Though prone to emotional outbursts, I do think I have a rather cold centre. It is a coldness that has allowed me to say goodbye to my parents at various airports without crying or, if crying, to be the one to turn away first and walk toward the gate, produce my passport and not look back.
It might be unnecessary but it has helped me to get on with things. It has helped me to survive overseas where attachment would have been a hindrance, at least at the beginning. You have to be cold to leave your country but it is certainly an effective coping mechanism.
Pretty much as soon as I arrive in the security queue in Dublin airport I am over Ireland and can shed any attachment I may have built up. It hadn’t struck me until now that it might be my way of dealing with homesickness. Usually when I leave Ireland, I am travelling alone, often significant distances. I simply can’t afford to have anything which would weaken me, heaven forbid, like an emotional response.
Once abroad I can also quite easily forget about Ireland. I become caught up in wherever I am. Anywhere seems an improvement – likely because my adult life in Ireland has never taken off. I left as soon as a I graduated. I have never had a well-paying, non-student job in Ireland and my recent memories are of unemployment, anxiety, dead ends and budget cuts. It is all too easy to understand why my emigrant life seems to glow in comparison.
I remember reading somewhere that the best way to cope with emigration is to throw yourself into the culture of your new home whole heartedly. It makes me laugh now to think of how literally I interpreted this. When I experienced the difference in personal space between the Irish and Spanish cultures, I decided that this would be the way I would force myself to row in with my new surroundings.
On every metro that I took I would sit next to someone rather than doing what I think is a very Irish/northern European thing and sit as far away from anyone else as the public transport will allow. It probably had little real effect on how I managed those years but whenever I reminded myself not to hide in the back seats I would feel a surge of pride at my continuous effort and my determination not to let my upbringing dictate the success I could have at integrating.
I have always maintained that it is only good to be Irish abroad. There is a sense of community that seems to spring up between any Irish people when they meet, especially if it is the middle of nowhere. I once struck up a conversation with a guy in a tiny café in Chiang Mai, Thailand who initially thought I was French. You don’t have this spirit of fun and comradery at home, I thought. It only exists because we are abroad. We are a community by necessity.
Until I came home for this month this belief was solid. Maybe, I’m now thinking, I kept it so in order not to entertain the idea that life could be better in Ireland. I wasn’t ever in a position to move home. When this month is over and I return to work, it will not be in Ireland as it is still too expensive to live here. I needed to cultivate some myths to keep myself going as an emigrant. Perhaps that was one of them.
What I have learned in coming back here for this month is that many of my perceptions are true. I don’t have a rose-tinted view of the country but that was never my problem in the first place.
For every other fleeing visit I think I have refused to remove the glasses I felt were thrusted on me as I graduated university – to see the place gripped by a recession brought on by greed; grey, dark and with no opportunities for my generation. I’ve been carrying that with me for almost six years.
Would I move home to Ireland? I can’t see it. I like my life abroad and I feel thankful for what I have been able to achieve by leaving. Had I stayed I think I would be worse off than I am now.
I am glad that I haven’t gone to India. While I miss my boyfriend, the lessons I needed to learn have been here, waiting for me. I am learning to accept that the next time I leave Ireland I will be upset because of what I will genuinely miss and that I shouldn’t try to bury this under a layer of denial, refusing to believe in it.
Cheesy as it is, I feel I have just removed a pair of prejudiced glasses that I have been wearing since 2013. I like being home.