People Often Ask Me Why Ireland. Here’s The Long Answer…
I’ve been living in Dublin for a little over a year, and there’s one question that I get asked every time I introduce myself to an Irish person.
Why? Why are you here in Dublin? In Ireland?
The Idea vs. the Reality of Life Abroad
I’ve always found the idea of living abroad and traveling appealing, perhaps, as a result of the books, TV shows, and movies I consumed when I was younger. Because of this, my plans for the future have always included experiences overseas. I was determined to study abroad in college, to road trip across America, to backpack around the world, and to live abroad.
Recently, I’ve been pondering my motivation for living abroad. Was I pursuing a romantic dream, hoping to “find myself?” Maybe I was trying to escape “real life.” Maybe that was why I flipped the bird at grad school and why I found the idea of sleeping in hostels, working in cafes and organic farms, and slowly making my way across the world so enticing. To most, these dreams may seem adventurous and brave but the fact is, unlike many of my friends, I simply escaped a life of serious studying. I copped out of having to do well on the GRE or the LSAT or the MCAT.
I didn’t want to worry about a career because I told myself that I had a whole life for a career, that this was my opportunity to experience the world.
Experiences. Once I started a career, surely, that’s the end of experiences. So I left for Europe in search of them. Eventually, I realized the flaw in my thinking. Everyone’s path is different. Just because I’m going down what might seem like an unconventional path, it doesn’t mean it’s not “real life.” Life is always real.
And “real life” IS an experience.
I never fancied myself a tourist; I’m a traveller. While I love visiting new destinations, what I love even more is living life in different places. I enjoy doing regular routine things, just in different settings. I loved growing up in the ethnically-rich, residential neighborhoods of Queens. I loved spending four years of high school in “The City” (Manhattan) and my daily two and a half hour subway commute (intense, right?). I loved going to a tiny liberal arts college in rural Georgia. I loved moving on to a mid-sized research university near downtown Atlanta. I loved spending a summer studying in Oxford, England, walking along the River Thames, book in hand, taking in the fresh air of the English countryside. I loved my semester abroad at St Andrews, sitting at the end of the pier, looking at the expanse of the North Sea, belly full from my weekly fish and chips outing with my friends, a diverse crowd from Scotland, England, Norway, France, and various other places around the world.
These weren’t weekend trips to DC, an attempt to see every inch of the National Mall. They’re not trips to Niagara Falls to see, well, Niagara Falls. They’re not the many three week stints I’ve spent in Taiwan where family shuttle you through restaurant after restaurant (Noms…) and every tourist point of interest imaginable. They weren’t taking pictures in front of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower nor a three week road trip from Atlanta to San Fran, Los Angeles and back.
These were times when I lived life. Life in a big city. Life in a rural town. Life in a seaside town. And, that’s what I’m doing now.
Living life in Dublin.
Most of the time, I’m doing things that I would do anywhere else in the world. I’ll drink coffee at Brother Hubbard, my favorite coffee shop, while reading the New Yorker. I’ll go to Cineworld to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster or to the Irish Film Institute to catch an indie flick. Other times, I’ll do things that aren’t possible anywhere else: take a spontaneous train ride to a nearby seaside village to hang out at an Irish pub, nurse a silky pint of Guinness, and tap my feet to the Irish traditional music session happening in the corner.
It is well documented that many young Irish people leave Ireland in search of jobs and lives elsewhere. In fact, many of the Irish I’ve met have spent time in America (Australia is a big destination too). So why is this American coming over to Ireland when many here are looking overseas?
The simple explanation is “the grass is greener on the other side.” However, in my opinion, things are never simple.
Before I came to Ireland, I knew very little about the country except for the paltry information that Americans are fed in school. Potato famine. Guinness. St Patrick’s Day (Paddy, not Patty). Oh, and I’ve read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and tried very hard to understand Cillian Murphy’s accent in The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Other than that, I had the faintest idea of what Ireland would be like.
