‘My mum loves the milk here. She says chai tastes much better with Irish milk’

New to the Parish: Vel Dhanish, from India, and Jun Ying Sun, from China, came to Ireland in 2014

Both Vel Dhanish and Jun Ying Sun arrived in Ireland in 2014, and were placed with the same host family by the college where they were studying, in Co Dublin. Seven years later, Dhanish and Sun are married, with a 15-month-old son, Logan, and their own home, in Co Meath.

Dhanish is originally from Tamil Nadu, in southern India; Sun is from Tianjin, in northern China. "The only [Irish] citizen here is Logan. We have three nationalities in our home," says Dhanish. "I speak Tamil to him, Sun speaks in Mandarin, and when we're together we speak to him in English. He'll be at least trilingual."

Logan was born within two months of the imposition of the first Covid lockdown in Ireland, in May 2020, and has not yet met any other members of either Dhanish or Sun’s families.

Having Logan was “an experience that I don’t want to go through again”, says Sun. “It was especially [difficult] taking care of him in the hospital all by myself without Vel being able to visit.”

READ MORE

The 18 months of life under Covid have been “stressful, to say the least”, says Dhanish, and it was the first time he felt isolated while living in Ireland since he arrived in 2014. Not having family to turn to for support with their first child was heightened by the restrictions on movement and socialising.

“It was especially difficult with Logan because he was very colicky,” says Dhanish. “And he had multiple allergies. It was one thing I found really difficult here.”

"We were prepared for the sleepless nights but not the colic. The only thing that gave him comfort was the car so we went in circles around Ratoath so as not to break the 5km rule," Sun says. "Technology made things easier, but we still miss having the grandparents over, or to have a break from looking after him."

In some ways, though, Dhanish says the effect of the pandemic on daily life helped them as new parents.

“It’s made some aspects of my life much easier – such as parenting, working from home, spending time with Logan; Covid has helped. But this is one thing I really miss. I don’t have the kind of support I’d have in India. Especially during Covid, I don’t want to be a burden to people when they’re trying to protect themselves from the virus.

“In India, with family, we might have gone to see them. But here, it was a bit hard. This was the first time I felt isolated, during Covid.”

Logan, Dhanish and Sun were so isolated that the baby was enrolled in a clinical trial for infants in such a situation. “They measured antibodies [in babies] who hadn’t been exposed to society,” explains Dhanish.

The study, which is run through Children’s Health Ireland, looks at the impact of the pandemic on allergic and autoimmune responses in children born between March and May 2020. The researchers will continue their study of the infants until they are two years old.

Through their experience as participants in the study, Dhanish and Sun learned that Logan had several allergies. This, they say, was due to the fact that Logan had not been exposed to as many germs or other factors as most children would be if there were no pandemic restrictions.

“Now he’s nearly used to all the foods. The first six, seven months were really hard, though,” says Dhanish.

The couple will be travelling with Logan to Dubai to meet with Dhanish's parents, who are travelling over from India. His parents got the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible, he says, because "they wanted to see their grandson".

Due to travel restrictions on visitors coming from India to Ireland, meeting in the middle had been one of the only, and earliest, options available to the family to safely and easily see each other amid the pandemic.

“This is their first grandson. I’m an only child too. So is Sun,” Dhanish says.

My mum loves the milk here, she says the dairy here is amazing

Dhanish is able to travel to India to see his family, but neither Sun nor Logan can easily visit due to visa requirements. For Sun, the process of visiting her parents in China, or for them to visit her in Ireland, is also complicated. China is not issuing tourist visas, so neither Logan nor Dhanish would be able to accompany her.

“Her parents can’t come to Dubai,” says Dhanish. “As they’d have to quarantine for a month going back to China. We’re hoping next year they’ll relax things a bit. We want to go for Chinese new year.”

Dhanish hopes to apply for Irish citizenship soon, but Sun must wait a further three years to apply, as the time she spent here on a student visa is not counted towards such an application. The couple hope to travel around Europe more easily once they secure citizenship: currently must apply for a tourist visa if they wish to visit any European country.

"The nearest place we can go to easily is Turkey. We've been there three times already. Given the chance, we'll go anywhere in Europe," says Dhanish. "I've been to the Netherlands and France, but we had to apply for the visas. I'd love to travel more, but I haven't had the chance."

The couple hope to incorporate aspects of their home cultures into Logan’s life, as he grows up in Ireland with Indian and Chinese parents.

“I’d like Logan to experience the culture and history of all the three different regions,” says Sun. “His full name is Logan Velan Sun. We wanted his name to symbolise the three different cultures.”

Sun also emphasises her wish that Logan experience the food from China’s different regions, while Dhanish wants him to be familiar with southern Indian cuisine, although this is harder to find in Ireland. Most restaurants serving Indian food in Ireland, he says, focus mainly on northern Indian cuisine.

Southern Indian food “is completely different, because coconuts don’t grow in north India. If my parents come to visit, they’ll bring some spices to try and re-create it as much as possible. My mum loves the milk here, she says the dairy here is amazing. She loves the yogurt, and she says chai tastes much better with Irish milk.”