‘After being away a year, I still don’t consider myself an emigrant’

Working abroad: Dara Bree, postdoc researcher at Harvard Medical School

 

“Wait, which one is Galway again?” asked the bemused but enthusiastic American family who came to Boston’s Fenway Park on a frigid afternoon for the recent hurling exhibition match between Galway and Dublin. They were typical of the 27,776 enthralled spectators at the game; another reminder to me of the strong cultural links between Ireland and the city I now call home.

In mid-2014, after seven years of study in NUI Galway, the time felt right to leave Ireland for a while. When I was offered the chance to study concussion and post-traumatic headache in Boston, a city unparalleled for biomedical research, I jumped at the opportunity. With two of the world’s leading universities located within 3km of each other, as well as every major pharma and biotech company having a presence in the city, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I came here to study the science behind concussion and subsequent development of post-traumatic headache, one of the most common and disabling symptoms following head trauma.  In particular, the effects of cumulative head trauma (i.e. multiple concussions), a type of injury relevant to a lot of professional sports, remains poorly understood.  It is a topic that is receiving increasing mainstream attention, and the need for greater knowledge in this area is pressing. 

Mark Twain once said, “In New York they ask, how much is he worth? But in Boston they ask, how much does he know?” I often think of this quote here, as the intellectual capacity in the city is staggering, although it is becoming more and more a means of commercialisation. As a result, the city has a thriving tech, medical and research scene, and no shortage of construction.

Yet despite its modern façade, present-day Boston exists as a paradox of sorts, a city incredibly proud of its past but rather uncertain of its future. It was the epicentre of the American Revolution, the names of famous patriots ring out through the city, and heritage tourism is immensely popular.

But modern day Boston is plagued by poor affordable housing standards and a crumbling public transport infrastructure. Everybody acknowledges improvements need to be made, but little seems to get done. This uncertainty was encapsulated in the recent fierce and organised resistance to Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, which would have brought some much-needed improvements to the city, but was ultimately crushed by locals concerned about who would end up footing the bill.

With four professional sports teams (The Celtics, The Red Sox, The Bruins and The New England Patriots) it is safe to say Boston is a city obsessed with sport. Players are revered and idolised, none more so than Tom Brady who has achieved a God-like status throughout Boston and New England.

Every second bar is a self-styled “sports bar”, with countless mounted HD TV screens on the walls. You find yourself drawn to them, watching irrelevant college baseball games you don’t really understand, but still captivated by the enticing commercials that flicker every two minutes. As a result, very few bars have any real atmosphere, but port is big business here and everything is carefully manipulated to draw in the average punter to keep them watching and consuming.

The people of Boston are welcoming to newcomers. Although I initially underestimated just how difficult it would be to develop a whole new social scene in an unfamiliar place, one year on I’m glad to say I have made some close friends.

I play GAA and I joined a free fitness movement called November Project. Unwittingly I was roped in to running up and down the steps of Harvard Stadium every Wednesday morning before work, step by punishing step over 37 sections of that famous old stadium in the blazing early morning sunshine. I love every minute of it.

Moving beyond your comfort zone, enduring those initially awkward moments with new people, and generally putting yourself out there all over again are the necessary experiences to which any emigrant can attest.

By definition I am an emigrant, but after being away for only a year I don’t really see myself as one. Although I enjoy my life here, if the same job opportunities existed in Ireland I would have stayed. Thoughts of home are on my mind every day. It’s only natural when your family and all your friends are still there.

Before leaving I told myself this experience would be an extended holiday from Ireland, a wonderful opportunity to work at the one of the world’s leading research centres for a couple of years. But the ultimate aim is to garner as much experience as possible to bring back to forge a career at home in Ireland.

Are you working an interesting job abroad? Want to share your experience with Generation Emigration readers? We're looking for stories. Email emigration@irishtimes.com to contribute.

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