Unlike many Americans, I didn’t have the excuse of “I’m Irish” and that I’m trying to find my roots. I’m here purely because there is a working holiday visa, an agreement between the US and Ireland, which allows citizens of the two countries the chance to work for up to 12 months in the other country. Before coming to Ireland, I had planned to stay for a year before heading off to Europe for my epic backpacking trip.
I chose Ireland because it gave me the opportunity to fund my travels. It was a choice of pragmatism. I needed money to backpack Europe. Ireland would allow me to achieve that goal.
Spoiler alert: things never go as planned.
Falling in Love With Dublin
Getting to know a city is like getting to know a person. In the beginning, you don’t know what to expect but you’re giddy about the prospect you stumbled upon something great. At first, you’ll just notice the superficial things. Look at the amazing architecture! Wow, this pint of Guinness is so much smoother than the ones we get in the States! The River Liffey is smaller than I imagined. What’s that spike in the middle of the city?
Day by day, week by week, you peel back the layers. Instead of prancing around Temple Bar with the friends you make from your hostel, having pints to tunes like “The Wild Rover,” and weirdly enough “Wagon Wheel” (it seems like they play the same songs every day), you move into an apartment in the city centre, and soon enough, you find yourself drinking IPAs at P. Mac’s, volunteering at the Darklight Film Festival, chilling at Electric Picnic, and playing baseball for the Irish Baseball League.
Dublin is an exciting place to live at the moment. Coming from New York City, Dublin is a lot smaller in comparison. You can walk from one side of the city centre (downtown area) to the other in about 45 minutes. People in Dublin often joke that everywhere is “ten minutes away.” But Dublin is in all respects a big city (the most populous in Ireland, in fact) and there’s always something going on in the city.
As a whole, Ireland is still struggling with the recent recession. However, things seem to be looking up, especially in Dublin (although, I’m not an economic expert by any means). There’s a real creative and entrepreneurial vibe in Dublin. Most people are aware of Dublin being the European headquarters of tech giants like Google, Dropbox, LinkedIn, etc. However, I’d say, living here, the greatest innovative vibes come from the local Dublin community. Dublin is an exciting modern city with a young population. Personally, as someone who dabbles in everything, it’s tickles me to see Dublin with rich communities in almost every niche.
Dublin’s resurgence is immediately apparent walking down the streets of the city centre. New shopfronts are popping up every day. Recently, I’ve become a bit of a foodie partly because of Dublin’s electrifying food scene. There are so many restaurants, old and new, doing innovative things with various types of cuisines. In fact, I worked front-of-house at a brand new American-style BBQ joint, Pitt Bros (nomnomnom), when I first arrived in Dublin. Everyone knows how big tea is traditionally in Ireland but I was completely surprised by how big coffee culture is in Dublin (note: this is a New Yorker making that comment). And while we’re talking hipster stuff, I should probably mention the huge craft beer scene that’s invaded the city as well. On any given day, you can walk the city and find a handful quality gigs, an outdoor pop-up event, food markets, a festival, etc. Obviously, these things aren’t indicative of innovation, but they sure as hell create buzz.
As I continue to make a life here in Ireland, it’s my goal to get to know Dublin fully, to learn every inch of it. I want to immerse myself, travel to every corner of the country. Lie on its beaches. Hike its mountains. Have pints in random Irish pubs in random Irish towns.
Now, where shall I go next?
Here to Stay Awhile
After four months of working at Pitt Bros, I stumbled upon an opportunity with Stint Ireland. The company was brand new, nice and shiny, and it has been quite the journey so far. I apologize if this sounds sappy but I love working at Stint. I love working with Melanie and Aoife. I love our program participants; they are such amazing individuals. This month marks my one year Stint work-versary and I’m determined to work hard to help us achieve our dreams. (Update: I had my two-year work-versary in January 2016 and we are now a team of four with the addition of the amazing Seana!)
To sum up, the short answer to the aforementioned question is that I quite enjoy living life in Dublin.
So, I’m here to stay for awhile.