When Kasia Pluta was 26 she decided to spend a summer working in Dublin. The Polish student had recently completed a master's degree in animal anatomy and was one year into her PhD studies in the city of Poznan when a friend recommended that she visit Ireland. Conscious that her Polish PhD stipend would barely cover expenses during the following academic year, Pluta decided to try to earn some money abroad and flew to Dublin in June 2006.
“I liked the city but I never imagined I’d settle down here. I was working in a Costa cafe during the day and a pub at night, I wanted to safe as much money as I could.”
After a few weeks living in Dún Laoghaire, Pluta decided to try and contact Irish academics specialising in animal sciences at local universities. "I thought I could establish some contacts for my PhD because I didn't have much funding and I had nothing to lose."
She met a professor at the UCD veterinary school called Stephen Carrington and after a short chat, he offered her the chance to work on a new marine research project. After some consideration, Pluta contacted her supervisor in Poznan to request a gap year from her PhD and accepted the role in Dublin.
“I was very young and didn’t really think about the consequences of anything. But I didn’t have any family then so there was nothing to risk. My parents were excited for me, it was more of a professional job and it was an upgrade from working as a waitress.”
Pluta's parents always encouraged their children to travel and live abroad. As a child, she remembers her parents – a social worker and environmental inspector – packing up the family car and driving hundreds of kilometres across continental Europe for camping holidays in Italy, France and Germany.
"That would have been in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Planes weren't really in the picture back then; Poland was much poorer. And travelling in the car you weren't paying a fortune for expensive holidays.
Work got interesting
“My mum always regretted that she didn’t emigrate during communism. I grew up being told you have to travel and try living in other places. I was groomed almost to go other places.”
After school, Pluta studied for a degree in animal and agricultural sciences and took a gap year to work and live in Scotland and Cornwall, working in B&Bs and hotels. The trip to Dublin in 2006 just felt like another short adventure to add to her list of travels. But then her work got interesting.
The UCD research project was “crazy for a year and a half” but Pluta liked the Irish university system and decided to embark on a different PhD at UCD, this time focusing on fertility in animals. “From the beginning it felt much more relaxed. It was so formal and competitive in Poland, but here it was really free and you were able to meet lots of people from different countries.The work could be quite stressful and unpredictable but the whole atmosphere was much nicer and more supportive.”
While she was working on her PhD, Pluta met and started dating a South African architect called Pranash. “We just kind of clicked. We both didn’t have family here and were not looking for that party lifestyle. We had a similar outlook and wanted to build a home and maybe buy a place. We were both looking to settle down.”
In 2011, within the space of five weeks, the couple were married, Pluta completed her PhD and then gave birth to their son Eddie. "All my friends said we were mental but we thought we better be married for our son's sake. We registered at the HSE office in Wicklow next door to a dental practice; it wasn't very romantic. You could hear the drill through the walls as we said our vows. And I was heavily pregnant, it was like a comedy. But it's a day I'll never forget."
Three months after Eddie's birth, Pluta secured a temporary research position with a biopharmaceutical company. However, the recession had badly hit the architecture industry, and Pranash struggled to find work. He started applying for jobs abroad and in 2012 was offered a role in his home country of South Africa.
Pranash moved to Durban in 2012 and the following year, Pluta and Eddie followed. Pluta found work in a diagnostics lab specialising in fertility genetics and was curious about life in South Africa. She liked Durban but found work stressful and couldn't settle into her new life.
“When I’d been living there two years I just felt this life doesn’t serve me well. I cannot feel fully free here. There was still that fear left over from apartheid, people were more competitive and there was more crime. I wanted to live in a place that was free and relaxed.”
Eventually, the couple agreed they would move back to Ireland. “My son was born here; he considers himself Irish. And I love the vibe here. Even during the recession, people were so supportive of one another. You don’t need to compete, there’s space for everyone.”
Pluta returned in September 2016 for a job interview, and when she was offered the position she stayed to find a house for the family and a school. In January 2017, Pranash travelled back to Ireland with their son.
“I thought Ireland would be tough for Eddie at first, he was used to running barefoot in South Africa and now had to put on his uniform for the local Catholic school. But he adapted really quickly.”
While it was difficult leaving behind a highly respected and well-paid role in South Africa, Pranash also eventually secured a job with an Irish architecture body. Shortly before the pandemic hit, the couple put in a bid on a house in Glenageary which they eventually bought later in 2020, despite a number of Covid-related roadblocks and delays.
Eddie now loves school and plays with the local GAA club. “I’ve started sending him for summer holidays with my parents in Poland to boost his Polish but he feels more Irish than Polish.”
Pluta says her family “definitely made the right choice” by returning to Ireland. “Even though life can be financially expensive and it’s been a rocky path, it’s been totally worth it. I think it’s the people at the end who make life here very comfortable. And since we bought this house, we feel like part of the community.”
“We’ve had a very busy couple of years but now it’s starting to be more settled. I can see more of a pattern to our lives year by year.”