We moved thousands of miles from home but we are happy in Ireland

New to The Parish: Yi Huang arrived from China in 2010

Yi Huang with her son, Oisín, and her mother, Li Li, who is on a visit from China. Photograph: Eric Luke

Yi Huang with her son, Oisín, and her mother, Li Li, who is on a visit from China. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Chinese parents are obsessed with their grandchildren and most of them “go mental” if their kids reach a certain age and still don’t have children of their own, says Yi Huang. However, this generation’s Chinese grandparents are the parents of the one-child policy. They only have one chance of becoming grandparents.

She is an only child and she often reflects on the thousands of miles that separate her parents in the Hubei province and her three-year-old son Oisín in Portlaoise. She is happy to live in Ireland but the thought of her parents growing old so far away from her weighs heavily.

Seven years ago she was accepted through an exchange programme at her university in Shanghai to spend a year studying at the University of Limerick. She knew very little about Ireland and asked a Malaysian friend who had travelled abroad for advice.

“I thought of her as an open-minded person so I asked her, ‘What do you think of Ireland?’ She said she would recommend the place because it’s very quiet and peaceful so you can focus on your studies. If you go to London or Paris you might end up doing loads of travelling and touristy things. I wanted to go somewhere where I could pay attention to what I was doing.”

I think western culture is more accommodating and gives you more space, flexibility and privacy”

Huang’s parents were supportive of her decision to spend a year abroad as they hoped she would move on to a PhD once she completed her studies.

She arrived in Ireland in 2010 and began studying at the University of Limerick. She describes the campus in Castletroy as “very impressive” and says it reminded her of images she’d seen of American universities. “There’s loads of green land and it’s a very consistent architecture style. It’s also isolated from the city itself, so all the people you met there were professors, scholars or students.”

Her father struggled to come to terms with her marriage to somebody on the other side of the world

Work and marriage

During her year in Limerick, she met and began dating an Irish man. When she had completed her year of studies she decided to apply for a job in Ireland. Her relationship was going well, but her decision to stay was based on professional goals and not personal reasons.

“I stayed in Ireland for the job. I wouldn’t choose a life where you don’t have a career but where you just have family life. I think some people don’t mind that but I would prefer to have my work as an important part of my life.”

She moved to Dublin after she was offered a job in financial risk management and was joined by her boyfriend, who also moved to the capital for work. In 2013 the couple were married in a small ceremony in Ireland followed by a larger wedding in China. Culturally, there was an obligation for her to return home and hold a large celebration for her friends and family in China. Her mother was very accepting of her decision to marry an Irish man. Her father, however, struggled to come to terms with her marriage to somebody on the other side of the world.

“My father disagrees but he won’t take any action against it. I think most Chinese parents just want their children to stay around, and preferably their child’s spouse should be from the surrounding areas.”

The State’s childcare system is “not the most supportive” or family-friendly for working parents, Huang says 

Soon after Oisín was born, Huang’s mother came to visit. The application for a visa was a long and arduous process but she was eventually given a two-year multi-entry visa, meaning she could visit Ireland for a maximum of three months at a time. However, she says she would like to see the Government introduce a visa system similar to the UK whereby parents visiting their grandchildren can apply to stay for six months at a time.

State childcare

She is very appreciative of the maternity support she received around the time of Oisín’s birth but says the State’s childcare system is “not the most supportive” or family-friendly for working parents. The early childhood care and education scheme only offers 3½ hours of playschool per day, and even when Oisín begins school, he will still be finished in the early afternoon, she says.

She says that if her parents could spend more time in Ireland, it would significantly alleviate the burden of childcare costs. It would also give her parents a chance to really get to know their only grandchild.

“If I had a childminder or had after-school options I would still want Oisín to spend time with his family and relatives rather than with a service provider. That’s why I think it’s ideal for my parents to come to stay with us; we benefit from it, they benefit from it, Oisín benefits from it and everyone is happy.”

In terms of innovation and leadership, I don’t think Chinese communities do as well as other countries

She also worries that her parents will struggle with the 13-hour flight from China to Ireland as they grow older. “This issue is not very apparent if the grandparents are still young and healthy like my parents. But I have friends with parents who are older or they have health conditions. We don’t have brothers and sisters, and family is a fundamental part of the Chinese culture.”

Asked if she would consider returning to China with her family, she says she prefers the western education system for her son.

“I think the western way is better because you don’t have to spend all your time studying. In China you benefit from strong mathematical skills and you develop good self-control, which is important when you start to work.

“But in terms of innovation and leadership, I don’t think Chinese communities do as well as other countries. The culture of education here focuses on your literacy, your personality and your social skills, so you end up becoming a leadership-type person.”

She thinks her Irish family would struggle to integrate into Chinese society. “I think it’s easier for Chinese people to integrate and get used to western culture than a westerner in China. I think western culture is more accommodating and gives you more space, flexibility and privacy.”

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

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