My emigration advice: Just get on with it
Leaving home is scary but worth it, writes Sinéad Lee in Boston
As with most 20-something Irish of my generation, emigration isn’t a dirty word for me. Influenced by the sheer volume of my peers leaving, before I realised I wanted to move abroad myself, I was leaving the American embassy with a successful visa application and trying to fit 26 years into two (over-sized) suitcases.
I found out quite quickly that emigration is scary. As soon as you step off that plane, you are by yourself. No one knows you, your history, or what song is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
In that first hour in my new country of residence I learned the most important life lesson that has helped me get through the last six months: Just get on with it. Luggage delayed? Whatever. Immigration officer can’t pronounce your name and assumes you’re illegal? Just smile. Can’t lift your suitcases into the taxi without looking like a Russian weight-lifter? Who cares? Google Maps sends you to the wrong side of the city? Have a one minute sob (I blame the jet-lag and the not being used to the giant yellow thing in the sky), pull up your socks and ask for directions from that weird looking shop that looks like it may sell illegal substances.
Starting your social life from scratch is not easy as a 26-year-old in a new city. You’ve missed out on four vital social-life pillars; childhood friends, school friends, college and if you’re lucky (I was), you can throw in some work friends as well. It turns out that once formed, these groups are nearly impossible to infiltrate. It feels like your first day in primary school, except the other kids all went to the same playschool and have play-dates with each other every weekend. It’s tough, and there have been a lot of awkward social situations I was not mentally prepared for. I would give up chocolate for a year just to have one of my friends here for a week.
No matter how busy you are, things will happen that make you wish time travel was real. Like the call that is every emigrants worst nightmare; a sick family member. Nothing can prepare you for the shock of that, of being in a city by yourself when you receive the worst phone call of your life. Amusing things too; like being in a place where everyone speaks the same language as you but it’s completely different. Where your name is a source of confusion and you’re fighting a futile battle in keeping the fada. Having to explain you’re not looking for a husband for a visa. Paying $10 for Flanavan’s porridge because you like eating breakfast that doesn’t give you a sugar high.
But if I could go back in time knowing what I know now about the whole experience and the bad sides of it, I would do it all again. Am I grateful to those around me who have been helpful and supportive, especially to my parents who encouraged me to follow my dreams at the expense of knowing I would not be in the same country as them. More than they will ever know.
To those who are doing or thinking of making a move like mine, I would say, bring your Father Ted DVDs. Try to cook more often – a diet of pizza, cookies and beer will eventually catch up with you. Find a local friend to be your English-to-English translator (it turns out that asking someone “what’s the craic” is not a universally socially acceptable phrase). Accept you will have days when you will you wonder if you’ve made the right move – pull up your socks and get on with it.
And try to keep your fada.