Moving back to Ireland was as hard as emigrating to Australia
Dublin has changed a lot since the recession and it is an exciting time to be back
Trudi McDonald (centre) with friends back in Ireland. ‘My pre-conception of moving home was that I’d miss Australia terribly but that I’d slot back into my old life and old social circle here with ease.’
After four years living in Melbourne, I decided it was time to return home to Ireland just before last Christmas. The thought of leaving Australia terrified me, but the idea that I would face challenges moving back to Dublin never really crossed my mind; Ireland is home after all, how hard could it be?
As it turns out, moving home has been more difficult than moving away ever was.
But time and patience makes you realise how wonderful and unique Ireland really is.
I left Ireland in 2011 with friends, backpacking around South America before setting up in Melbourne. Life in Australia is hard at the start; you’re fighting against visa restrictions for work and can come up against people who have a very anti-Irish attitude, particularly in temporary workplaces. After six months of slogging in cafes, sharing rooms, sleeping on mattresses and attempting to pass off backpacking clothes as “work wear”, things started to fall into place.
Four years later I found myself back in a similar situation, starting from scratch with no idea where to begin. Only this time, I’m not a young foreigner, new to the country and up for the laugh; I’m now in my mid-20s, back in the city that I studied and worked in as a new graduate and feeling a bit lost, even in the midst of the familiar.
My pre-conception of moving home was that I’d miss Australia terribly but that I’d slot back into my old life and old social circle here with ease. When I was away, I was very conscious of keeping up communication with friends and family so coming home, I knew I had a network. What I didn’t anticipate (somewhat self-centredly, perhaps) was how much Ireland, and the people in it, have changed in the last five years.
I knew I had grown up and changed while I was away, but I’d forgotten everyone who stayed did the exact same thing. I thought I was coming back to a revival of the good times we’d enjoyed, directly after college. Instead, people are living with partners, buying houses or on successful career paths. I’m the one feeling out of place.
When I was living in Australia, I was automatically seen as successful by right of the fact I had physically made the journey and had a job. It didn’t really matter what job I was doing, but the fact I had a decent standard of living meant I was a success. Moving home, I struggled to find work in media or communications and ended up working back in an administration role, similar to what I had been doing in Australia.
At first, it felt like a step backwards and triggered a massive bout of “why did I leave Australia?” panic - I’d come home to try to progress my career, but here I was, going the same kind of job but for less money in a decidedly wetter country. I felt unsuccessful and out of place, particularly when I compared myself to my friends (something I strongly advise anyone moving home not to do).
Just because Ireland is home doesn’t mean setting up here is going to be any easier than it was setting up abroad. That realisation put everything into perspective.
The idea of place has been really important to me in the move home. I carved a place for myself in Australia - both at work and socially - and that was easy because no-one had any previous knowledge of who I was. There is safety in that anonymity.
In Ireland, a country notorious for everyone knowing everyone’s business, I felt I lost that place and the version of myself I’d become over the last few years. Where did I fit in with my family now, or with my friends? Everything and everyone has changed! This was overwhelming at first but the best advice I was given was to just keep doing your thing and it’ll all fall into place.
That’s exactly what happened. By accepting the fact that moving back to Ireland is just as new an experience as moving to a foreign place, it took the pressure off trying to keep up with peers who have been developing themselves here for years.
Reintegrating into life in Ireland isn’t easy, but the country has changed so much since the economic crisis that it’s definitely an exciting time to be back. There is so much more opportunity and activity in the city, and people seem to care more about what is going on around them. There are so many new initiatives to get involved in, whatever your interests are, and very few of these were available when the majority of people left, mid-recession.
The one thing that thankfully hasn’t changed is the reliability of the Irish people for the chat; I didn’t realise I missed it so much until I came back. In Melbourne, people are nice but the quick wit and cheeky banter just isn’t as readily available as it is here. You have to seek out craic, which is why I think the Irish in Australia tend to bond more with Brits and other Irish than they do with the Australians. There is something reassuring in knowing that nine times out of ten you’re going to be able to have a chat with your taxi driver on the way home from the pub.
While I still miss the warmth, the people and the food that I loved in Melbourne, there is something about Dublin at the moment, the feeling that exciting things are happening in Ireland, that makes me very glad to be able to say I’m back home.