‘The main reason I learned English so fast was I felt so alone’

New to the Parish: A young Moldovan woman (25) cried every day after moving to Ireland

Trinca Mitru in Dublin. “Now that we’ve moved into Dublin, it’s very good. Here I do more things and go out.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Trinca Mitru in Dublin. “Now that we’ve moved into Dublin, it’s very good. Here I do more things and go out.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Tinca Mitru’s original plan was to find work in Athy. Arriving in Ireland without a word of English, the recent graduate knew she would struggle to secure employment. However, her brother-in-law, who had moved to Ireland two years previously, assured her that friends living in Kildare would help her find a job. The rent was cheaper in Athy and Mitru could stay with a Moldovan family until she found her feet.

“The first month I spent every day in that house. My sister’s husband thought they could help me find work, but there was no chance because there are not many opportunities in that town. I felt very depressed. I was crying every day. My sister’s husband was a man; I wasn’t able to speak to him about my problems.”

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment, searching for the words to describe the loneliness that defined her initial weeks and months in Ireland. As a child she often imagined moving abroad to visit countries far from her modest home in the city of Nisporeni in central Moldova. She thought about the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Moldovans who moved abroad seeking employment, including her father, who left for Italy when she was a little girl.

“In Moldova so many people move abroad. Sometimes one family member leaves and sends money back home to build a nice house. Then they come back and live in the house for a while but see life is not good and leave again. They think ‘I will just go abroad to make money and then I’ll come back’. But many leave again.”

Cafe job

She was 14 when her mother died. Her grandmother assumed the parenting role along with her two older sisters who also cared for their youngest sibling. It was during her final year of university studying psychology and early education that her sister suggested she move to Ireland after graduation.

Most of Mitru’s friends had moved to Italy or the UK, and she knew nothing about Ireland. But with limited opportunities at home, she decided to accept the offer, and in October 2016 she arrived in Ireland.

Her brother-in-law eventually convinced the owner of a coffee shop in Dublin to give her a trial. With no English, the only place she could work was in the kitchen washing dishes.

“She gave me two to three hours of training, and I think she liked me. She told me I could stay longer and would pay me. I was so happy, because it’s very hard to find a place to work when you don’t speak English.”

She moved from Athy to Dún Laoghaire, where she lived in a house with 14 other people. “Most of them were from Ukraine. Sometimes we had fun but most of the time it wasn’t great. The kitchen was common, and everyone wanted to cook when they finished work. There was food and plates and glasses everywhere.”

Learning English

Determined to build her language skills so she could communicate with her colleagues, Mitru used YouTube tutorials to learn English. “When I started work I was confused, it was all so new for me – the country, the language. But I listened and tried to learn every day. When my English got a little better, the owner taught me about the food in the kitchen.

“I think the main reason I learned so fast was I felt so alone and there was no one for me to speak to. Everybody was speaking English, so I had to learn. I had to make friends.”

As her English progressed, she began chatting with waitresses in the coffee shop. “We’ve become friends now and we go out sometimes. They’re from Argentina, Australia, France and Poland. They’ve helped me to feel a lot better.”

Earlier this summer her sister and her sister’s children moved to Dublin. Mitru now lives with the family in a house in the city centre. She knew the move would be difficult for her sister and warned her of the culture shock she would experience on arrival.

“I said it will be very hard at the start, staying at home with two kids. Yes, you will go to the park, but it’s not like in our country when you go out in the street and know everybody. It will be very difficult, you should know that. But she said ‘No, I want to leave. I want to be there with you.’

“At first she was saying ‘I’m so good, I will never complain about this’. But a few days ago she started to realise how hard it is. I help her because she doesn’t know any English. She’s trying to learn but it’s not so easy with two kids. She has nowhere she can practise.”

Mitru brought her sister to the local school, where they enrolled the children for September. She likes spending time with the family in the evenings but also enjoys the freedom of going out with friends after work and getting to know Dublin.

“When I first moved here I was in Athy and it was so small. Then I moved to Dún Laoghaire and it gave me another view of the country. Now that we’ve moved into Dublin, it’s very good. Here I do more things and go out.”

Point of no return

Asked if she is happy to live in Ireland, she hesitates before answering. “Now, yes. Now that I know some English and can speak to my friends.”

When she first arrived here, her plan was to save money so she could return to Moldova. Nearly a year later, she’s not so sure. “At first I thought I could buy a house in the capital in Moldova. But now I don’t know. I don’t think I will go back to live there soon.”

Before leaving Moldova, Mitru worked part time in a school for children with special needs. She hopes that some day she can use the skills she developed back home to work with children in Ireland.

“I want to have a good job and work in something like education. I like my job at the cafe but I can’t work there for life. I want to save enough money to have my own house.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish