A first-hand look through the eyes of an Irish immigrant

It almost didn’t seem real, standing on my front porch surrounded by walls of boxes. Everything from photo albums and pots and pans, to clothes and books filled the cardboard cartons that were being hauled out to a large steel shipping container that sat in our driveway. I wandered through the house that was becoming increasingly empty; each room I entered filled my head with more memories.

Various family members along with removal men were hastily moving past me in every direction. I knew I should head upstairs and do one last check to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind me.

I carefully climbed the stairs and as I opened the door I saw my room. The once cluttered walls from posters and photographs were now bare and empty. The ring I was nervously fumbling with in my hand fell on the floor, and echoed through the room. Was I really about to leave this all behind me?

Leaving home

If you had told me two years prior to that moment that I could leave Ireland for good and move to Canada I would have jumped on the first plane. With estimates of up to 35,000 shop closures and an ever-increasing unemployment rate from 2.2 to 3 million, the foreseeable future in the United Kingdom looked glum. Whereas, from what we had heard, Canada held many more opportunities, better employment for my parents and better education options for me.

Looking back, it seems almost bittersweet. My hometown of Coleraine had given me some of the closest friends I would ever have. I had grown up there (truly grown up) and the past two years had given me new experiences and a new outlook. Yet there I was about to leave it all behind.

In June 2008, my parents and myself would be three of the 427,000 long-term international emigrants who would leave the U.K. that year in search of a better life and more opportunities. That year would mark the highest emigration level the U.K. had seen for at least a decade.

Our last few hours in Northern Ireland were spent in tears, anger, excitement and fear of what we were embarking on.

I sat uncomfortably in the yellow Renault minivan and as I looked out the back window through hazy, tear-filled eyes, I saw the crowd of people who had gathered in our driveway to say their goodbyes shrink slowly into the distance. I will always remember my best friend’s face — tears dripped down her cheeks, but a half smile remained. It was like leaving behind a sister. Saying goodbye to my home was hard; I had to leave my house (pictured above) and my friends in Coleraine but I knew moving to Canada was the best thing for our family.

Photo provided by: Rachel Kane.

The drive to the airport seemed to take an eternity but deep down I knew what my parents said was true: we were doing what was best for us; best for our family.

Even still, my stomach felt like it was about to explode with butterflies and my legs were like jelly, but every time I thought about where I would be in less than a day a smile crept across my face.

The grass isn’t always greener

After some 36 hours of travelling we arrived exhausted in Calgary, Alta., Canada with nothing more than three suitcases and three large gym bags. Unfortunately, it takes a little longer for a lifetime of possessions in a container the size of a small bus to get halfway across the world – around 4 months to be exact.

The first couple of weeks consisted of unpacking, sightseeing and getting to know new people and a new place. I felt so accomplished, like I had just conquered one of life’s hurdles. However, the excitement soon wore off as the reality kicked in a few weeks later.

It seemed like no amount of research or instruction manuals could prepare us for the troubles that one faces when moving internationally. Yes, you are told about all the ups, but how often do they tell you about the downs?

The pages of information on how many skilled workers and teachers were needed faded to the back of our memories as my mum struggled to secure a job. It was just one of the many troubles we would encounter.

Internet job boards, countless phone calls, e-mails and faxes still turned up no results. What could we do? How would we survive if the breadwinner of the family was unemployed?

“Maybe this was a big mistake,” said my father, something clearly the “optimist” of the family would utter. However, somehow I couldn’t help but wonder if there was truth in his words. Had we gotten ourselves in over our heads?

We were not alone in our concerns. According to the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada, 46 per cent said that finding a job was the biggest difficulty, with 70 per cent identifying at least one problem with a transfer of qualifications, a lack of contacts, etc.

My mum stayed positive, saying, “Everything happens for a reason. It’s going to work out.”

There was no sign of giving up.

Every cloud has a silver lining

We all made a lot of sacrifices that year. Our lives didn’t center on material possessions anymore, but rather on how we could save money. Maybe it was sacrificing my dad’s weekly steak for a piece of chicken, or the Sunday roast for a bowl of soup. Or maybe it was simply giving up that weekly Starbucks coffee. But once we were doing it, it didn’t seem that tough.

Canada has brought my family lots of new experiences and while things may be very different from Ireland, I wouldn’t trade the new experiences I’ve had here for the world. Going to the Calgary Stampede is something my family and myself enjoy each year. Left to right: Gerard Kane (My Dad), Myself, Anna Kane (My Mum) at Calgary Stampede 2011.

Photo provided by: Rachel Kane. My mum finally did get a part-time job as a substitute teacher – hardly enough to provide for our family, but a start nonetheless.

When you tell people that you moved internationally they make a lot of assumptions. They assume you must be rich to be able to afford to relocate. If you’re not rich, then you’re a refugee. They might think you’re running away for something, or perhaps be jealous that you’re getting the opportunity to travel.

While I have to admit it has been one of the best experiences of my life, I would never say that it was a walk in the park.

In 2008, 247,202 permanent residents were accepted to Canada and for our family (and I’m sure many others) that first year required us to make a lot of adjustments in order to survive. We were challenged economically, mentally and physically.

But we made it.

Tackling something like that really makes you revaluate your life. You become self-sufficient and independent and you really do have to fight for your own survival.

5 tips to make your move easier

• Talk to a professional – Getting advice from someone who is familiar with the process can help make the paperwork easier and even speed up your process.

• Know before you go – Make sure that you do your research about the place, the climate, the language, the people etc. before heading off on your journey. This will help get you excited and settle in quicker and easier. Government-hosted welcome websites are some very good resources.

• Start early – Once your visa is in process start getting ready – that doesn’t mean packing up all your belongings and living out of boxes – but remember organization is key. So know what you are taking and where it is; you’ll thank yourself later.

• What are the rules? – Research any laws or rules that might be different when entering another country. What can you bring or not bring? Are there different cultural practices, customs or norms?

• Don’t dwell on the past, look to the future – Goodbyes are never easy and leaving loved ones behind will be hard, but try to look on the bright side — you have a whole new adventure ahead of you.

My family was considered one of the lucky ones. The people had similar customs and also spoke our native tongue. Still, thousands aren’t so fortunate and face even greater turmoil.

Some people may think we’re crazy, and maybe we are. But this really taught us vital life lessons. And, as cliché as it may sound, determination really can move mountains – and in some cases bring you to them. However, when you refuse to give up and you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons, you’ll come out all right in the end.

Looking back from where we are now – my mum has a full time teaching job, we have our own house and I’m in my third year of university – it’s hard to remember exactly how it felt during that first year, but it is an experience I will never forget. All I can say is now I’m ready for the next adventure. What that will be… Well, I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.


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