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‘When I got here, Irish people were so welcoming. I was shocked at how good they were to me’

New to the Parish: Constantin Tui came to Ireland from Romania in 1999

“If I had to define myself as a psychotherapist, I would be an existentialist. I’m interested in those big questions about life, and the meaning of life,” says Constantin Tui. His practice is largely influenced by his own experiences, moving from Romania to Ireland, and embracing new cultures and ways of life.

“I’ve been here almost half my life now, but I remember when I left my country feeling like I’d lost my identity in some ways,” Tui says.

Tui came to Ireland in 1999 and experienced a “culture shock” having grown up in “a very communist country”.

“It was really strict in Transylvania, and you can imagine how regimented everything was. There was huge pressure from the communist regime, and from family as well, to conform,” he says.

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Tui’s educational background was in teaching and social work, which was “very tough and strict”.

“In our tests we were expected to perform at 100 per cent all the time. You couldn’t really go home with any less. So when I came to Ireland and started to study in university here, if I got 85 per cent, I’d go and ask the lecturer why. The lecturer would tell me this was a good, first class grade. So in comparison things are more relaxed here,” he says.

“In Romania we were expected to behave in a very specific way at school when I was growing up, to always get the best results, and physical punishment was applied if we didn’t comply with rules, but I was a very good student.”

Tui decided to become a teacher in Romania “because it was the safest avenue of getting a job there”.

“But I was really unhappy with the regime in Romania. I felt there was no freedom. I wanted something more. I started to travel to France and that gave me a good understanding of what Europe looked like. I could see that there was a different life outside of Romania that I wanted.”

Tui decided to go to a country where he didn’t speak the language at the time, to “experience something totally new, and a new territory”.

“I spoke Romanian and French but not English, so initially, I went to London with the intention to learn English for six months. But I couldn’t get a job there, I found it very tough. I had a few French and Romanian friends in Ireland who encouraged me to come here. I meant to stay for a few months but I stayed for years.”

After a while in Ireland, Tui decided to return to education and chose psychotherapy as a new career path, taking several courses in different colleges.

“I still felt for a while like I’d lost my identity after leaving my country. Initially, I thought I needed to change to be more like Irish people or other European people, but I realised it was important to incorporate and integrate my Romanian identity while being more open to Irish culture and all sorts of cultures,” he says.

“When I came to Ireland in 1999, at first, there weren’t very many foreigners here. But that has changed a lot. There is a huge Romanian community here now and not only Romanian but also Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Filipino, for example. But even before those communities grew, when I got here, Irish people were so welcoming and nice and polite. I was shocked at how good they were to me.”

Tui lived in Dublin for nine years and then moved to Wicklow.

But when his mother arrived in Ireland seven years ago, Tui started to become more involved in Ireland’s Romanian community, mainly based in Dublin, as his mother did not speak English.

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic began, Tui and his mother moved to Dublin 15 “to be more part of the Romanian community here”.

“Most of my friends are Irish, but I have a lot of Romanian friends here too, and friends from other cultures as well, from France, Moldova, Belgium and Italy,” he says.

Tui and his mother were “very close”. When she was ill in recent years, Tui “became her main carer”, looking after her alongside his partner Daniela, and with the support of his friends.

“She was very sick. She was mobile but she didn’t speak English, so I was the translator for her in hospital all the time over the past three months, before she died in December. It was really difficult. But I was very lucky because I had my partner and I’m surrounded by very good friends who helped a lot,” he says.

In recent years, especially since Covid, I’ve noticed not only within the Romanian community but society at large that there’s a huge increase in loneliness

Now he feels grateful to be more closely connected to the Romanian community in Ireland.

“When I started really getting involved in the Romanian community in Dublin, I noticed as a trained psychotherapist that there was a real need for someone from Romania in the industry because they all struggled with the same identity issues I had in the past, in trying to embrace a new culture while keeping your own traditions. What I experienced 20 years ago is the basis of what I do today.

“Most of my colleagues in clinics have been Irish as well but I can see a small growth in the number of counsellors in the last 10 years who are from other cultures too. In recent years, especially since Covid, I’ve noticed not only within the Romanian community but society at large that there’s a huge increase in loneliness.

“And people are asking those big questions more often, existential questions like: what do I do with my life and is there any meaning?”

Tui’s practice as a psychotherapist is “hugely influenced by existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Proust”.

“One of the main books that shaped my practice is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl. It’s amazing. The basis of it is trying to find where to go in life, and what the purpose and meaning of your life is. It helped me find my mission in life and as a psychotherapist,” he says.

“I want to give people a feeling of warmth and peace – that homely feeling I felt in Ireland when I came here, being a foreigner struggling with identity and the language, but being welcomed and treated with warmth. I want to make everyone feel comfortable and get to that feeling of a sense of safety and security and being able to think about these big questions about their mission, purpose and values.”

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