“There are always young people coming and going from Ireland and some of them are emigrants in the traditional sense. Others simply want to get off the island for a while. You know, a lot of the people who go to Australia… it’s not being driven by unemployment at home, it’s driven by a desire to see another part of the world and live there.” – Finance Minister Michael Noonan
When I first came across Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s comments on young emigrants, (probably 5 hours after everyone else at home) I was frustrated. And not for the reason you might think! I read comment after comment on various websites calling Ireland a “kip” and the Minister a “disgrace” for even suggesting that some young people wanted to see the world beyond Ireland’s shores. I was struck, mostly because I don’t consider myself a forced emigrant and neither do many of my close friends – yet here we are scattered across the globe in Canada, Japan, Kuwait, Australia and like myself, the United States.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to devalue the horror of having to leave your home country in search of work. Of course unemployment in Ireland is a factor for the majority of those who emigrate. It is particularly hard to hear of the countless families in tears at Dublin airport on a daily basis. And let’s face it, the Minister’s words were clumsy at best. But he said “a lot of people” want to see another part of the world and live there — and I’m sure he is right.
I feel strongly that the media have taken his words and twisted them to insinuate that the Minister is out of touch with the emigration problem in Ireland. In addition, the sad story of the majority of emigrants is covered daily and yet the story of lots of Irish young people in search of more than a thriving economy has been completely overlooked. Colleagues, if you’re looking for a positive spin on something – here it is!
If I left Ireland looking for an economy is stellar shape, I wouldn’t be living in the United States. Here, a political stalemate makes the recovery process particularly tough and unemployment remains relatively high.
Some of us emigrants are young, educated and fortunate enough to be without children to support and mortgages to pay. We might not necessarily be from middle class families (as Michael Noonan’s children are) but we have the luxury of economic freedom and a first class Irish education. We have the freedom to leave Ireland and gain some experience. After all, it has been hammered home on countless occasions how valuable foreign companies can be to a CV.
When I decided to leave Ireland, I had full time, well paid, freelance work with a company that is both respected and nurturing to its staff. I had a rented apartment which I could afford and a long term boyfriend. I made the decision to leave based on my hunger to see the world and the excitement of the possibilities emigration offered me. I felt that lots of my friends were going – and if not now when the conditions allowed me – then when? Add to that, the daily dose of doom and gloom and constant comments like those I read reacting to Minister Noonan’s remarks and the conditions were right.
Before I left Ireland, I carried out an experiment of sorts. I knew it would be the last time I saw some of my friends for awhile and so I interviewed some of my fellow emigrants on a digital audio recorder. True, my sample size was small (there were just twelve others involved) but they were all from different backgrounds, had different careers and were all around the same age. I was surprised to hear that not one of my respondents was angry. Where was the frustration with the government and the helplessness? All of them spoke in the excited tones of people embarking on a new phase in life and most confessed their plans to return home. They talked of meeting new people, taking up new jobs, and meeting friends who had already traveled abroad.The only sad notes to be heard were when they spoke of their parents who hoped their children would never have to leave. But as one interviewee shrugged, that’s just how it’s always been here.
How has my emigration experience been? Well, I’m especially lucky. I’m a US citizen (my parents got green cards in one of the big lotteries in the 90’s) and have family here – without whose help I would be completely lost. And although I miss my parents like you can’t even imagine, I love my life here. I’m working two jobs: one in my field and one that allows me to see some new places in the US and think outside my comfort zone. I have reconnected with some old American friends from my childhood too. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve discovered a new piece of myself. The part of me that loves a challenge and is comfortable in her own company.
It’s been six months and I look forward to following up with those friends I interviewed before I left. Hopefully their experiences have lived up to their expectations and if not, that they’ve learned something along the way.
I believe Mr. Noonan’s comments about “getting off the island for awhile” aren’t justified. The Ireland I left, offered me plenty and is still one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I certainly haven’t taken off my green jersey and I continue to portray my home country in a positive light to anyone who will listen! Once my journey is finished, I look forward to returning home to enjoy it again, thankful that I have had the freedom to see another part of the world.
Minister Noonan may not have expressed himself very eloquently when he spoke last month, and there are thousands (if not more) extremely sad stories of “traditional” forced emigrants. However, there are some of us have chosen to take advantage of our time abroad and will be better for the experience.