Leaving the US for good: ‘I want to be a Dub again’
I’ve lived away for three years and have never had such an unquenchable desire to go home
‘It would feel like naivety or ignorance to listen to music, or a more entertaining podcast. To avoid the news doesn’t change what’s happening.’
My life in New York has changed in the last few weeks. Nothing in particular is different, at least nothing I can point to clearly. There is a new type of homesickness deep in my bones. It’s not the usual ache that arises when I’m tired or overwhelmed. Rather it feels like an excited anticipation: I miss Ireland and I get to go home soon.
This is new. I’ve lived away for three years and have never had such an unquenchable desire to go home. I have started to see this city, this country, and my home country differently. Regarding the source of this change of heart, I have a few theories. It could be the case that each factor is stacked on the previous one, culminating in my acknowledging that home is home, and this isn’t it.
The first, like so much of life, is political. Every morning I have breakfast in my apartment in East Harlem. I eat in silence, mentally mapping out my inevitably hectic day, checking my calendar and making lists in my phone of things to bring with me and things to do. I then plug in my headphones and listen to NPR’s daily roundup of news, followed by The New York Times’ daily podcast. In this way, the day’s news becomes my news, and I absorb it, letting it bring me back to the grim realities of the world at large, likely undoing the calming effects of my silent breakfast.
I arrive to work drained, having listened to depressing political updates, likely with clips of Donald Trump saying something that makes me screw up my face or shake my head on the crowded subway.
It would feel like naivety or ignorance to listen to music, or a more entertaining podcast. To avoid the news doesn’t change what’s happening. Listening to it and reading it also doesn’t change what’s happening. In fact, it serves only to make me feel more helpless. What can I do about US policies on immigration, healthcare, or abortion rights? What can I do except tut-tut and shake my head at seemingly constant political corruption and scandal?
It is difficult to predict where this country is headed, but it feels like the wrong direction. The heroes who will be on the right side when all of this is history are climbing an uphill battle. Their stories are inspiring, but their work is tragically overshadowed by the daily drama and despair.
In contrast, it seems as if Ireland is making steps to become a more understanding and empathetic country. Our media tell the stories of real people and offers a nuanced and intelligent analysis of world events.
In the run up to the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, I felt so far away from the debates and concerns and politics of my friends and my country. I found myself turning to RTE news and The Irish Times on a daily basis to understand what was going on at home. I recognise that legal abortion in Ireland was not the desired outcome for everyone, but it seemed, at least from across the Atlantic, that the debates were civil and gracious for the most part (with some serious exceptions).
People’s stories changed minds, and my already present respect for Irish media grew every time I opened my RTE Radio app. It was heartbreaking to hear stories of women and couples who had been through traumatic experiences. It was heartwarming, however, that these stories had a platform and the respect of our newspapers and airwaves. Needless to say, this felt like a contrast to the divisive media battles and dangerous, hate-fuelled politics in the US.
Another factor in my desire to pack my bags, board a plane, and give home another shot, is the nature of the visa I’m on. In the so-called land of opportunity, I feel like I’m looking through a window at a party I have not been invited to. My internship offered me a job, but the visa proved to be a massive stumbling block. So massive in fact that it was ultimately impossible.
I now have an insight into the US immigration system, and the policies behind it. My passport screams privilege, but the demonising of particular groups of immigrants, and the news of separated families and tightening borders strikes a level of anger within me that I struggle to put into words.
The pace of life in New York is a third factor contributing to my exhaustion and my craving for home. I miss living beside the sea - walking on the beach and the seafront, breathing air that is fresh and doesn’t smell like the rubbish bags that line the streets of Manhattan; having an entire path to yourself, not weaving around tourists who don’t seem to realise that you have somewhere to be (ten minutes ago, damnit).
Living away from home you miss things. You miss important events and life updates, both good and bad. People get sick and get better, people get new jobs, have birthdays, start and end relationships, people fight and make up, and if it doesn’t happen in the week that you Skype or chat on WhatsApp, you miss it. We curate our stories and news, to be succinct and to paint a favorable picture, but reality is so much messier. I have missed the messiness of the daily lives of my family and friends for too long.
Living away from home also gives you a new perspective on the place you grew up in. When you get to know a new city, when you make it home on some level, you turn to your own city with fresh eyes. I love to hear from people who have made Dublin their temporary home, who talk about my hometown the way I talk about New York, and the way I talked about Edinburgh for two years. It’s a privilege to be an outsider. I’m learning it’s also a privilege to be a Dub. I have changed and from the looks of things, so has Dublin. I’m excited to see if we’re more compatible this time around.
Perhaps I am looking to my future at home with rose-tinted glasses, but I hope it will live up to my expectations, at least in some respects. Is it really true that there’s no place like home? I can’t wait to find out.