Ever since becoming an emigrant, I have studiously avoided the Generation Emigration section of the Irish Times site. Having previously consumed the articles with a heady mixture of curiosity and mild envy from my home in Donegal, I‘ve gone cold turkey for the last four months. The Irish Times hasn’t mortally offended me, I just felt like a bit of fraud. I left Ireland at the end of March for a twelve month contract with an international nonprofit based in their Budapest office. But the smiling faces of the hundreds of Generation Emigration contributors made me feel like I was doing something wrong.
While nobody can be delighted with the fact that your friends are leaving home at a rate of knots as part of the almost 90,000 who emigrated between April 2012 and April 2013, I always envisaged myself travelling for work at some stage. In the summers of 2009 and 2010, I had been based in DC with the Washington Ireland Program and had soaked up every minute of the experience. Plus, as someone with an interest in nonprofits and armed with a human rights degree, it seemed only natural that I would be looking for employment outside Ireland. So when this position in Hungary presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Budapest is stunning – anyone reading this who hasn’t visited yet needs to hotfoot it to the website of either of our national carriers as soon as you finish reading this. Despite the visually engaging architecture and contagious, energetic buzz of a new city that I had just made home, there was a whisper at the back of my mind that I just couldn’t shake.
I said for years that I was happy with the idea of travelling for work. No bother, I said. It’ll be grand. Wee buns. So why am I missing home? I allowed myself to feel like this occasionally for the first few weeks, but after that I was berating myself any time I thought about home. Like most other 20-somethings who were raised on the internet, my knee jerk reaction was to run into the arms of a search engine and trawl through websites for validation. There is little solace to be found on Facebook, that’s for sure. You can’t move on social media for heavily-Instagrammed beach selfies, collages of tropical cocktail parties and tweets containing photos of every famous cityscape illuminated at night. I slunk away with happy hashtags superimposed in my mind. Why hadn’t I settled in as quickly as them? What was wrong with me?
Now, I’m aware of the fact that some people reading this will roll their eyes and squeal ‘first world problems’ at their laptop. But I’m not writing this for you, so once you have filled up the comments section with a nice cathartic rant about how whiney and/or pretentious you think I sound, on your bike. Anyone else who is still hanging around, perhaps feeling the same way as me – don’t worry. You are not alone. Sometimes, it’s OK to feel ‘just OK’ about your new situation.
Not that the people who have taken to their new abodes like the proverbial ducks to water love Ireland any less, I’m certainly not saying that. What I am saying is that it’s OK to just be OK some days. You don’t have to be constantly raving about the plethora of cool eateries around your new gaff that you frequent, remembering how mad we all though Mickey McDowell was when he spoke of fostering a cafe culture in Ireland. You don’t have to gloat about amazing weather 24/7 (sometimes you just want a nice soft day or a bit of breeze!). And you definitely don’t have to start asking all your friends still in Ireland ‘are you not bored at home?’. Life as an emigrant isn’t one big barbie on Bondi all the time.
It can be very easy to read a wee bit too much into those photos from another fabulous international night out. People tend not to tweet about the days that they struggle with a language barrier or feel tired, emotional and just want a chicken fillet roll, a bag of Hunky Dorys and a hug. Or a decent cup of tea. Only this week, I had a conversation with my best friend who emigrated over twelve months ago. For the first time, she told me about how she really felt about her first few months away.
People don’t tell you about the hard days
In my mind, she had hopped on the trans-Atlantic plane and never looked back. However, she confirmed that, for months, she had actually felt exactly the same as me. I had been beating myself up for being a mope, for being the only young Irish emigrant who seemingly was rubbish at this emigrating business. I had even been comparing myself to her, asking why I was incapable of acting more like my peers. If I had just copped on and been honest with her, she would have shared her experience with me. She summed it up perfectly in a succinct Whatsapp message: “People only say ‘ah, it’s the best decision you’ll ever make ’.They don’t tell you about the hard days.”
That simple text message exchange made me feel so much calmer. Undoubtedly, leaving home is hard. It was hard being away from home when our family dog died suddenly. Anyone who knows me well will know how I seriously considered hopping on a plane home at that point but the thoughts of my new colleagues faces when I’d have to tell them why put a damper on that plan. It’s hard but it’s worth it. It was worth moving to Hungary to wake up every day in an apartment a few feet from a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was worth moving to take part in a Pride parade and have a Budapest teenager thank me, a straight non-Hungarian, for standing alongside the LGBTI community there. He was marching without his boyfriend who was too frightened of the possible repercussions if he was seen at Pride. It was also worth it when the same teenager broke that slightly emotional shared moment by gushing about Enya and bursting into a few bars of “Orinoco Flow” when he found out exactly where I was from!
If you are a emigrant of any age reading this, with a pang of homesickness swaying in your stomach, then think of the feeling in this way. By feeling nostalgic the odd time, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you are overly emotional. It simply means you have the best of both worlds. You have taken an exhilarating leap into the unknown and have found a whole new town or city to experience. You also love to go back to a place that is warmly familiar and filled with friends, family and great wheaten bread. Missing Ireland isn’t such a bad thing after all.