Though em­i­gra­tion is fall­ing, more Ir­ish peo­ple left last year than in 2010, the depths of the ‘down­turn’. A se­lec­tion of peo­ple ex­plain why they went

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Ciara Kenny

In the 12 months to April this year, 30,800 Ir­ish peo­ple moved abroad. The fig­ure is higher than the num­ber that em­i­grated in 2010, when the re­ces­sion was tight­en­ing its hold. Un­em­ploy­ment is now at a nine-year low of 6.1 per cent, with full em­ploy­ment fore­cast to re­turn by the end of next year. Prospects for job­seek­ers are, on pa­per at least, bet­ter than they have been for al­most a decade.

New mi­gra­tion fig­ures from the Cen­tral Statis­tics Of­fice show the num­bers of Ir­ish leav­ing have been fall­ing steadily as the econ­omy has re­cov­ered, but they are still re­mark­ably high in 2017, more than dou­ble the pre-crash fig­ure of 15,300 from 2006. So why are so many still em­i­grat­ing?

Us­ing a new story-shar­ing tool on irish­times.com, we asked read­ers who had left the coun­try since 2016 to share their rea­sons for go­ing. Over the past two weeks, we’ve re­ceived dozens of con­tri­bu­tions from em­i­grants liv­ing all over the world.

Some left to ex­pe­ri­ence life in a new place, but a con­sid­er­able num­ber of oth­ers men­tion high liv­ing costs and poor job prospects, es­pe­cially out­side Dublin, and par­tic­u­larly for grad­u­ates, as fac­tors that have pushed them over­seas.

This is a se­lec­tion of the re­sponses we re­ceived. For more, see irish­times.com/abroad.

Al­berta, Canada

I was 24 years old, liv­ing in a coun­cil es­tate with no col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, work­ing a part-time job in re­tail, with a part­ner who was un­em­ployed and a two-year-old son. I knew if we stayed in Ire­land, we would strug­gle for the rest of our lives. Our son would grow up not know­ing how much bet­ter life can and should be.

We packed what lit­tle we had and left for Canada in 2016, where my par­ents have been liv­ing since 2012. We be­gan work­ing within a week. We saved hard. Thir­teen months af­ter ar­riv­ing in Sher­wood Park, we signed the pa­pers to buy our own home.

Canada pro­vides more op­por­tu­ni­ties for us than Ire­land ever will. The stan­dard of liv­ing is above and be­yond what we knew at home. Shane works as a tiler for the big­gest floor­ing com­pany in western Canada, and I work as an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant for a fi­nanc­ing com­pany. Our son is in Montes­sori full-time and is thriv­ing.

We would love to go home and live to the same stan­dard that we do here in Canada, but re­al­is­ti­cally that will prob­a­bly never hap­pen. Ire­land will al­ways be home, but Canada is where we will live for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Zürich, Switzer­land

In early 2017, I came to the end of a two-year post­doc re­search po­si­tion in York. As a sci­en­tist, and an Ir­ish em­i­grant, these short con­tracts wreak havoc with your sense of sta­bil­ity. You are never truly set­tled any­where.

This year was my sixth year liv­ing in the UK, and although I was grate­ful for the op­por­tu­ni­ties, I wasn’t ready to set­tle there. Con­versely, a move to Dublin would have marked the end of my ca­reer path; fund­ing sci­en­tific re­search doesn’t seem top of the agenda in Ire­land.

Af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion, my English fi­ancé and I moved to Zürich for an­other two-year fel­low­ship. This means my next de­ci­sion is due in 2019, at the age of 31.

I would love to say Ire­land will be on the cards for both of us then, but I don’t hold much hope. Em­i­grants will only re­turn home if the ben­e­fits out­weigh what they are leav­ing be­hind.

At the minute, I am en­joy­ing Zürich’s ef­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture, work-life balance and high stan­dard of liv­ing.

Paris, France

I started my new job the day I moved to Paris on my 23rd birth­day. I was grate­ful to have found work that was chal­leng­ing and in­ter­est­ing, promised ad­vance­ment, and didn’t os­cil­late be­tween five and 37 work­ing hours a week.

