For our kids and our sanity, we had to move to Canada
We’ve made a commitment to ourselves, and to Canada, that we are going to plant our flag here in Calgary and do our best to make it work
I sent a text back to Ireland saying “Nailed it” with a sense of euphoria and achievement. I had just attended my third interview in Canada in a week and was feeling good. I could easily have got a job on any number of construction sites in Calgary, but I had loftier ambitions. I am 34 and have just spent five full years at college and university, upskilling.
I had three choices when the downturn hit Ireland in 2008 and I lost my job: 1) improve my skills through further education; 2) ship out to further shores in search of work; or 3) wait it out and see. In the end I did a combination of all three.
Last summer I finished a postgraduate diploma in construction project management at Queen’s University Belfast, and shortly afterwards I moved to Calgary in search of a job. I left behind my wife and two children, because it wasn’t financially feasible for us all to go at the same time. That first month away without them was the hardest of my life.
When you emigrate at my age, and with a family following a month later, you have just a few weeks to get yourself sorted, organising all those things it took you your whole life to do at home. Trying to secure a job that will support a family while searching for an appropriate house in an area with a good school – all in a city you are still figuring your way around – is daunting, to put it mildly. Luckily, I knew someone who was willing to let me stay in their place until I got on my feet.
I started work in August; the weather was still lovely, and I made the transition into my new role much more smoothly than I had expected. I finally secured a house for us all, too, just four days before the girls arrived. It was a shell when we moved in, but five months later it is becoming more of a home.
Our eldest started school, and her Irish accent was a huge draw for the other kids. Making friends was never the problem she thought it would be, which had had her in tears for weeks leading up to the move.
The weather was one of the biggest shocks. When my family arrived, at the start of September, it was a blistering 33 degrees. Four days later it was minus 21 and snowing.
We have just managed to buy a car, and my wife is delighted, after spending months pushing a buggy through snow in Arctic conditions, just to get to and from the school every day.
When we talk about emigration we often imagine a young person in their 20s heading off with a backpack to explore and learn and grow. I was one of them myself a decade ago, when I went to Australia for a year to work. The feelings I had then about moving abroad were nothing like the feelings I have about it now. This time emigrating is about necessity, not adventure. For myself and my family, moving to Canada was a decision we felt we had to make, for our kids’ future and for our own sanity.
We’ve made a commitment to ourselves and to Canada, too, that we are going to plant our flag here and do our best to make it work. We are feeling settled, the kids are calling our house home, and we can see a future in which it is possible to have a happy work-life balance. Our bills are being paid every month, and we have holidays to Ireland to look forward to.
For now that feeling of euphoria and achievement at nailing the interview, and finally getting back to work, is enough to restore my feeling of self-worth. Work is the reason we’re out here, and why we left everyone at home with the memory of tear-stained faces, isn’t it?