I want to return home, but that means a new career
GENERATION EMIGRATION:On a shelf in my office in Brussels I keep a collection of flags from countries where I have spent more than two months working. I have 13 now, from all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to live and work in places that many Irish people have never seen.
My first job after I graduated from social science in UCD in 1992 was with a small policy-research company in Dublin. The work was interesting, but I was only 23 and wanted to travel. I came across Voluntary Services International, and one month later I started working in a refugee camp in Croatia, teaching English and doing crafts and sports with the kids. These families had fled the war in Bosnia, and many were traumatised. It was hard work, but I felt blessed to be there.
I spent a short time working in warehouses and bars in the US after that, but Bosnia was always on my mind. The war ended in 1995, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was mandated under the Dayton peace agreement to supervise the first post-war elections.
Two and a half thousand supervisors were required to assist, one for every polling station. Ads appeared in the Irish newspapers looking for volunteers. I applied and was selected.
From then until 2000, I spent most of my time living between Bosnia and Croatia, working for the OSCE and for the International Crisis Group think tank. It was a tough environment, the peace agreement in Bosnia was not working and there was little optimism for the future. I started getting sick regularly, suffering from headaches, back pain, fatigue. I finally realised it was my body’s way of saying “enough”.
I felt utterly burnt out when I returned to Limerick in 2001. I decided to do a Masters in international studies, to be “at home” for a while. I had plans to settle down, and went back to my old job doing social-policy evaluations for the Department of Finance, where I worked until 2005. I met some great people and enjoyed my work, but began to get restless again as my contract was coming to an end. The “Tiger kids” had taken over Dublin and I felt ready to move again.
Back on the road
I had continued to take unpaid leave to supervise elections with OSCE in places such as Hungary, Romania and Croatia for a month or so at a time. A team of about 15 of us would travel out to the country before an election, to analyse things such as voter registration, campaign finances, and any legal issues around their electoral system.