Friends and col­leagues here, most of them un­der 30, chat of their am­bi­tions to have a place of their own. They are not rolling in money; but they know if they save up a rea­son­able de­posit, they will stand a fair chance of own­ing their own home. In Ire­land, this seemed like a pipe dream.

I am en­thralled by this beau­ti­ful city. But I am also sad­dened that these steps I am tak­ing in my ca­reer and my life are not in Dublin, my home. I would love to come back and make a life in Ire­land.

But when I think of the zero-hour con­tracts, the ¤1,000 shed rentals, and the Eighth Amend­ment, Paris seems a more promis­ing lo­ca­tion for now.

Hong Kong

Af­ter four years teach­ing in Asia, I came back to Ire­land in July to stake out the jobs mar­ket in Dublin, but it seems not a lot has changed. If you want to work in the Googles or Face­books in Dublin then there are op­por­tu­ni­ties, but I found the job mar­ket to be very sim­i­lar to when I left. So I live in Hong Kong now, and have a far higher stan­dard of liv­ing than I would at home, with proper health­care and low taxes. Hong Kong is fast-paced, ex­pen­sive and high-rise, but it’s wel­com­ing, di­verse and bustling. It’s home.

Dubai, UAE

Un­like most em­i­grant teach­ers, I chose to move abroad. I count my­self lucky, as many teach­ers feel forced to leave Ire­land for pro­fes­sional and fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

I worked in a Bri­tish school in Qatar from 2011-2015, so I am fa­mil­iar with the Gulf re­gion, its cul­ture, and its schools. I moved to a secondary school in Dubai in Septem­ber 2016, where I teach Emi­rati stu­dents.

I came here for a range of rea­sons: the salary is tax-free and rent is paid, which is fi­nan­cially em­pow­er­ing (af­ter four years there I was able to buy my four-bed house in Cavan), reg­u­lar school breaks al­low me to take three an­nual hol­i­days over­seas, I am meet­ing like-minded ex­pats from all around the world, it is rel­a­tively close to Ire­land (in com­par­i­son to Aus­tralia at least), and the am­bi­tious “can-do” at­ti­tude gives you higher as­pi­ra­tions for your­self.

Van­cou­ver, Canada

My girl­friend and I both left our jobs in Dublin to come to Van­cou­ver in April. We wanted to travel, and Van­cou­ver of­fered op­por­tu­ni­ties to live and work in one of the world’s high­est ranked cities for qual­ity of life. Van­cou­verites have struck a work-life balance that should be the envy of Dublin. Ac­tual ob­ser­vance of work­ing hours and a bet­ter trans­port net­work mean I rou­tinely re­turn from work two hours ear­lier than I did at home.

There are draw­backs; Canadian com­pa­nies of­fer sig­nif­i­cantly less an­nual leave, and rent­ing and liv­ing costs are on par with Dublin. But the pos­i­tives eas­ily out­weigh any short­com­ings. It’s not hard to see what drew a large Ir­ish con­tin­gent here, and why so many have stayed.

But Ire­land is our home, and we will be mov­ing back even­tu­ally. While fam­ily and friends are the driv­ing force be­hind that de­ci­sion, the cur­rent hous­ing cri­sis in Ire­land could end up dic­tat­ing time­lines.

Sar­nia, Canada

I moved from Car­low to On­tario at the end of Jan­uary. I was bored with life in Ire­land af­ter col­lege, and wanted to see a bit of the world. I chose Sar­nia as I have an aunt here and it looked re­ally nice.

By day I work as a men­tal health peer sup­port worker, and in the evenings I am a host­ess in an Ir­ish pub called Paddy Fla­herty’s.

My grand­mother was buried the day be­fore I left for Canada so it made it ex­tra hard be­ing away from fam­ily, but it’s not as bad now. The highs have been get­ting em­ployed in great jobs, mov­ing out on my own for the first time, buy­ing my first Canadian motor, and meet­ing so many great peo­ple who are now my for­ever friends.

I can’t see my­self mov­ing back to Ire­land in the near fu­ture, as I plan to ex­plore more of this beau­ti­ful coun­try.

Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land

As I crossed the stage to col­lect my de­gree from Maynooth Univer­sity in Septem­ber 2016, I was gripped not by ex­cite­ment for what the fu­ture held, but by fear. Four years of hard work and what did I have to show for it? An In­ter­na­tional Arts De­gree, a hefty stu­dent loan, and zero job prospects. With no way to af­ford Dublin rents, my boyfriend Dan and I had to move in with his par­ents in Cel­bridge.

