‘In America you’re always on edge for a shooting, which is crazy to say but it’s true’

New to the Parish: Ciara Tobin arrived from Florida in 2021

Ciara Tobin was 23 when she moved from Florida to Ireland, the same age her mother was when she made the journey in the opposite direction.

“It was a coincidence. I didn’t realise until I was leaving and she was reflecting on her past that we realised it was the exact same age that she left Ireland. It’s interesting to think of my mam leaving here to go to United States,” she says.

Born and raised in the Sunshine State, Tobin says childhood in the US is almost exactly like how it is often portrayed in films.

“Well, let’s see, in high school it’s the football games and the cheerleaders, you know. In Ireland, I know a lot of people here go to same-gender schools; that’s absolutely not the case in Florida. Like, that’d be really weird and rare,” she says.

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“I went to the University of Florida, and Greek life [organisations or chapters with Greek names], the frat [fraternity] culture, is very real. Even it’s things I don’t even realise that mystify people sometimes, just like places you hang out or grocery stores or, you know, that sort of stuff like going to the movie theatre when you’re 13 and, like, making out. I’m sure that these are universal things, but they are sometimes like the Netflix shows.”

Her parents are both originally from Cork. She visited Ireland quite often during summers with her family when she was a child. Ireland seemed to her at the time, she says, like a fairy-tale land.

“We would go to Cork, go to the Blarney Stone, we’d go to the English Market and we’d go to Penneys,” she says of her childhood trips to Ireland.

Irish people in the US are generally very well liked, she says, adding that she believes the State has “very good PR”.

“In United States they really love Ireland, and even St Patrick’s Day, if anyone said St Patty’s with the T’s, we get almost venomous about it and correct them. We’re really sort of protective over it as well,” she adds.

“I know other kids would be, like, I’m a penny Irish, like 1 per cent. And then I’d have to be, like, ‘Well, I’m full-blooded Irish, okay.’”

Coming from an immigrant family, Tobin says, there was always a drive to go into a so-called “serious profession”.

In college she was originally going to study pre-med to be a doctor, but she quickly realised that idea was based on what she thought she should do rather than what she wanted to do.

“So I went to a career counsellor and they lined up my interests, and I joined the Women’s Student Association at the University of Florida and just found feminism and started reading feminist literature, and it all just started making sense to me.”

She opted for a double major in gender studies and psychology. She says the decision to move to Ireland in 2021 was, in part, due to what she had learned about privilege, emotions and safety.

“In United States I was starting to feel quite hopeless, to be honest with you. I was in the protests for the Black Lives Matter movement. And even though I was educated, and I was, you know, aware of the issues, I don’t think I had been like confronted with it so head-on,” she says.

“And I had always wanted to move to Ireland, but it was just like, in the United States, it was just not feeling great. Even with the guns, I think it is probably the biggest thing.”

The difference in gun availability was one of the biggest things she noticed upon her move to Ireland.

She went to see one of the Spider-Man movies in the cinema soon after her arrival. “Someone came in mid-movie with a bag, and my heart sort of started racing, because usually that’s like, you know, warning, warning‚ warning, warning, but then they just sat down. I was like, oh, I’m no longer in the United States. This is no longer a threat,” she says.

There’s so much life here. There’s so much culture, but I think it takes a bit of digging. It’s kind of like you have to know who to know, sort of, before you find out about these things

“You don’t realise in the United States how much anxiety there is around it, because when you go to the grocery store you’re looking around, you’re making sure, you’re always on edge for a shooting, which is crazy to say but it’s true.”

The other challenge, she found, was making new friends. Some Irish people, she says, have friends from their younger days, and it can be hard to join those friendship circles. Initially she lived with her uncles, and befriended the people they knew.

“For the beginning I was hanging out with them and going to their dinner parties, and it was all 50-year-old-plus gay men and lesbians – and it was great. I felt like this is my friend group,” she says.

“But then, when I moved into my own place, through Daft.ie, I started feeling a bit lonely. I got on Bumble BFF [an app to help people find friends]. And it’s really cool as well because it’s mostly immigrants on it because they don’t really know each other.”

Despite those initial challenges, there is “so much more good here than bad”, she says.

“There’s so much talent here. There’s so much life here. There’s so much culture, but I think it takes a bit of digging; it’s kind of like you have to know who to know, sort of, before you find out about these things,” she says.

“Even the corporate culture here is so different. People are so human. If you’re sick, they say ‘Oh, go home.’ Or they tell you to make sure you take all your holidays. You’d be encouraged to not take any in the States.”

Though she has always had a connection to Ireland through her heritage and family here, after living here for more than a year, it is a place she calls home.

“I was just in London, and part of the reason I went was because a lot of my friends here are moving to London or Australia or Vancouver. I became curious. But then, when I came back, it was like coming home, and I realised that I don’t know if I do want to leave Ireland. It’s really homey.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish