Ciara Kenny

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

Moving home takes courage and resilience

The sense of isolation returning from Brussels was overwhelming, one mother writes

Thu, May 2, 2013, 01:00


Aran O’Driscoll

I am “home” 18 months now and let me tell you, moving back to Ireland is not for sissies. You need to be resilient, organised and determined to make it work. Having lived abroad for just short of a decade, I was unprepared for the culture-shock I would experience upon my return.

Back in the summer of 2002 my husband was offered a great job in Brussels, Belgium. We had already been getting itchy feet, so we thought about the decision to leave Ireland for about five minutes before saying yes and jumping around the kitchen with excitement. We had only been married three years and had no kids, so the sense of adventure was very real. We booked our flights, the movers packed our boxes and we rented out our house.

My father-in-law drove us to Shannon on the day we left. I can still remember, after the dawn pick-up, looking out the back window of his car as I waved goodbye to my mother. She was holding on to the side of the front door for support, in floods of tears. The scene at Shannon airport itself was no better. My father-in-law cried saying goodbye to us and we were a pair of blubbering wrecks as we forced down our last decent fry-up in the departures lounge. But despite the sad goodbyes, very shortly after arriving in Brussels, we knew we loved it and that we would be staying for as long as we could. We both started jobs we loved, travelled every chance we got and at the end of the first year, bought a house. By year two we had started a family.

Fast forward nine years and two kids later, my husband’s contract was coming to an end, so moving back to Cork was imminent. The movers packed up the boxes once more, we boarded our flight with our little family and returned “home”. Well, for us it was coming home but for our two boys, then aged 3 and 5, it was emigrating. They were born in Belgium, spoke fluent French and while they were aware of their Irish nationality, there were Europeans through and through. I had sleepless nights in the run up to the move, worrying about how they’d settle in, if they’d settle in. I needn’t have worried.

Our youngest went into a nursery school and our eldest began senior infants. We chose a naionra and a Gaelscoil, both excellent schools, as we wanted the boys to have a strong sense of being Irish. They were blessed with truly amazing teachers, who played a huge role in enabling the boys to flourish. I am eternally grateful those women for their kindness and professionalism.

After the first six weeks, during a break in Killarney, I asked they boys how they thought it was all going. “Well,” said the 5-year-old, “it’s going well. We’re getting used to it here, but it’s going to take you and Daddy a while longer.” Out of the mouths of babes!

I had been so focused on the kids, I hadn’t worried about us grown-ups. We were unprepared for the black cloud of the recession that hung over everything, the very basic public transport system and the unbelievable cost of medical care. In Belgium a 20-minute GP visit costs €28 and 30-minute visit to a consultant costs €60. My husband was rendered speechless on the first Irish GP visit with our eldest, when he was charged €60 for the consultation and the spent a further €40 in the pharmacy.

I was the one, however, who experienced the greatest upheaval. On our return, I became a stay-at-home mum. I went from working full-time in an international, multicultural environment, on a staff of 350, to sitting in the kitchen by myself. This was something I had dreamed of when I was a busy working mum, juggling everything, and while I loved he precious time I now had with my boys, the reality of not working came as a shock.

The sense of isolation was overwhelming and I missed my life in Brussels.

At 39 years of age, I had to start making new friends. A skill that was somewhat rusty. Some of my old friends, neighbours and family were lifelines with invites to coffee-mornings, nights out and much-needed yoga classes, while others literally said “don’t expect to pick up where you left off ten years ago…” They had moved on.

But as the last 18 months have passed, I have rediscovered all that is truly wonderful about living in Ireland. I love the shared cultural background. I know it’s a cliché, but the craic and the friendliness exists nowhere else. The “sure it’ll be grand” attitude that used to drive me crazy is what makes this place so special to me now. No matter what life throws at you – the little challenges and the big ones – it will all be grand. It is a phrase that speaks to our courage and strength – we will survive it all and still come out smiling, having a laugh.