I want to return home, but that means a new career
One boss of mine recommended me to the UN, where my first job was assisting with the organisation of the Liberian elections in 2005, which resulted in the first democratically elected female president in Africa. Since then, I have lived in Romania, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia, Sudan and Lebanon, working as an electoral assistance adviser for the UN and the EU. At the beginning of 2011 I moved to Brussels, where I am still based.
When a country applies to the UN for help with their elections, I travel out to analyse any current systems that are in place, make recommendations, and design a programme of assistance. I liaise with the EU and other bilateral aid donors to raise the money needed to implement the plan.
Over the past two weeks I have been to Botswana, Mozambique and Lebanon, with just one night in Brussels between flights. Moving around so often means I have to be socially adaptable and make new friends quickly. I have met some fabulous people – many of them Irish – in the places I have lived over the years. Strangely enough, the smaller and more isolated the country, the easier it sometimes is to make friends, as your “circle” is smaller.
The Irish always find each other. The young ones often say “I didn’t come to Africa to hang out with Irish people”, and I respect that. But the reality is, the way of life and the difference in your economic circumstances is so different in some of these countries that the vast majority of people become friends with other expats who are in a similar position.
As I get older, my perspective on my work versus social life is changing. When you are younger, you arrive in a new place full of excitement and adrenalin, attempting to visit every bar every night. But in your 40s, the focus on work and what you are actually in that country to achieve, becomes sharper. Paradoxically, I am also looking for more of a work-life balance. It is no secret that your personal life suffers when you live this kind of existence. I see many colleagues single or separated.
Because I travel so much, I hadn’t felt integrated in Brussels life since I moved here. But watching the hurling quarter-finals two months ago, I got chatting to some Limerick girls involved with the Belgium GAA Club. I posted on the Facebook page to ask, jokingly, if they needed a 42-year-old goal keeper. Within 20 minutes they had replied and I was at training the next day. It amazes me away how organised the GAA scene in Europe is, how committed everyone is, and how welcome they make everyone feel.