Ciara Kenny

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10 things to consider when moving abroad: by a long-term emigrant

Patrick McKenna, who left Ireland for Canada 35 years ago, suggests a list of questions people should ask themselves when they are considering emigration

Patrick McKenna

Tue, Feb 26, 2013, 13:18


Patrick McKenna

This post is inspired by Michelle bCarpenter’s article Disappointed by the Australian dream, and the comments it generated.

My goal is to share my cautionary thoughts on emigration to the English speaking “New World” destination: Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada. They seem familiar – because of the shared language and their long history of inward Irish migration – but they must be handled with care. In terms of geography, climate, topography, and especially, culture, they are very different from contemporary Ireland.

I developed the ten questions listed below to help you explore your thoughts about emigration in general and to these destinations (when I say emigration I mean an intent to settle in to work and live for, say, five years or more). The questions may complement your due diligence researching job prospects, taxes, cost of living, property prices, rentals and so on. So here goes:

1. Since your emigration project is economic, have you estimated its long-term economic gain, and if not, how do you know your project will leave you better off than you would have been by staying home?

2. How long do you intend to stay away: 2-3 years, 5-10 years, and do you have a fail safe strategy to get you out before you slip by the point of no return, and realise you can ever go home again?

3. What sort of cultural, dietary, language, personal, social, professional, and other, changes, do you think will be required from you (and your family) as you make a new life in the new country? (How good are you with change?)

4. How do you feel about changing your way of speaking, your accent, sense of humour, your values, and all those things that make you Irish?

5. If you insist on remaining as Irish as you ever were, how on earth will you ever fit in completely?

6. If you do decide to loose your Irishness how will you feel about saying “adieu” to it, your native culture, history, values and so on?

7. How do you feel about your kids growing up non-Irish, and, when they become adults, possibly migrating with their own kids, to some far removed region of the continent you brought them to?

8. Since a job for life is no longer a reality, how do you feel about abandoning what has made you what you are, in exchange for something that is increasingly short term and precarious?

9. You plan to stay for five years, but one thing leads to another and the next thing you know you’re retiring with 30 years ahead of you (thanks to increased longevity), with, perhaps, unresolved identity and homesickness issues (it does happen, believe me): what do you do then?

10. Are you in it (emigration) for the money only, or do you have a plan, or desire, to fall in love with the new place and accomplish some personal transformation? (These are highly recommended to help keep you afloat during the inevitable business cycle downturns and general reversals of fortune.)

Obviously, there are no right or wrong answers! In fact the questions may seem to make no sense at all. When I was a 25-year-old would-be emigrant they certainly wouldn’t have. However they are an honest distillate of my experience of 38 years as an emigrant, working and living in French in Quebec, along with extended stays in Africa, Mexico, Bulgaria, and frequent travel to the US, UK and Europe.

They may help you get beyond the important but short term “once I get a job I’ll be OK” to a longer-term view of your emigration project.

Patrick McKenna is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration. His previous articles include Once, I was Irish; now I am just ‘me’, When you get ‘that’ call, Living with Persistent Immigration Homesickness for 34 years, and most recently, his research about Irish immigrants in the US in the 19th century, When the Irish became white.

What questions would you add to the list, from your own experience of emigration?