Life was not how I had imag­ined it. I was a part-time li­brary as­sis­tant at the univer­sity, and Dan was wait­ing ta­bles. I ap­plied for count­less jobs in Dublin and re­ceived count­less re­jec­tions. We were broke. Some­thing had to change.

Four months later, af­ter scrimp­ing and sav­ing ev­ery penny we earned, we crossed the Ir­ish Sea to Ed­in­burgh. Our lives im­proved hugely. We have our own flat that’s a 20-minute walk from the city cen­tre, with rent a frac­tion of what our friends are pay­ing in Dublin. We have the ben­e­fit of the NHS, and have formed a won­der­ful cir­cle of friends.

I have found a job I love with a de­cent salary, work­ing as a stu­dio and project as­sis­tant for a de­sign agency. Dan is go­ing back to univer­sity here in Septem­ber. I feel like I’m fi­nally be­gin­ning my own life now.

Helsinki, Fin­land

I moved with my wife, our then one-year-old daugh­ter, and cat to Helsinki last sum­mer for a job on a unique con­struc­tion project. The qual­ity of life here is higher than in Ire­land. Pub­lic ser­vices are ex­cel­lent; we pay ¤350 per month for an English-speaking kinder­garten, and an ef­fi­cient trans­port sys­tem means we feel free by not hav­ing to own a car any­more.

Gro­ceries and eat­ing out are more ex­pen­sive though, and the peo­ple are less out­go­ing. The Finns are a very po­lite and lib­eral, with a great work ethic, and a pos­i­tive work-life balance. I en­joy my work. It is dif­fi­cult to form a so­cial cir­cle with lo­cals.

We know more im­mi­grant fam­i­lies in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions to us than Finns. The Finns have their friends from child­hood, and rarely move out­side their so­cial cir­cle. You can see this in pubs where they of­ten stick to their own groups.

I miss the spon­ta­neous craic in Ire­land, but not the par­ish pump pol­i­tics or short-term po­lit­i­cal think­ing. We miss our fam­ily and friends, but this is less­ened by their many vis­its. The cold in win­ter isn’t a prob­lem, as it’s not as damp as in Ire­land, but the dark­ness is tough – we take a lot of vi­ta­min D sup­ple­ments.

We will move home, some­day, but it will be hard to leave the qual­ity of life be­hind.

Lon­don, UK

My part­ner and I cel­e­brate one year liv­ing in Lon­don this week­end, a year in which I’ve come across op­por­tu­ni­ties that would never have been open to me back home in Lim­er­ick af­ter grad­u­a­tion: a com­mu­ni­ca­tions job with a busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tion in Fitzrovia in Cen­tral Lon­don, and liv­ing in a Ge­or­gian house in Queens Park.

Life in Lon­don goes at a mil­lion miles an hour, but I love get­ting the packed Bak­er­loo line to work and the buzz on the streets. I’ve been glad to dis­cover for my­self that life here is far more af­ford­able than I had been led to be­lieve. Mak­ing new friends is tough and there is more crime. But I’m op­ti­mistic about my fu­ture in Lon­don, know­ing a grow­ing ca­reer and more money are within grasp.

Ox­ford­shire, UK

I moved back to Ire­land af­ter spend­ing three years in Eng­land in May 2017 with a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in a niche area, and a mas­ters un­der my belt. I be­lieved the me­dia spin about the Ir­ish econ­omy re­cov­er­ing.

I trav­elled to Done­gal for an in­ter­view to be told there were 165 ap­pli­cants for three jobs and they were in­ter­view­ing 65. I then went to Wex­ford, Kil­dare, north Dublin and into the city for sev­eral other in­ter­views.

By July I was com­pletely de­jected and re­minded of why I had left Ire­land three years ear­lier. I started to re-ap­ply to jobs back in Eng­land. Af­ter in­ter­views in Liver­pool and Cardiff, I ap­plied for a job in Ox­ford, was called to in­ter­view and of­fered the job a week later.

The best advice I can give any­one who is un­em­ployed in Ire­land is do not hang on and rot; go where you can get work and then ap­ply for jobs back in Ire­land from a dis­tance, and ask for Skype in­ter­views.

