‘Ireland appeared to be in technicolour again when I came back’
Returning emigrants share their experiences after survey cites evidence of ‘reverse culture shock’
Tough transition: Eamonn Blaney moved from Oman back to Dublin and found things were not as good as he had expected
A new survey of Irish people who have recently returned from abroad, conducted by Crosscare Migrant Project found that reintegrating into Irish society after a period of emigration was a bigger challenge than many expected, with one-in-five citing it as a significant challenge.
Florist and landscape architect
Moved to London 2011; returned to Ireland 2016
Orlagh Wright spent six months thinking about whether she should move back to Ireland or not. Unemployment was a catalyst in arriving at a decision. “I had lost my job and was struggling to find another. A lot of my friends had already left and I felt like I was the only one left behind.”
Arriving back in Ireland, Wright was struck by the changes that had taken place in her absence. “The country appeared to be in technicolour again when I came back. It felt very grey and lacking in hope for the future when I left. But I’m glad to see the changes here and to see that people are returning home with a new outlook and fresh ideas.”
Getting a job was a priority for Wright on her return. “It was a leap of faith. I was looking for a couple of months, but it all came good in the end.” She is currently working as a freelance florist and hopes to open her own business, which she plans to call Wild Thing I Love You.
Finding somewhere to live was not an issue for Wright. “I was very lucky that I was able to buy a place just before I moved home.” She has not bought a car since her return, but has begun looking for insurance, and her seven years out of the country are a factor in the prices she is being quoted. “So far, the insurance is more expensive than the car, as I have lost my no claims.”
Being in close proximity to family members is something that most returning emigrants are grateful for, but Wright had enjoyed her freedom from family ties. “I struggled with family in the beginning as I was so used to being anonymous and all my free time being mine for so many years. I guess they would have just liked to have seen more of me in the first few months.”
Returning emigrants have spoken of “reverse culture shock” and Wright says that she had to readjust to life back home. “Initially I found it a bit of a shock, with the change of pace. Dublin felt like it was in slow motion for the first while, but now that I’ve settled, I see that this is a wonderful thing.”
Wright is happy about her move home. “I have definitely made the right decision. I was struggling to keep my head above water in London, earning barely enough to stay there. I was trapped, in a way. I never had any money to save at the end of the month ... everything went on trying to exist in London.
“So far, my quality of life has greatly improved, and the time I spend with friends now is more about quality than quantity.”
Moved to Oman in 2011; returned to Ireland in January 2015
Eamonn Blaney from Howth in Co Dublin was chief executive of a quarrying company based in Muscat, before returning to Ireland, encouraged by what he calls “the alleged economic recovery”.
Things were not as he had hoped, however. “Coming back to Ireland was like walking into a parallel universe where people’s quality of life was absolutely atrocious and yet the majority seemed resigned to this,” he says.
“I did not have a job to come back to and have since made approximately 300 job applications, for both senior and very junior posts, all to no avail. It is for these reasons that I decided to return to education and am presently completing a degree in digital technology.”
Without a permanent job, Blaney says he “found it impossible to find accommodation”, and without an address there were further obstacles in his way. “If you are a refugee or migrant, you can get the gardai to give you a form to say that you are resident at a given address. This facility, however, is not extended to Irish citizens. Consequently, opening a bank account or registering with the department of social protection took months.”
There was an upside to being back in Ireland, however. “Thanks to social media, coming back home was an absolute joy, and reconnecting with old friends and family was fantastic. After all, that’s what home is all about.”
Blaney has undoubtedly experienced the tougher side to returning to Ireland, and he feels that people are not sympathetic to his plight. “This is a difficult country to live in for anybody, unless they have a substantial amount of money or very little debt. The gap between the haves and the have-nots appears to have widened considerably.”
But despite the difficulties he is having on his return, he is glad he took the opportunity to work in Oman. “Living abroad was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. At times it was difficult and certainly lonely but I got to see so much and meet so many wonderful people from different cultures. I would seriously consider returning to the Middle East. There is a sense of hope, vibrancy and belief that everything is possible, and this is something which sadly, I do not see in Ireland.”
Corporate travel consultant
Moved to New York in 2010; returned to Ireland in December 2016
Emily Conway, from Goatstown in Dublin, is getting used to living back at home, with her parents. She spent almost seven years in New York, where she worked with Ultramar Travel Management. She is still working for the same company, but is now Dublin-based.
“I had always planned to return to Ireland, but I was enjoying life in New York so much I just kept deciding to stay on. But when I turned 30, I felt if I didn’t move back soon, I could end up staying in the States forever, and I wanted to be close to my family.
Once she had finally decided to return to Ireland, Conway took her time arranging her move. “After I made the decision I stayed another year or so in New York, which meant I got to see and do nearly everything I had wanted to do in the US, like go to Coachella, visits cities I hadn’t yet made it to, such as Austin and Chicago.”
Conway was fortunate enough to bring a job back with her when she returned. But she would have come anyway. “I was part of a group in New York called the Irish Network New York City and was lucky enough to be at an event with President Higgins a number of years ago, and I remember the last thing he said to the group was along the lines of ‘Enjoy your time in the US, have fun, learn and absorb everything and then come back to us, Ireland will be waiting with open arms’.”
So is it difficult to adjust to life back home? “I wouldn’t say difficult, just different, and it takes time to adjust to those differences. In New York, there was something on every night of the week, if you wanted to do something, whether it be going to an event of some kind, drinks with friends, work drinks, outdoor cinemas and so on, there were always people around to go out with.
“Sometimes I think that in Ireland, social life starts on a Thursday and ends on a Sunday, which can take some getting used to. But I’m starting to enjoy the quieter life – and the craziness of New York was something I had started to not like so much.”
Leaving friends and colleagues behind is a sad reality for many returning emigrants, but Conway has no regrets. “I have an amazing group of friends out there, that will be friends for life, and I miss them terribly, but with work I get to go back to New York a number of times a year, which is a huge bonus as I do miss it and my friends and colleagues a lot.”
Moved to Vancouver in 2009; returned to Ireland in 2016
Rachel Healy, from Blackrock in Co Louth, is now living in Dublin with her husband Simon and son Max, and is expecting her second child. Having a family was a key factor in her decision to return to Ireland from Vancouver.
“When our first child came along, it spurred us on to finally make the decision to come home. We wanted Max to grow up around family and we needed the support because abroad, aside from friends, you really are on your own.
“Ironically, it was much harder and more expensive to get our dog home than our baby, but our first priority was applying for his PPS number and child allowance.”
Since coming home, the couple have struggled to find jobs and pick up their careers again, but Healy recently experienced a change of fortune. “I found it more difficult than expected to find a suitable job because pay was nothing compared to Canada and my international experience didn’t necessarily work in my favour, but I was recently invited on to Today FM to discuss the transition and two employers called with marketing roles – so I’m starting my dream job next week!”
Healy and her family are glad they came back, and are staying put this time. “There are days, of course, when you wonder if you did the right thing for your family and you miss your great life abroad. But we don’t regret our decision because we love this country and we belong here. You can go anywhere in the world, but there’s just something about Ireland that draws you back in. It’s like nowhere else, like it or not.
“I know a lot of people who are emigrating again because it’s not what they expected here and they just can’t settle, but that’s not an option for us anymore. We couldn’t uproot our lives all over again.”
But that doesn't mean Healy won't be helping others to make the decision to stay or come home. "Whilelooking for work and minding my toddler, I wrote my first book, in under three months, on my emigration experience. It is a creative non-fiction provisionally titled Time To Come Home, which I am hoping to get published."