‘Montreal is fantastic . . . it’s a wonderful place’
Finding your niche can be difficult, but this city has provided that opportunity
Emlyn Nardone: “People don’t pick Montreal. They’re afraid of the French thing.”
When Emlyn Nardone left Ireland, it was with a desire to expand his creative horizons. After seven years teaching Marxist philosophy at the University of Galway, he was thirsting for change. So, he headed for laid-back Montreal, known for its affordable rents and bohemian lifestyle.
A couple of years on, his life could not be more different. Now working for a fashion magazine, he is also trying his hand at acting. It’s a dramatic change of direction for the Limerick lad.
Nardone had already worked abroad before entering academia. After studying philosophy, politics and economics at Aberdeen University in Scotland, he took a TEFL course. Half Italian, he worked in Bologna, learning the language while teaching English.
Keen to further his education in a European context, he moved to Belgium to take a masters in international relations at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. At this point, a career in one of the EU institutions or in an international organisation seemed a possibility.
But first there was more travelling to be done. With his TEFL, Nardone went on to teach in the postcard-perfect setting of Trentino Alto Adige for six months, taking in breathtaking views of Lake Garda from the Italian Alps.
He’d just got word of a job in Shanghai, planning to take the Trans-Siberian Express through Russia and Mongolia to China, when his mother fell seriously ill. He returned home to Ireland, where he stayed for a few months.
Intending to remain in Ireland, he embarked on a PhD at the University of Galway. His subject: Marxism as a philosophical basis for examining capitalism. The Marxist perspective, he says, is interesting since it covers politics, economics, sociology and psychology. “It’s really broad.”
Nardone plunged headlong into academia, studying the emergence of global capitalism and the accompanying rise of borderless institutions and elites. “Add them all up, it’s like a state,” he says. “What we were writing about fitted in very well with the world economic crisis.”
For seven years, he worked on his PhD and lectured. And while his life was pleasant enough, with a house in west Clare and plentiful surfing opportunities on days off, there was a nagging sense that he’d taken a wrong fork somewhere.
Reviewed options “It just wasn’t me,” he says. “I didn’t want to be an academic. My PhD was dragging on forever. My motivation was very low.”
Exploring new options, he found himself at a careers fair in Dublin, where he was handed a pamphlet on Canadian working visas. “I thought I was too old. But I applied when I was 34, got the visa and decided to go to French Montreal. I had no idea what I would do. I didn’t know anyone.”
He arrived just as the Canadian winter was underway. “Winter was just a novelty. I thought if I liked it in winter, I’d love it in summer,” he says.
He hadn’t intended on looking up fellow Irish expats, but serendipity led him to the heart of the Irish community. An ex-girlfriend who had couch-surfed in Montreal happened upon a Facebook post advertising for temporary administrative help in a local publishing firm.
In between photocopying and scanning documents, he met accountant Paul Dunne, head of Montreal’s St Patrick’s Society. Together, they set up Montreal’s Immigrant Integration Initiative to help new arrivals find work.
“People don’t pick Montreal. They’re afraid of the French thing. They’re afraid of the economy. So, they all end up going west. We want to tell people before they arrive that it’s actually an option, that they should think about it,” he says.
After helping Dunne’s accountancy firm for a while, he found work with Montreal fashion magazine 192. A typical day might mean attending advertising meetings or organising photo shoots.
It’s worlds removed from Marxism but, in Montreal, nobody bats an eyelid. “You meet people and they’ll just throw you in at the deep end. It doesn’t really matter if you have experience here. If they like you and see you have good ideas, they’ll give you a chance.”
Nardone forsees staying here for the duration. “Montreal is fantastic for creativity. That’s why it’s a wonderful place. I have an apartment with a beautiful view and it’s not expensive. A lot of people escape here and pursue a creative career. Sometimes in Ireland when you do that, you can be laughed at. Here, it’s perfectly normal.”