Ciara Kenny

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

Leaving France behind

Moving back to Dublin after a short stint abroad, Aileen Donegan writes about her decision to come home to find work

Tue, Jan 7, 2014, 12:00


Aileen Donegan

The week before Christmas I went cycling around the city of Strasbourg saying goodbye to my job, my new friends, my flat, and some of the cafés and pubs I frequented over the last eight months there. I wanted to experience the city one last time; I was leaving France for an Irish Christmas and would not return.

Unlike many young people from Ireland I did not feel forced to leave. I had nothing holding me back; no debt, no children, and no job. I am one of the lucky ones who can choose to leave willfully, and I appreciate this every time I make a trip back home and out again.

In May last year I was offered a great position in the Youth Department of the Council of Europe. I would work on a youth campaign called the No Hate Speech Movement; a project empowering young people to stand up to online hate speech and cyber intimidation. Though unrelated to my career goal – news reporting – I chose to take on the role. With how things were going in Ireland – and being unemployed for the first time – I knew it would have been foolish to say no.

Just under three weeks after the offer I flew Ryanair to Strasbourg, via London Stansted. The next few weeks would be full of stress. But travelling alone to Strasbourg, and a handful of other major European cities in my time away, would slowly carve away my typically Irish low self-esteem and replace it with self-reliance.

I’ve been that fool who holds everyone up going through security because I didn’t take the laptop out (and I somehow always manage to have a bottle of water on me going through); my suitcase has been embarrassingly overweight; finding a flat has been a certain kind of hell; and I was often stressed at departures and alone at arrivals. I wished my dad were around so we could talk over tea about nothing of significance, with Fair City on in the background.

My experiences abroad have been mostly pleasant though and I’m grateful to have had the opportunities to use French again, to pick up a bit of Russian, and to get fit by cycling everywhere. I’ve met so many great people across Europe and beyond. What I value most is the fact that since leaving Ireland I’ve felt more Irish.

Frankly, I have never felt so Irish in my life. In Strasbourg I would go giddy at the sight of an Irish flag or a shamrock (mostly on or near Irish pubs in the city). I ventured down to Pub Molly Malone’s on Place d’Austerlitz on my first week in the new surroundings, but left disappointed; no Irish punters. Days later I found myself hanging around The Dubliners on Rue de Vieux Marché, lightly stalking a young barman because he was obviously from Dublin.

By my second contract in work, which began in September, I knew I didn’t want to continue in France into 2014 – though it would have been possible to linger on. As a young journalist trying to find my feet, feeling ‘away’ from Irish news (and programmes like Tonight with Vincent Browne and Prime Time) is not ideal.

Since deciding to move back home again I expect, in the very least, to work for a pittance and live off my savings – I have the luxury of doing that for a while. I shouldn’t be picky with job applications because I know I would be lucky to find any work here at all. But being young and constantly settling for ‘any job possible’ is not good enough any more. After years of secondary and third level education I, as well as most young people, am tired of settling for a job for the sake of ‘having a job’. I want to thrive, not get by.

I know my emigration story hasn’t lasted long, and that’s probably why I view emigration so positively. If things don’t work out here, which is very likely, I imagine I will jet off again. For now I will give home another chance. On 20th December I arrived in Dublin on a very turbulent Aer Lingus flight, is that a sign of the bumpy road that lies ahead? I don’t know. I’m thrilled to be back though and my dad is delighted too.