This year has been my happiest in Dublin, but it’s time to leave again
The first time I emigrated, I looked back on Ireland angrily. This time I’m sad to go
Andrew Graydon: ‘I will be an Irishman who studied English in the US teaching children in China. I’m putting myself in a position to be lost again.’
In August 2008 on the advice of my ma, and lent redundancy money of my da, I travelled to Durango, Colorado, where I had been accepted to study at an affordable college with a good football programme.
I was an angry boy. I felt suffocated in secondary school in Ireland, and my attempt at study was half-hearted. I mistakenly blamed the educational system for my failings in the Leaving Cert.
I landed in Colorado with a suitcase. I had no friends, no family, no phone and no idea where I was. All I knew was that I was lucky enough to be there and that I couldn’t fail again.
Fort Lewis had a beautiful college campus, tucked up in the Rocky Mountains. The drive from the airport to the hotel I stayed in on my first night was completely barren in the dark. All we passed was a Walmart and a Home Depot. As I stared out the window into the vast black star tinted abyss of the Rocky Mountains I sighed. My driver came to an abrupt stop and muttered with bare coherence, “bear”. In the headlights, a brown baby bear crossed the road. I had never felt so lost.
I spent six years in Colorado, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I went to college and fell back in love with education. I graduated with a first-class honours degree and vowed one day to teach and help the child I used to be realise the importance of education. I played for a college soccer team too while I was there, travelling around the south-west US and living the American dream.
I did the stereotypical Irishman bartending gig in an Irish pub for a while. At first I was disillusioned by the amount of patrons who would tell me they were Irish when they clearly had little or no connection to Ireland. But I realised that if these people had been told they were Irish by their parents or grandparents, who was I to tell them they were not?
I also fell in love with a Texan girl. We were together for three years when my visa application fell through. The only option was for her to come back to Ireland. I assured her the recession was over, that we would live with my parents for a few months until we both got jobs and moved out.
But the reality was starkly different. She walked into a job, I didn’t. After four months, pressure was mounting: I was jobless, there were ill family members, homesickness, and all the problems you can imagine we’d encounter living under my parents’ roof. When she decided to go home it didn’t feel good. But I knew she would be happier there so I respected her decision. In all honesty, her leaving was the best lesson she ever taught me.
She flew back to Texas the day I started my new job. She booked flights a few hours before the contract came. It was too late. I was sad but happy. I had my first job in Dublin. I got to walk around town in a suit pretending I was important just like everybody else. I had put my past behind me and was looking forward to the future.
This last year has been my happiest in Dublin. For the first time in my home city I’ve been able to live the way I’d wanted to live. My freedom in Dublin before I left for college was limited to a tenner a week. That tenner was made chopping firewood for my granda or cutting my nan’s grass. My payment would come in the form of Koka Noodles, rasher sambos, Choc-Ices and a crumpled up tenner. That would buy me a bag of cans, a cinema ticket or a football to kick around for the weekend. A lot has changed for me since then.
I spent a lot of time walking around Dublin. When I was away, I missed it, but I looked back on it as the “Dirty Old Town”. How blind was I, looking back through a foggy mirror of bad experiences. Dublin is a grey, cold and windy place, but I now look on our capital as a warm, vibrant and beautiful city whose qualities far exceed its drawbacks.
Although I was happy to be back in Dublin, I still had the itch to teach. I signed up for a TEFL course that I took part-time after work and on weekends.
So after my favourite year in Dublin I’m packing my bags again. I will be an Irishman who studied English in the US teaching children in China. I’m putting myself in a position to be lost again. A stranger in an even stranger world with no similar alphabet or numeric system. Just as the Celtic Dragon is the past the Chinese Dragon is my future. This time I won’t look back on Dublin as I did from America. I’ll look back only in a positive way. I will settle down in Ireland someday, just not yet.