Goodbyes aren’t the same today as they were even ten years ago.
When I was planning to leave, I was acutely aware that I could holiday to Ireland and could always stay connected to home through the internet. The supporting technology has only gotten better since I’ve been gone.
I remember the first time I video-called my parents from China; the wonder in their eyes and incessant wrestling for screen time was so warming.
Simple moments like this made being abroad easier; and technology made me comfortable with my decision to leave.
With no plans to return or to live in Ireland in the near future — I set off looking for personal and professional adventure.
First Stop: Shanghai.
The Wild Wild East
I first lived in Shanghai on an exchange year while I attended Trinity. I had gotten a taste for it and then; I was waiting for the right opportunity — the right people and platform for living abroad.
For me that was the Farmleigh Fellowship, through their expansive network I was connected with China International Duty Free and found myself as their new business development manager based out of Shanghai.
Academia had prepared me for professional life to a degree; but it didn’t exactly prepare me for Chinese business practice — I had to dive in head first.
After the Farmleigh Fellowship program I moved with CIDF to Singapore permanently, that’s how I wound up living there for five years.
They say first impressions are everything, after spending five years in Singapore I’d be inclined to agree.
When I first arrived, all I could think — almost quizzically — was “wow… it’s so clean… so organised — this is going to be way easier than China!”
It’s a surprisingly easy city to survive in, especially working where I was. I was exposed to a lot of Asian values in business, having adapted to the way things were done there.
Hierarchical respect for elders, the indirect nature of business communication, and the importance of long term relationships are pillars of business. At CIDF, I learned a key conversation starter with every Singaporean person.
It was always hot & humid, so the default Irish “weather” topic got pretty boring. Singapore’s Weather Chat? Food! What you ate, when you ate, if you liked it…
My “gourmand” colleagues loved to test me with the finest delicacies… Pigs Brains, Frog Fallopian Tubes, Baby Bees and I never once said no.
Trying new things is why I left Ireland after all and it would ultimately be the reason why I would leave Singapore. My partner, now husband, followed me on my SE Asian adventure and now I would follow him on his American dream.
New York, NEW YORK
In New York, it was so different. Compared to living in Singapore — despite still being expatriated — I felt like the majority and New York felt less exotic.
My husband was delighted that he knew the products lining US Supermarkets but I found myself wandering the aisles of K-Town stores seeking the perfect ingredients. I miss Singapore Chicken & Rice and Laksa so much.
It’s no secret that American food is bigger but I constantly wonder what was making it so large, and why didn’t it decay?
Professionally it’s a lot more direct, personalities come off stronger with less adherence to cultural norms. Americans are free to be who they want and this appears to encourage their direct — “it’s a free country” — attitude.
The importance of long-term business relationships showed its true value when by chance at an Ireland Funds’ “Young Leaders Summit,” I bumped into Brian Martin — a college friend and General Manager of an Irish company, Blueface.
Soon after I was learning how to talk tech and spearheading the voice communications company’s US operations.
Taking on this role at Blueface is as exciting and as exhilarating as moving country and because Blueface are Irish, it was easier to keep in touch with home.
Connected, Renewed Ireland
Today, as I grab my bagel and head down Park Avenue towards the office dodging the steam rising from the city streets I feel so New York.
On that elevator opening on the 17th floor where our office is situated along with Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Consulate it’s like stepping into an Irish enclave. It’s great to be so connected to the homeland once again.
Ireland has changed so much since I’ve been gone. It now feels like a global hub, more international and — from my experience — great things come from cross-pollination of thoughts, ideas and cultures.
I’m undecided if I will ever live in Ireland again but it will always be my home.
I have such fond memories of growing up in Ireland and if my children decide to travel the world, I’d like them to have a place that they can always call home.