‘Brexit fills me with a heavy heart, but I've built a life in Scotland’
Eiméar Cooney from Co Meath works as an occupational therapist in Aberdeen
Eiméar Cooney from Co Meath works in Aberdeen, Scotland as an Occupational Therapist. Her dog is called Angus
Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Eiméar Cooney from Co Meath on her work in Aberdeen, Scotland as an occupational therapist.
When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?
I left Ireland in 2005 to come to Scotland to study occupational therapy (OT). After finishing my Leaving Cert, I didn’t have enough points to get in to university at home so I had to fly the nest.
Did you study in Ireland?
I did a one-year course in Whitehall College, Dublin in Health and Social Sciences to see if a career in healthcare was for me. I loved my course, and living in Dublin.
Tell us about your career in OT?
I’ve had a very interesting career in OT. I first started working in older adult mental health and then transitioned to working in adult mental health. I worked on the hospital wards and then in the community. I loved the community work as I got to drive around beautiful Aberdeenshire taking in the sights, but also seeing people in their home.
I was very privileged to work in the field of mental health and learned so much about the importance of maintaining my own mental health and well as supporting others with theirs. I had such inspiring colleagues and mentors and this work has shaped me in to the person I am today. However after five years, I began to notice signs of “burn out” and decided to take a career break for six months. I went travelling to Central and South America. On returning I felt I needed a change and worked as a Vocational Rehab OT for a care company who wished to increase the health and well-being of their staff. Now I work as an OT doing independent mobility assessments for people who apply for a disabled parking badge.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
A normal working day for me is completing face-to-face assessments for people who, for whatever reasons, feel they require a disabled parking badge. This is open to all people whether they have a physical or mental health or cognitive difficulty which makes walking long distances challenging. I see people from all ages including newborns right up to people who are 100 years of age or more. I love that my job is so varied and I get to meet people from all walks of life.
Are there any particular challenges you face in your work?
I think working with people who are feeling vulnerable due to a decrease in their physical or mental health makes for a challenging job. Every person I meet has a story to share and you never know what that story is when the person walks through the door. You have to be ready to allow that person to feel listened to and speak in a safe environment.
Do the Irish fit in well in Scotland?
I think so. The Irish and the Scottish seem to have a strong affinity with one other.
What is it like living in Aberdeen?
Aberdeen has it all - beautiful coastline, sandy beaches, munroes (big hills!), stunning countryside and is the home of the famous craft beer Brewdog. But as it not normally associated as a holiday destination, Aberdeen is more known for being the oil capital of the UK. As a result there is great wealth in the city, but unfortunately this has been poorly invested back in to communities. Things are changing. With the downturn in the oil industry, the local council have been forced to think more creatively. More creative spaces have been opened and we have had an inspiring street art festival lately. The DIY music scene is a very important part of the city’s culture too.
What do you plan to do following Brexit? How do you feel about that?
Brexit fills me with a heavy heart especially as the majority of people in Scotland voted to remain. Despite this frustration, I’ve built a life here and will be staying for the foreseeable future.
Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?
Yes. Working for the NHS has particularly provided me with multiple training opportunities. I completed a post graduate certificate in Psychosocial Interventions which was funded by the NHS as well as numerous other courses. This has been invaluable in shaping and developing my professional knowledge and skills. I’m not sure if I would have received the same level of training at home?
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career abroad?
Take courage and immerse yourself in the city and culture you move to. I spent so many of my first years looking back over my shoulder to the “greener pastures” of home.
Are there any other Irish people in your business/social circles in Scotland?
After finishing university many Irish friends stayed in Aberdeen. We all got jobs very quickly. My friends are now like family members as we support each other in life’s ups and downs.
What is it like living there in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on?
Aberdeen is known to be an expensive city to live in due to the oil industry but it is cheaper to live here and get on the property ladder compared to Dublin and other parts of Ireland. I now work four days a week and feel I can afford a good quality of life, better than if I decided to move home. I am very aware of the property crisis at home and the difficulty people of my age have in getting their own place.
Where do you see your future?
I am at a crossroads in my life as I ponder the question “should we stay or should we go?” However I am looking to develop a different vein in my career pathway and I think staying will afford me that opportunity. My passion is working in mental health and I am considering doing a MSc in Mindfulness in Aberdeen University. My boyfriend and I consider moving to Ireland all of the time, but I feel there are so many barriers to working as an OT in Ireland including a lengthy and expensive qualification validation process. I feel the Irish Government needs to do more to make the transition to move home more accessible for those who want to return.
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?
Stereotypical answer but like so many Irish people living abroad I miss my friends and family. I have three nephews at home and feel like I am missing watching them grow up. Seeing their little faces on WhatsApp definitely pulls on the heart strings to return home.