Was I right to stay in Ireland instead of emigrating?

My career has progressed here, but friends abroad have had experiences I can only dream of

It had been only a short chat with a friend in Australia, but the lingering feeling it left was painful. Had I been right to stay in Ireland and try to ride out the recession?

I’m sure I’m not the only person on this island asking that question. I guess I won’t know the answer for another few years – when, with luck, my career will have progressed. But it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

When I graduated with a degree in construction management, in 2010, only three of my 50 classmates got work, two of them with their family businesses. As we looked down the barrel of unemployment we had three options: emigrate; stay in Ireland and try to find a job; or begin further study.

While most people I know chose the first option, I chose a combination of options two and three. I was lucky that my grandmother ran a bar in Galway city where I could earn a couple of hundred euro a week to keep me going.

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But the money I earned never lasted long, usually spent on going to parties for my friends and classmates who were heading off to better lives in Australia, London or Canada.

Each time I heard of someone emigrating I questioned if staying around was the right decision. My family, relationships and sport all played on my mind while I weighed up the pros and cons of leaving versus staying.

It was a close call, but in the end I decided to stay and save for a master’s in project management, which I hoped would make me more employable.

I kept in touch with friends who had left for greener pastures; their stories of travelling the east coast of Australia, or skiing in remote parts of Canada, were hard to hear when I was in the library, studying, on a Friday evening.

As the master's drew to a close my enthusiasm for my career suddenly kicked up a notch. Being exposed to the success of guest lecturers and speakers was infectious; all I wanted to do was get out into the workplace and build a career. Within two months of graduating I had secured work with the international consultancy firm Arup, and my thoughts of emigrating were just a distant memory.

That was until recently. As the economy here in Ireland has slowly improved, my friends, classmates and relatives have returned in droves.

Some have come back with bank balances I could only dream of. Others have brought home new husbands, wives and children. A few are no different from the day they left. Yet they all share the experience of having travelled, lived in a different country, and seen a very different world from the one we experience each day on this small island.

When we meet we discuss work, sport, family and life in general. I hear of their struggle to get meaningful employment here in Ireland, despite the "recovery", while I am lucky enough to have begun my career. I'm now working as a project manager for the National Treasury Management Agency.

But the most striking thing is that not one of them regrets leaving, and most say they would go again if they had to.

This has stoked the fire in me again. I’ve weighed up both scenarios: I have four years of invaluable work experience during the harshest economic downturn of our generation, while they have life experience I can only dream of.

Maybe in time I might get the chance to go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef, or snowboarding in the Rockies, but until that day comes I will constantly ask myself, was staying the right idea?

I’ll probably never know.