‘My daughters keep me here in California, but they need me less and less’

Working Abroad Q&A: Special education teacher Breda Wall on the impact of Covid-19 in Santa Barbara

Breda Wall (left) with her daughters Brigid and Claire in Santa Barbara, California

Breda Wall (left) with her daughters Brigid and Claire in Santa Barbara, California

 

Breda Wall is originally from Trim, Co Meath. She works in special education in Santa Barbara, California. She has two daughters, Brigid, 21 and Claire, 18.

When did you leave Ireland?

I left in 1985 when I had the opportunity to take leave of absence from the blood bank in Dublin for up to three years.

Where did you study?

I studied to become a dental hygienist at the Dublin Dental Hospital. At that time they did not have an Irish programme, so I took the British Dental Nursing qualification, a two-year course. I had planned to finish to work as a hygienist at the Glasgow Dental Hospital and requested leave of absence from work. As it turned out, I took an invite to Los Angeles instead. I also attended Santa Barbara City College in California in 1998, where I majored in early childhood education (ECE).

Where have you lived in the US?

I have lived in LA, Santa Barbara and Federal Way, a city 30 minutes south of Seattle, Washington.

What do you do in Santa Barbara?

I work in special education supporting elementary-aged students between six and 13 years old. They have their learning tailored to their specific needs. We switched to remote learning on March 13th. It was a huge change and we went from being on campus every day to being at home. My work with the children is very hands-on, so it was difficult. We did a lot of PD (professional development), took Zoom classes with our students and also used different online programmes, which was definitely a learning curve.

What is it like living in Santa Barbara at the moment?

Santa Barbara is called the American Riviera and is heavily reliant on tourism. Needless to say, we do not have foreign tourists now, but we do have lots of day-trippers as we are an hour from LA. The main street has been closed off to traffic and as the weather is perfect for outside dining, which is happening now and is very busy.

Breda Wall is from Trim, Co Meath and works in special education in Santa Barbara, California. Van not her own
Breda Wall is from Trim, Co Meath and works in special education in Santa Barbara, California. 

Sadly we have a growing number of cases of coronavirus recorded - especially amongst younger people - and there is also a concern that people from outside the area are not as careful about social distancing. The beaches have closed. They are open again for walking or swimming, but not for setting up camp to sit on for hours. Picnics are not allowed, but that rule seems impossible to implement especially as picnics are considered a safe way for groups to meet outdoors.

Has Covid-19 changed how you work?

I am not busy like I was and as I live with my teenager, who also lost her job and had to graduate virtually, life is very unstructured. It is difficult emotionally for her as she cannot be with her peers or bevoccupied by her work. It is pretty boring here and I have a lot of time alone. I do meet friends for beach walks and picnics at least a few times a week, but my smart TV puts in a lot of hours.

Friends are maintaining that Californian optimism, but more and more admit to the physiological impact coronavirus is taking

Does being Irish count there at the moment?

Yes, being Irish has always counted and I actually wanted to move back to Ireland. My daughters keep me here, but they need me less and less. My eldest Brigid lives in Seattle, and Claire starts local college here in the fall, which will be all remote learning. I may go part-time and semi-retire, which is OK as my goal is to live at least some of the time in Ireland. I miss the “forty shades of green” and the craic.

What is happening in Santa Barbara at the moment?

I’m grateful I got out to the hairdresser in the past few weeks and also to a winery last Friday because it has all closed again. Claire’s gym closed down too, so she is disappointed.

My school had a plan to reopen for four short days a week, but that may change as other districts near us are going full distance-learning.

I was told that I had no guarantee of returning to work next month, but as it is the beginning of new school year, I am trying to remain optimistic as I really enjoy my work and honestly look forward to seeing my colleagues and students.

Friends are maintaining that Californian optimism, but more and more admit to the physiological impact coronavirus is taking. I worry about the mental aspect for my family and friends as much as the actual impact of Covid-19.

If you live abroad and would like to share your experience of how Covid-19 is affecting you there, email Irish Times Abroad at abroad@irishtimes.com

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