‘Seeing a doctor is so expensive in Ireland’

New to the Parish: A German who ended up in Ireland because it was the cheapest available flight is still here five years on. She loves people's friendliness but the health service is a concern

Amy Gurlitt: “For me, it’s the mentality of the people here, like when you thank the bus driver. How nice is that?” Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Amy Gurlitt: “For me, it’s the mentality of the people here, like when you thank the bus driver. How nice is that?” Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

Amy Gurlitt’s earliest memories are of a household bustling with children speaking foreign languages. She never questioned why her family in a small community in southern Germany offered refuge to children from socially deprived backgrounds and refugees from abroad. There were always at least five children living with the family on Lake Constance, near the border of Switzerland.

“It was a social community founded after the second World War to help orphaned kids grow up in a family environment instead of an orphanage,” she says. “I wasn’t an orphan; I was one of the lucky ones. But my parents decided to go there and help these children.”

The Kinderdorf Pestalozzi children’s village was established in 1946 to provide accommodation for European war orphans in Switzerland. By the time Gurlitt’s family moved into the community in the early 1990s, children from around the world were living in the village.

“The idea behind it was that these kids needed to be in a safe environment,” Gurlitt says. “I remember kids from African countries living with us, and from Kosovo in the 1990s.”

She distinctly remembers when a newborn baby arrived in the village shortly after Gurlitt’s biological sister was born. “The baby had been taken away from her family shortly after birth because her father had a history of child abuse. She came to our home, and my mother nursed her as she was the same age as my sister. They were brought up like twins.”

Twenty years on, Gurlitt is living in Cork city, working for a technology company dedicated to eliminating internet viruses. It’s far from the waters of Lake Constance and the snow-covered Alpine peaks that surrounded her childhood home.

She first came to Ireland in 2011 after completing her university studies in political science and art history. She was determined to improve her language skills, so decided to spend a year abroad in an English-speaking country.

“It was a very spontaneous decision,” she says. “Me and my best friend got together and said we have to go somewhere, but I was broke, obviously, as I had just paid for my studies.”

The two made a list of the world’s English-speaking countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland, and began searching for flights. “We checked the cost of flights, and the cheapest one we could find was from Hamburg to Dublin.”

Shearing sheep
They spent 10 days in Dublin “until we were really broke” and then headed west to Co Kerry, where they signed up as Wwoof (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteers on a farm in Kenmare. As Wwoofers, they worked in exchange for food and accommodation.

“Wwoofing is a different, physical type of work that we didn’t actually consider work,” she says. “We spent the winter on a farm in Kenmare working with 150 sheep and chopping firewood.”

The women moved on to continue their organic farming experience at a farm and yoga centre near the Burren. By the time summer came, Gurlitt was tired of the grey Irish grey skies, and moved to Spain to work in a vineyard. However, she was determined to return to Ireland. “We really wanted to get back to Ireland because I guess we just fell in love with it.”

During her first year in Ireland, she met several people in Cork working for big tech companies, such as Apple and Amazon. “I had always had an interest in IT and tech, but didn’t know all the companies had European headquarters in Ireland.”

She applied for a tech support position with Apple and was offered the job. “It was a great job, but the fact that I spoke German was enough. You just had to be able to speak the language and smile, and then you got the job.”

Her friend also began searching for work, but eventually moved back to Germany to continue her studies.

After a stint working for the tech company EMC and another technology group, Solar Winds, Gurlitt was contacted by a recruiter who tried to convince her to interview for a job at a company called Malwarebytes. “This external recruiter was very sneaky and called up pretending to be a customer and asked for me. I let him speak because he’d gone to all this effort.”

The position on offer fit her area of interest, and she felt the company’s core values reflected the values she considers most important in her own life. “My own personal values include fairness, honesty and transparency, but it’s also about how I want to live as a human being on this planet. I guess I want to be a Jedi – I want to be on the good side of the power.”

Heart condition
When Gurlitt first arrived in Ireland she assumed she would return to Germany after a couple of years. However, five years later she feels very comfortable in her Irish home. Her mother has begun dropping hints about job and study opportunities in Germany in the hope of coaxing her daughter back home. “She tries to be careful not to push me, but says things like ‘Haven’t you thought about looking for jobs here?’ I miss her too, but this company is great.”

Gurlitt suffers from a heart condition and admits that the cost of healthcare in Ireland can be a huge challenge when you need regular health checks. “I have to see the doctor a lot, but it’s so expensive here. Even though I get basic health insurance from work, I still have to pay a lot. My mum keeps saying the health system in Germany is great, and whenever I get really sick I think to myself, I wouldn’t have all this trouble if I was in Germany. But in the end I think it’s worth it. I’m still alive.”

She finds the nation’s friendly demeanour a welcome change to the frowns she often experienced in shops and restaurants in Germany. “For me, it’s the mentality of the people here, like when you thank the bus driver. How nice is that? It’s a small thing, but it’s such a big gesture.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish

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