Tuesday 17 September 2019

Return of the emigrant: 'California had lost the feeling of a prolonged holiday'

Maura McElhone
Maura McElhone
John Meagher

John Meagher

Maura McElhone returned to Ireland after six years living in California. The 31-year-old, who now works as a content writer for Dublin-based start-up company Clinch, had not been forced out by recession; her motivation was a chance to live and work somewhere completely different, although she says she knew "subconsciously" that the move to the US would not be permanent.

"The pull of home, for me, kicked in in earnest around the age of 28," she says. "Friends were settling down - getting married and having children - and while I wanted those things, too, I knew I didn't want to embark on that chapter of my life so far away from home and my family and friends."

The novelty had worn off, too. "Being in California as a student is a very different experience from living there and working a full-time job. It had lost that 'prolonged holiday' feel. The realities of living and working there were kicking in and it wasn't all beaches, wine-tasting and Hollywood."

Making the decision to return was comparatively easy, but the move itself, "and the practical and emotional implications of packing up six years of my life and essentially starting again back home", was much more difficult.

"Finding accommodation in Dublin was the biggest challenge," she says. "Even little things, like opening a bank account here or getting a phone sorted, were major headaches. I couldn't get a mobile phone until I had a utility bill, or something that indicated a permanent address, and the hunt to find accommodation took a long time."

Now that she is settled back, Maura says she is enthused by the can-do attitude of young professionals in the Ireland of 2015: "The tech and start-up scene is growing rapidly. There's a positivity, and an optimism within as more and more young people realise that it's okay to have an idea, or a dream, and pursue that in a business sense. You'll find like-minded people who share your ambition and who want to see you succeed.

"On the flip side, the price of accommodation, and what you get for your money here in Dublin, knocked me for six. I wasn't prepared for that, and I was disappointed that more is not being done to assist returning emigrants with finding suitable housing - and jobs, too, for that matter. I'll be interested to see if that situation improves with the introduction of the Government's Global Irish initiative earlier this year."

Despite such misgivings, life is good for Maura, who divides her time between living in Dublin and her boyfriend's house in Co Kildare [the relationship started shortly after she got back] and the family home in her native Portstewart, Co Derry.

"I know I may be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to 'unemigrating'," she says. "I have been fortunate enough to find work, to be in a relationship, and to return to a family who welcomed me home with open arms.

"For me, it was the right decision at the right time. I was ready to come home, to re-discover and put down roots in Ireland. I remember my time in California fondly, for the most part. It was a chapter in my life that ran its course. I have no regrets."

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