This article is part of an ongoing series for Irish Times Abroad aboutJames Parnell's experience of returning to Ireland after 16 years in Australia.
One of the needs we all have as humans is to connect. Not just through loving, close relationships, but to have the feeling of being connected with the wider world, being part of something bigger, or just knowing you are not the only one. Writing is my attempt to establish and nurture that sense of connection.
Since moving back to Ireland with my family from Australia last year, I have been writing about my experience for Irish Times Abroad and on my blog. Many readers have written to me to ask questions or to tell me their stories.
To those who took the time to wish us the best of luck, thank you. You prove that Ireland, for the most part, is still the land of a hundred thousand welcomes.
To fellow returnees, when you are climbing a mountain and stop to look around, it can be heartening to know you are not the only one.
To those overseas, particularly those on the cusp of deciding whether to stay or move home, I wish you the best of luck – and some caution. Reassuring as it is to know you are not alone, this is a climb of a different nature. The other groups you see on the mountain cannot help you if you stumble. Only you and your support team can reach the top.
Many have asked whether I am happy. Have we conquered this move to Ireland? The answer is, “Who knows?” We are too busy putting one foot in front of the other and taking breaks to enjoy the view. It’s a natural question, but it’s the wrong one to ask. My answer is irrelevant to you and your situation, but perhaps you just want to know it can be done.
We all take different paths. Whether you carve your own is up to you.
People repeatedly ask me how Dublin compares with Sydney and, although my personal circumstances affect my answers, they may have resonance for others too. For financial comfort, healthcare, lifestyle and work opportunities, Sydney wins out. For the people, culture, access to new experiences, and family, Dublin beats Sydney.
There are two questions expats tend to ask when they meet one another abroad for the first time. The first is, “Have you been here long?”. I used to love that one because after 16 years we usually “won”.
The second is, “Do you think you will stay here?”. I was amazed at people who had two-year or five-year plans to return to Ireland. I could never predict how I would feel that far ahead. My answer was always, “I’m happy here now”.
Five years ago we bought a house. We had three kids and thought that Sydney might be where we would settle. You just never know.
We lived in Sydney for 16 years. We worked hard and thankfully reached a point where we had had enough – in a good way. So we came home.
New factors come into play as you travel through life. As long as you and your partner or family are in agreement, you will be fine. If not, then sit on the “momentous decision” a while longer. Your climbing party might not be ready.
Here is just a sample of some of the correspondence I have received and my answers.
Away from family
To DF in Perth, who woke at 5am asking himself what he was doing with his wife and children all the way away from family. I hope you find peace in your life regardless of the decision you make.
Backwards to Ireland
To GH in US, who thinks that with my skills I should have gone there rather than “backwards to Ireland”. I don’t believe geography is a determinant of progress.
To LA in Boston, on the “precipice of a momentous decision”. Sit on it, chat with people and prepare yourself mentally for challenges and your responses to them.
In a rut
To DG in New Zealand who left Ireland “because I was in a rut, emotionally and professionally. Would those ghosts come back to haunt me if I returned? Will that ache be appeased, and justify the hard work of emigrating again back to Ireland?”. Moving country is not the ultimate answer to emotional happiness or avoiding a rut but it might trigger the change in character or personal growth you need to find emotional and professional peace.
Apprehensive about work
To BJ in New Zealand who is torn about “robbing the kids of great life and opportunity . . . and apprehensive regarding work”. I think the kids will be happy if you are happy. Children don’t care about the weather. It is only adults who depend on it for happiness. When it comes to finding work, you need to plan. Upskill if needs be. Be proactive. Do what I did the first four weeks: hit the road and meet people. The work I got came from unexpected sources, but the wider you cast your net and the more resourceful and innovative you are, the better your chances.
To DM in New Zealand who asks whether I would consider returning to Australia. “Is it in the back of your mind?” It is still early days and yes, being honest, I never dismiss any options. Australia is part of who I now am. But I am focused on the present, excited and happy where I am. My wife and children are very happy also. Who knows what the future holds. Our children could easily emigrate when they get older, and I’d like to think we will remain open to change too.
Fear of failure
Finally, to JK who moved interstate in the US, and has felt the emigrant’s ache grow but knows the “guilt of uprooting another person and the fear of failure is overwhelming”. I say make the decision together and ensure there is no blame. Then there were will be no failure. You just try and, if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried and can have no regrets. But you will only succeed as a partners in the climbing party.