I used to read The Irish Times ‘Generation Emigration’ (http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/generationemigration/) online each day when it first started up a few months back. Recently, for lots of reasons, I haven’t been checking it as often. However, I spent a few hours the other day catching up on what I had missed. An article written by a guy called Jonathan Drennan on the 5th of May, entitled ‘Remembering Where We Came From But Embracing Where We Are Now’ (http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/generationemigration/2012/05/05/remembering-where-we-came-from-but-embracing-where-we-are-now/) got my attention.
He states that his article is addressed at young people (like me!). People ‘who find themselves in what should be the most exciting times of their lives abroad’. He says ‘we should be embracing the opportunities that emigration offers us rather than wistfully yearning for the past in Ireland.’ He continues to say, in his experience as an emigrant, that he finds Irish people are ‘incapable of living in the present’ and that by seeking out home comforts while abroad we are ‘languishing in the past’. He says we 'let ourselves down' and that we often 'neglect the positives of...new surroundings' and this, he claims, is preventing us from living in the present. However, I think he’s somewhat missing the point.
Firstly, why should being abroad be so exciting? Surely everyone’s experience is individual and personal. Being abroad certainly can be some of the most exciting times of your life, but I don’t think it’s right to say it should be.
Secondly, and of his own admission, Jonathan was lucky. He got a job, and therefore he is not ‘languishing in the past’. He has a present to be concerned with, and a worry free (foreseeable) future too. How lucky. He is happy. He is being kept busy and he is not being held back by a lack of opportunity. Others however, are not as lucky as he admits to being. Others do not have a secure job. Or even a job at all, many are still searching for employment. More emigrants still, do not have the luxury, as Jonathan does, of being an hour away from home.
I am also one of the lucky ones. I am living and working in South Korea and have been, happily so, for the last seven months. However, I am one of the people Jonathan talks about who seek out home comforts while away and I get tea bags sent over by my mother. They are a small and treasured slice of home while away. They are relished. They are used sparingly. They are only offered to the closest of friends, ones who will appreciate them, because when they run out I cannot simply buy more, or travel home at the nearest convenient date and get more. They have to be sent and this can take several weeks. Several weeks without teabags can be a difficult time for all involved!
As far as suggesting that this has me ‘languishing in the past’ is a bit of a joke. I very much live in the present. Korean’s aren’t great at understanding other cultures, so here, more than many other countries, you really have to get involved, it’s up to you to understand them. That requires effort and integration, which in turn requires living in the now.
Maybe the people who pine for home, the ones Jonathon cannot understand, the ones he feels are ‘hopelessly reminiscing about times that never were’ at home, have not been as lucky as he and I. Maybe they are in London without a good job, without any security. Maybe they have young sisters or brothers, nieces or nephews at home who they are missing greatly. Maybe they have a sick grandparent or parent at home. Or perhaps, they have been as lucky as Jonathan, but the guilt they feel for leaving loved ones behind, loved ones who perhaps have not been as lucky, is too much to bear sometimes. It is possible also, that the people who Jonathon meets on a daily basis in London, are not ‘yearning for the past in Ireland’ but simply the present. A present that is unattainable for many.
Maybe the hopeless ‘reminiscing about times that never were’ is a desire to one day have these times, at home. Jonathan says he is used to moving about. His childhood was spent between Belfast and Dublin. Lots of children don’t move about with their families which may result in their home roots running deeper. They may experience a greater sense of discomfort somewhere else. They may take longer to settle into a new place. Or they may simply not like change, especially change that is forced upon them.
As I said earlier, I have been living in South Korea for seven months now. I miss my family, particularly my nieces and nephews, hugely. I will be very excited when I get a chance to go home and visit. However, I am also very excited to be here. I frequently hear myself say how lucky I am to be here, to have a job, to be able to save some money, to be living in such a new and challenging society. I get tea bags sent to me and I savour them. I do not think of Ireland with rose tinted glasses, I do not wish I was there all year round. However, I try to understand those who do, and I try to sympathise with them. Being away from home gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new people, from all walks of life. You learn that there are many different ways to think about things. Maybe Jonathon should show more empathy and understanding to the people he criticises for wishing they were at home.