Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

‘Moving home was harder than I thought’

I imagined time would have stood still since I left, that friends and family would be hanging on my every word about my life abroad. I was wrong, writes Rachael Cahill

Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 07:45


Rachael Cahill

Emigration? We hear this word so much nowadays. Graduates and final years at career fairs get presented with it as the golden branch that their future life must balance on. Almost as if jumping ship is the only way to save the dream they held at leaving certificate.

I do not say this in condemnation. I say it with understanding. In 2010 I finished college and decided to return to Thailand where I had first experienced the joy of teaching English as a foreign language. I lived in a tiny village in the southern town of Krabi, as one of four westerners who would always be classes as “farang” (foreigner), not out of spite but because no matter what we would never be Thai.

My nickname was “Nok”, Thai for bird. My children aged 3-6 gave me it as they couldn’t understand how I “flew” over.

Throughout my time in Thailand, a country I will always recognise as my second home, I got to experience many pleasures, indulgences and also, most importantly, a re-education. I saw children who wanted so badly to learn and expand their knowledge slowly shrink away from education. They couldn’t keep up, they didn’t work enough, or worse – schools and teachers just passed them on and on until they fell out of the system at 16.

Some days I would sit with my friend App and talk about her own education experiences. App went to local primary schools and secondary schools- underfunded, teacher-stretched schools. She longed to be a teacher of English and from the age of 12 had attended the free English classes provided by the company I worked for. Her dedication and hard work, which finally granted her the opportunity to go to university, was the starting spark for me. App made me think, what is it I want to achieve in this life?

I moved north to Bangkok and took a job at the Village School in Sukhumvit, which caters for children of all races with learning, behaviour and developmental disorders. The focus is on life skills but each child has independent programmes put in place based on their needs. A speech and language specialist, an occupational therapist and a range of teachers and support staff run the school with love and compassion and it was here I realised I wanted to understand more. I wanted to know more about the psychology behind how people learn, and help children to achieve their potential.

But I could not do it alone. It was time to return home to Ireland where I would be surrounded by friends and family and their support would get me through my next undertaking, a return to college.

Coming home from abroad is hard. I had to sacrifice a lot. I left behind friends who had become like family, and have since missed weddings, the birth of children I long to see grow, and been absent when friends who have supported me have suffered loss.

I imagined time would have stood still for the two years I missed. This wasn’t so. Friends had grown up and moved on with their lives. Old friendships had disappeared as new relationships had sprung up. Even organising a group night out seemed almost impossible and I felt angry at my friends and myself for things being so different.

My family had also changed. Their time was less readily available. The late night chats I had so looked forward to with siblings was limited to those I lived with rather than the whole family. I missed hugely what had been before I left and I failed to understand or adapt to the changes.

I threw myself into college and continued to work part time, but I was struggling. The return to my parent’s house, learning to study again as well as work was too much. I eventually quit my job, as a personal illness of epilepsy along with the fatigue I was feeling had become uncontrollable. I began to feel down and cursed myself for returning.

Friends began to notice. They were concerned but that only angered me. But my friend Grace persevered and told me in the most wonderful way to “get over myself” – I had been feeling she had made no effort with me, but where was my effort? I had expected all my friends to come running and hang on my every word about my wonderful two years abroad, but I hadn’t been interested in their two years because they had only stayed in Ireland. In other words, I was rude. I didn’t take into account what it was like to watch friends leave and I never thought of the strength it took to stay and build a life in a country where all you hear is how wonderful it is elsewhere.

I now love being home. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first niece or nephew. My whole family for the first time in six years are living in the same country. I love hearing news not via email or Skype but face to face. I love being able to casually call up an old friend to go for a walk and a chat.

Coming home is humbling. It reminds you that you cannot just up and leave a life. To those that have the strength to embark on the journey of starting from scratch and building a life elsewhere I applaud you, for I know about those lonely nights where all you want is your mammy and a cup of tea. But to those who stay, I bow down to you. You have managed to continue working towards your dream even though it seems this recession is never ending. You have never given up hope, and that is impressive.