the first place, and I am excited to get back to working and to living the city life!
11.What have you been doing to cope in this stressful time? Some people focus on being productive, others binge watch Netflix, what is your coping mechanism?
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have my fair share of binge-watching Netflix, napping, staring into space and so on so forth. However, there came a time where I noticed my mood started to fall, my confidence starting to sink and overall, I just felt a bit sluggish and lethargic.
This was when I decided to change my routine;
- I planned out my day hour by hour the night before, starting with getting up early.
- I decided to increase my exercise and ensure I get out for air each day.
- I began to read books and listen to audio books/podcasts.
- I rediscovered my talents by challenging myself to learn new piano pieces or to complete paint by numbers.
- Most recently, I decided to go back to study a Diploma in Digital Marketing, Social Media, PR and E-Commerce.
12.What did you find most difficult about going back home to Ireland?
I think, for me the most difficult part was accepting my decision to come home, especially when I got home. Moving to Canada was something I had spent an entire year working and saving towards. Canada was my clean slate if you wish. I had gone through a tough time for a few years which I was ready to leave behind me. I was ready to say goodbye to my life here and move on to live my life over there.
The fact that I did that for a solid 5 weeks and absolutely loved it, made it hard to settle back home. There would be a split second in the morning where I would wake up and genuinely not know whether I was in my down-town city apartment in Toronto, or back in my childhood bedroom. The realization would leave me feeling down.
In ways, I felt like I had failed. I actually didn’t tell friends or extended family I had come home until about 10 days after I arrived in Ireland. I was afraid they would judge my decision.
When I started to talk about it and communicate how I was feeling about all of this to my friends and family, their support and empathy gave me comfort which to this day I really appreciate.
13.Do you think there is any silver lining to what is currently happening in the world?
Absolutely. I have read a lot of different theories about this virus and potential silver linings it may have on the world we live in today. I took particular interest in one.
Today, we live in an incredibly fast paced world, which in my opinion can be a very narcissistic and self-absorbed one to live in. I feel this virus may be the world’s way of telling us to slow down. These last few months, people have got to spend time with their families at home, they have been forced to find ways to occupy their time that doesn’t involve travel or distance. It has reminded people to appreciate the little things like human interaction, intimacy and opportunity which I feel were taken for granted for before this happened.
I know that after this experience, I will not take a conversation with a neighbor or a hug from my friend for granted. I will not turn down a cup of tea and a conversation with my family. I will not assume travelling to other countries is easy and accessible. I will capture moments of opportunity and savior them as I think back to this moment, when we were in lock down and I felt there were no opportunities in sight.
14.Do you think that Ireland will benefit in the future from all the emigration it’s been experiencing over the past decade?
I would like to say that Ireland will benefit in future from all the emigration. I hope it brings more experienced and educated people back into the country who strive to make the country better based on their experience working and/or living abroad.
However, I can understand certain circumstances, for example the work/life balance in the medical industry, are a lot more appealing abroad than in Ireland, which may have a negative impact in the country in the future if they do not change the current situation.
Please feel free to share anything else that you think might help other Irish people who are living abroad at this time.
For anyone who is living abroad during these difficult times, I would just like to say that we are in this together. I read an article a few weeks back that said, ‘We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat’.
These are unprecedented times right now which are affecting everyone in different ways. We all have to remember that we are doing the best we can given the circumstances and that everything will be okay!
Disclaimer: All of the images in this post belong to Sophia Moroney.