‘The more rooted I get in London, the more homesick I feel’
Katie Teehan never intended to stay away from Ireland for so long. It’s getting harder
Katie Teegan had just turned 27 when she decided to move from Dublin to London ‘for a couple of years, to see what it’s like’.
Nobody tells you that a seemingly temporary decision can irrevocably change the course of your life. Or rather, they do, but you don’t believe it until you see it for yourself. It seems so obvious to me now with the benefit of hindsight, but I had just turned 27 when I decided to move from Dublin to London “for a couple of years, to see what it’s like”.
I never considered the consequences of what was then a totally strings-free decision. I was single, tired of my job and couldn’t shake the desire to go somewhere, explore a new city, see what else was out there.
I’m not sure where I found the courage (or stupidity), but without work contacts or anywhere to stay beyond a few weeks, I quit my job and naively told my mother I’d be back before I turned 30 (which felt like an entirely mythical milestone). To the astonishment of many, including myself, my gamble paid off: I found a job and somewhere to live, made new friends and one year quickly turned to five. My 30th came and went without serious thoughts of coming home (sorry mum). I’d put down roots in London.
The reality of emigrating crept up on me little by little. The first couple of milestones were a little daunting, but exciting: signing a lease on a room in a house share, getting a two-year phone contract. Others carried more weight: forging a career in an industry I couldn’t have hoped to get into at home; making friends; starting a relationship with an English guy.
Now, things are getting serious – we’re buying a house. It’s really exciting; I love it here. But the longer I stay the stronger my homesickness gets and the more I think about the consequences of moving.
I’ve often worried about what leaving has done to my relationships with people back home. Thankfully, my best friends there have remained close – I was bridesmaid for one of them recently which meant the world to me. All the weddings and hen parties that come with being in your early 30s mean I’m visiting more often than ever.
But I know I’m missing out on the little things – weekend walks, cinema trips, nights in the local. Even harder is being away from my family. Of three sisters, two of us live abroad and I know it breaks my mum and dad’s hearts not to be able to see their two daughters and now, two grandsons, more often.
Does it bother me that I spend more time with my boyfriend’s family than I do with my own? Of course. But I also feel lucky to have found a second home with them. The knowledge that a safety net in the form of home-cooking, parental concern and DIY skills are just a train journey from London is incredibly reassuring. After all, the most common response when I told people I was moving here was, “It’s a very lonely place.”
But homesickness still floors me sometimes. Flying home for Christmas last year, my flight was delayed. What should have been four hours door-to-door, turned into 11. The tears started in Gatwick, sitting among a crowd of mostly Irish people anxiously waiting to get home. As the delays worsened, so did the tears.
When I finally landed in Dublin and saw my sister waiting, the floodgates really opened. Those who know me know it doesn’t take much to set me off. But even for me, this was an extreme reaction. And it wasn’t so much frustration at a delayed flight, but an overwhelming feeling of helplessness; of wanting to get home and not being able to.
London is an hour from Dublin – that’s the refrain I regularly reassure myself with. And look at all the Irish people who live so much farther away. Isn’t it lucky I’m not in Sydney? But I couldn’t shake the thought that if my family had needed me, I’d be stuck pacing around an airport gate 300 miles away and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. No, it’s not as bad as being at the other side of the world, but that day I felt like I might as well have been.
The more time that goes by, the stronger these reactions get. As if Ireland is trying to pull me back. One day I’d like to let it, but the decision to return can’t be made as lightly as the one to emigrate. There’s much more at stake now. Would I still fit in in Dublin? Would my partner love it as much as I’d want him to? If it didn’t work out, would I be able to deal with the pain of leaving again?
My incredibly flippant decision to move that summer in 2012 changed my life utterly. Would I do it differently with the benefit of hindsight? I think so, although it would have been much more difficult if I’d fully understood what I was sacrificing. Seeing family and friends regularly. Using the words “press” and “bold” without being misunderstood. Chatting to strangers with the unique ease that I’ve grown to realise only comes with meeting another Irish person.
But I’ve gained experiences I’d never have had at home, new friends, a second family, a career I can be proud of and the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’ve also learnt how incredibly important my family and friends are to me, and to treasure every moment with them.
So as complicated and sometimes difficult as it has made my life, my decision to emigrate is also the best one I’ve ever made. I like to think it’s given me the best of both worlds.