Ciara Kenny

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

‘Life in America is better’

Leaving loved ones behind to start a new life elsewhere requires great incentive, writes Shaun Leonard

Sat, Jan 25, 2014, 01:00


Shaun Leonard

Life in America is better. The people are happier, everything costs less and adventures abound. Returning home for Christmas, one could be forgiven for thinking that the pubs had gotten more crowded, the bankers more corrupt and the weather had finally descended into the final stages of the apocalypse. For anyone following this line of thought too closely and nodding their head with reckless abandon, there are a few certain filters we all need to keep in mind.

The decision to emigrate is a big one, made (hopefully) with great care. To leave one’s loved ones behind requires great incentive, be it greener economic pastures or a chance at a better education.

For example, I emigrated last August to start a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I must admit, returning home for Christmas, Galway seemed pale by comparison. This was no fault of home. It was the simple difference between something new and something familiar.

When someone chooses to move to a different country they are embarking on a journey into the unknown, fraught with the perils of failure but hoping for success. Starting a new life is the most surefire way to feel alive. This sense of manifest destiny is readily embodied by America’s Old West, though I’d like to think that it is still a frontier filled with opportunity.

When a momentous choice has been made, returning home is sure to feel impermanent and in many ways a step backwards. It’s important to remember the escapades already undertaken and to spend time with your fellow adventurers because who knows when you’ll see them again? What’s more, who’s to say there aren’t still adventures waiting in the waters of Blackrock or the snug of the Róisín Dubh?

As for happier people, I think we’ve missed a trick. Every bus driver, bank clerk and barman we see when we’re home for Christmas is home for Christmas too. Everyone has the same stress and responsibility of the holidays, and with the weather the way it is I hold nothing against any sour-faced service industry member I saw in December. It probably helps that wait-staff in the US rely on their smiles for tips, and well, the weather won’t be changing anytime soon. It would be unseemly to let something like a Status Red weather warning ruin our enjoyment of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Worse still, to think that life can be made that much better or worse by the waxing or waning of the sun and moon. Take it from someone who’s lived in the desert for the past four months – the wet is worth it for Ireland’s particular green.

There’s one other filter that can make the unsuspecting traveller fault their home for a supposedly lackluster holiday back; expectation. You probably won’t get to see everyone you’d like to. They might be busy. They might have moved away, or emigrated, they might have to work through the holiday so they can make enough money to stay. Even if you do get to see your old friends, things won’t be exactly the same. Your best mates might not be going out anymore; you probably won’t recognize anyone in the college bar and worst of all, the local chipper might’ve stopped doing the €4.50 Kebab-Curry Burger. A minor demon named nostalgia can idealise the memories of youth, and no holiday or welcome home can live up to an imagined ideal. Cherish the time that you have, before it’s gone. Be in the moment with whoever you’re with, wherever you are, or you won’t actually be at home. It’s tough to do, but do it. You’ll be leaving again soon.

Shaun Leonard is an Irish film, tv and comics journalist currently based in Las Vegas, NV. Follow and chat to him on Twitter @shaun_leonard. He podcasts for film and television at