I am un­sure now whether I will re­turn. I was not en­ti­tled to dole in Ire­land as a re­turn­ing em­i­grant and had to claim UK dole for three months, even though the cost of liv­ing in Ire­land is twice what it is in the UK. Even if Brexit af­fects me I will prob­a­bly go to Europe, rather than risk go­ing back to Ire­land.

Bratislava, Slo­vakia

I moved to Bratislava shortly af­ter I fin­ished col­lege last year to work in an Ir­ish bar. I de­cided on Bratislava since so many cen­tral and east­ern Euro­peans live in Ire­land. I saw it as a sort of ex­tended “cul­tural ex­change”, more in­ter­est­ing than Canada or Aus­tralia.

I’m now work­ing in a cus­tomer ser­vice job at a ma­jor US-based multi­na­tional. Right now money isn’t my fo­cus, so I’m OK with be­ing broke some­times. I don’t see a long-term fu­ture for my­self in this city. have a ful­fill­ing ca­reer in maths, and drift into other ca­reers such as fi­nance.”

Part of her mis­sion is to show young women op­tions when they have few role mod­els and drop out of maths at col­lege so fre­quently. “A lot of that is to do with con­fi­dence,” she be­lieves. In ad­di­tion, “it’s so­cially ac­cept­able to say you are bad at maths in our so­ci­ety,” says Hunt. She doesn’t know why this is the case. In other coun­tries, such as China, “it’s seen as a great thing to be won­der­ful at maths”. She may be in town to show “how maths can save your life and make you mil­lions”, but she ad­mits an im­por­tant part of her Ir­ish visit will be to pur­chase a box of Tayto crisps for spe­cial de­liv­ery to her par­ents Liz and Paul Hunt, who live in Brighton. It’s all to do with her Ir­ish roots.

She was born in Sk­ib­bereen, Co Cork, and moved to the UK when she was three, but re­tains an Ir­ish pass­port.

Mod­el­ling ap­pli­ca­tions

Hunt works for Move­ment Strate­gies, a world-lead­ing con­sul­tancy in Lon­don that spe­cialises in analysing the move­ments of peo­ple. At work, she uses maths and statis­tics to fig­ure out the pat­terns of large crowds at venues such as Wem­b­ley Sta­dium. The mod­el­ling ap­pli­ca­tions they use – in­clud­ing prob­a­bil­ity – in eval­u­at­ing “the chances of peo­ple be­hav­ing in cer­tain ways” is straight­for­ward, she says. To an­a­lyse crowd flow, “you don’t need much higher than Leav­ing Cert maths.”

Since fin­ish­ing her PhD in evac­u­a­tion mod­el­ling at the Univer­sity of Green­wich, Hunt (also an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land) has worked with re­searchers across the world to fig­ure out how we can use maths to make build­ings safer; notably in de­ter­min­ing how a build­ing might be evac­u­ated nor­mally and in emer­gen­cies. This is done us­ing var­i­ous mod­els and then fac­tor­ing in hu­man be­hav­iour, what is known as “pedes­trian dy­nam­ics”.

Her spe­cial­i­sa­tion is mi­crosim­u­la­tion, which fo­cuses on egress strate­gies for crit­i­cal mul­ti­storey build­ings such as hos­pi­tals and par­tic­u­larly for peo­ple with re­duced mo­bil­ity. The work is es­pe­cially per­ti­nent for emer­gen­cies such as a ma­jor fire or a ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent. In these sce­nar­ios, “un­ten­able con­di­tions” is the ul­ti­mate threat, and the re­searchers look at op­tions in max­imis­ing the time avail­able to evac­u­ate be­fore that point is reached.

While crowd move­ment anal­y­sis is not part of oblig­a­tory build­ing codes in the UK, it is in­creas­ingly be­ing de­ployed. It is in­form­ing bet­ter de­sign and safety – not­with­stand­ing re­cent high-pro­file tragedies such the Gren­fell Tower fire. Her work, she be­lieves, shows what can be done with the ev­ery­day ap­pli­ca­tion of not- so- com­plex maths.

Maths Week 2017 runs un­til Oc­to­ber 22nd; math­sweek.ie

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