Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

“I’d love to go back to Ireland, but can’t see it happening”

Sue Kelleher went to Canada on a one-year working holiday visa in 2005. Six years later, she is still in Toronto, with a good job and a solid network of friends, she tells Ciara Kenny.

Fri, Dec 16, 2011, 08:40

   

Sue Kelleher went to Canada on a one-year working holiday visa in 2005. Six years later, she is still in Toronto, with a good job and a solid network of friends, she tells Ciara Kenny.

Sue Kelleher: 'Networking is an essential part of any job search here. Volunteering is extremely important too, and for immigrants, it can be a great way to get Canadian experience or develop new skills'

I FIRST ARRIVED in Canada on a one-year working holiday visa in 2005. I had just finished an MA in Geography at UCD and wanted to take some time out, travel and experience something different.

Canada had always appealed to me. I had quite romantic ideas about living in a country that had polar bears and ice-hockey. It sounded like it would be very different to home.

When I first arrived, I heard about a lot of ski-resort work out west, which sounded like an adventure. Once I got there however, I realised that many backpackers were getting paid about $7 an hour to work a crazy number of hours. I decided to come back to Toronto and do some temp work to get me through the winter.

When the summer came I worked on organic farms in Quebec and in the Maritimes, as part of the WWOOF Canada programe (An international work initiative that offers food and accomodation in return for volunteer help on organic farms).

I returned to Ireland in 2006 when my visa was up. The Celtic Tiger was still roaring, but I really felt disconnected from the whole scene.

People were paying astronomical prices for badly built apartments in the middle of nowhere. I just couldn’t relate to any of it. I felt completely priced out of the lifestyle that I would have liked to have had in Dublin.

Almost immediately, I found myself thinking about going back to Canada. I had especially loved living in Toronto. So I applied to a graduate course in urban planning at the University of Toronto, and returned to Canada in 2007.

The course took two years, and after I graduated I was lucky to get a job almost straight away as a community planner, working on a federally-funded project to improve newcomer services and supports in a particular area of Toronto. The experience has been extremely meaningful to me on a personal level.

I can definitely see my own experiences reflected in some of the stories I have heard through my work, but have also become increasingly aware of my privilege as an English-speaking immigrant from a western background.

The newcomer community I work with is mainly non-Western, from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. Many of the people who live there are highly educated but are working in survival jobs instead of doing what they are qualified to do.

My Canadian qualification really helped me to get work, and my employer took a chance on me, as much of my previous experience was from Ireland. Nowadays, I often overhear conversations on the street between Irish people, talking about doing temp work to get by. That was my situation too in 2005.

Toronto is a great city and there is a lot of opportunity here, but it is also an extremely competitive place to look for work. Networking is an essential part of any job search here. Volunteering is extremely important too, and for immigrants, it can be a great way to get Canadian experience or develop new skills. When many Irish people first arrive in Canada to look for work, they are completely unaware that these things could really help them find a good job.

Toronto can be a challenging place to build a solid social network. It’s a big city and its very fast-paced.

I definitely found it hard for the first year or so. I spent many nights on my own watching TV because I didn’t have any friends to call or meet up with. It has taken time, but I have gradually built a good solid community for myself now, which has really made a difference to my experience here.

The longer I am away from Ireland, the more I value what I have at home, and I appreciate my family and friends a lot more. I’m 33 now, and I would love to think that I will go back to Ireland at some point in my life, but can’t see that happening for the foreseeable future. I would need to feel that there were real opportunities for me there. Many people I know in Ireland are saying that the country is ruined, and they can’t see that changing anytime soon. I feel very lucky to have got out when I did.

Toronto really is an amazing city. Living in a place with people from all over the world has resulted in ongoing cultural learning and adjustment for me. The city continues to provide great opportunities for me to really engage and learn from diverse people with diverse perspectives.

Living here has helped me to grow in ways that I couldn’t have imagined if I had stayed in Ireland. For now, I am happy to call Toronto home.

In conversation with Ciara Kenny.

For a Generation Emigration guide to moving to Toronoto, click here.

Sign In

Forgot Password?

Sign Up

The name that will appear beside your comments.

Have an account? Sign In

Forgot Password?

Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In or Sign Up

Thank you

You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.

Hello, .

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

Thank you for registering. Please check your email for the activation code.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 10 days from the date of publication.