Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reflections of an emigrant...

I am Irish but I live outside of Ireland. I am one of approximately 1 million Irish-born people who can make this statement today. (Although there are up to 70 million diaspora worldwide if you count second- and third-generation Irish).

When I get the time I do read about other Irish people living abroad. A lot of what is written about Irish emigration is inherently depressing in character. The Irish media for a number of months, especially in 2010 and 2011 was obsessed with those leaving the country and there were countless newspaper articles, radio reports and TV documentaries in this vein. Initiatives like the Irish Times' Generation Emigration section have gone someway to redress the balance of coverage. The micro-site publishes stories of Irish emigration from all over the world, it has spaces for people to tell their own stories of life in the U.S., Australia, South Korea or wherever they find themselves. The articles tend to present a mix of experiences, ranging from those who were happy to leave Ireland and live and explore other countries, to those who feel their departure was  involuntary, forced by economic or other circumstances. Emigration is always a hotly debated topic, and always generates strong opinions when brought up.

The Irish Times comprehensive survey published a couple of month backs up what I had already suspected about a lot of recent Irish emigration. Firstly 72% of those questioned were working before they emigrated showing that it's not just those that are unemployed. In reality, it's probably harder for those who are unemployed to emigrate in many cases, as setting up in a new country is not cheap. Related to that, 75% of those interviewed said that their current job was better than the one they had previously held in Ireland compared to 14% who said it was about the same and only 10% who said it was worse. People aren't going abroad simply for jobs, they are going abroad for better jobs, better opportunities. Older emigrants were far more likely to have a job lined up before moving, 57% of over 35s had work lined up compared to 29% of under 25s. This makes sense, as they are more likely to be moving with partners or families in tow.

These statistics reflected my own, and many of my friends' experiences of emigration. For me, I moved abroad first for study, and then for this volunteer/work experience. I probably could have found work at home, but it would not have been in the area I was interested in. I saw moving away as a chance to gain valuable experience that would have been difficult to get in Ireland.

Some of the statistics I found most interesting referred not to people's new jobs but to their new lifestyles. 70% said their new lifestyle was better, with only 10% saying it was worse. 55% stated that their diet was better than back home, and 54% were exercising more. Drinking habits were fairly unchanged, with 42% drinking about the same, 35% drinking less and 22% drinking more. Overall, those who stated they were happier made up 56% of the sample, 22% were less happy and 22% were about the same.

I myself am definitely living healthier in Kenya than I did in Ireland; in many ways my lifestyle is better than it would have been at home. I eat far more fresh fruit and veg, and far less meat and processed foods. I cook proper meals, far more often than I would if I lived in Ireland. I am also drinking less than I would be in Ireland. All of this has been a great by-product of having to get by on a volunteer's allowance and I hope to continue whenever I do go home.

I also dedicate a lot more time to friends and family relationships here than I probably would do at home. I don't physically see most of them but we email, Skype, Facebook, tweet, send Whatsapp and Viber messages. I actually ring my granny more often here than I did when I lived in London. Being away from Ireland has highlighted the importance of nurturing these key relationships in my life, which can be no bad thing.

I fully intend to go to Ireland some day. But I am just not sure what day that will be, nor quite what it will take to fully lure me back. I miss Ireland. And I miss my friends and family dreadfully. But not quite enough to get me to move back without knowing that certain job, career and lifestyle prospects would be waiting for me.

My good friend Órla reminded me of a beautiful Irish blessing recently 'Sláinte, saol fada agus bás in Eirinn'. For the non-Irish speakers amongst you this translates as wishing for 'Health, long life and may you die in Ireland'. That's what I wish for all of my Irish friends, and a few of my non-Irish ones too.

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