Wednesday 20 November 2019

Meet the Eastern European models who have moved to Ireland - and share their honest stories

A wave of Eastern European models who came to live and work in Ireland, were, for many, the first well-known faces of our new multicultural society. Our reporter talks to some of them about their experiences of coming here, and they also share their thoughts on racism, integration, and whether they now consider Ireland their home

From left: Irma Mali, Ania Jankowska (on floor), Laura Majore, Anastasia Kuchinskaya, Ieva Paulikaityte, Ania Jankowska.
From left: Irma Mali, Ania Jankowska (on floor), Laura Majore, Anastasia Kuchinskaya, Ieva Paulikaityte, Ania Jankowska.
Anastasia Kuchinskaya
Ania Jankowska
Ieva Paulikaityte

Elle Gordon

We are living in a new Ireland; we have moved beyond stereotypes; we are multicultural.

Cultural diversity has come on in leaps and bounds in recent times. Older generations will still recall the first time they saw a black man or an Asian women  in their local town, while my generation of millennials find that concept hard to believe.

Currently, of those living in Ireland, nearly one in eight comes from overseas. Gone are the days when to be Irish meant you were white and Catholic. When Irma, one of today's interviewees, greets me with a Dublin twang weaving its way through her Lithuanian accent, it's hard not to smile. With two children both born in Ireland, she refers to herself as "the full Irish".

With the group - who hail from countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Czech Republic and Belarus - having left their home countries to come to Ireland, you have to wonder why. What makes our little isle such a special place? Why does it appeal to nationalities across the globe?

Sure, maybe we are just nice?

It's more than that, as Latvian-born Laura explains. For her, it's what Ireland provides in terms of opportunities. She explains how her mother would have had to work for one month in Latvia to be able to afford a pair of school shoes. Laura's mother made the decision to pack up her family; she came here without a word of English, determined to seek a better life for them.

Ieva from Lithuania speaks with a Monaghan accent. She laughs when I say that I can hardly believe she could ever have struggled to communicate. "I do find it funny," she says. "People think I'm Irish, and then, when they see the spelling of my last name it's like, 'What?'" Irish, she is not, but Ireland is her home.

All of these women are warm and funny and determined to work hard and make the best of being in Ireland. Their love for this country is tangible; they echo each other with remarks on its beauty and the kindness of our people.

However, there have also been difficult moments. Like when they are met with a 'stealing our jobs' attitude, or told, "Go back to your own country". But, for the majority, their experience here has been of warmth and welcome, one of falling in love with the place and the people.

How do we treat our migrants? As Ania, who is Polish, muses, "Ireland is beautiful. I feel great, I feel grand here".

Over these pages, each model gives us a unique insight into her experience of settling here.

Name: Anastasia Kuchinskaya

Age: 22

Agency: Morgan The Agency From: Minsk, Belarus

Anastasia Kuchinskaya

My boyfriend - now husband - lived here. We realised we wanted to be together, and we just decided that the only thing was for me to come here. I had English, as I used to spend summers in Canada. I was lucky.

I arrived here close to Christmas, and everyone was so happy and I was with the one I love, so it was quite cool and romantic. When time passed, I realised it's a bit rainy and it's a bit gloomy sometimes, but it's OK. It is home for now; I don't think it's home for ever.

My home is still in Belarus. I go there quite often, maybe two or three times a year. I don't really have a lot of Irish friends. I think it is because the culture differences are pretty big. There's no right or wrong; it's just different the way people act, because Ireland is a small place.

I am getting used to it, but I would prefer to live in a bigger city. I would say that Irish people kind of prefer to hang out with Irish people. I wouldn't say that anyone is mean or anything, but that they just like to be with someone who is local.

I do have a lot of foreign friends, as before I came here I would travel a lot for work, so I don't have a problem with making friends with people from other countries. I don't know what it is here, exactly. I just know if I'm at a big show, someone says, 'Oh I'm from this place', and then five other people are saying, 'Oh, I'm from this place as well'. It's like all the good people are from this place. They're like a little community straightaway.

Ireland is definitely a beautiful country, and I love how multicultural it is here. If you want to eat out, you have all those places from all over the world that you can choose from. And wherever you go, you can meet someone from the opposite side of the globe. I think that's good, and what other countries should look up to.

I don't find it too hard here. I think it's pretty organised and nothing is too hard to figure out. It is easy to operate the city - that's another thing that I like about Dublin.

Name: Irma Mali

Age: 34

Agency: 1st Option

From: Alytus, Lithuania

Irma Mali

I arrived when I was 19, on my birthday. That's how I remember. I came over for a few months and I thought, 'Oh, I might stay; I might work for a few months and then go back home'. It just never happened. It's 15 years later, and I'm still here.

I could not speak one word of English, I swear to god. I used to go to the shop and they used to ask me: 'Do you want a bag?' I was like, 'What are they asking? What do they want of me?' Literally, all I could say was 'hello' and 'goodbye'. It was a really difficult time - when you can't speak the language, you always feel silly. You can't understand people, and it's so difficult.

I was on my own, I had no family. I had my daughter - she's 14 now - so I had a baby on top of everything. The first two years here were the most difficult years of my life. No friends, no family, a newborn baby and no English, and I wasn't even 20 years old.

I joined 1st Option when I was 21. I learned my English by meeting people and talking to them. You should have seen them on the first few photo shoots - they literally had to make physical expressions on their faces to show me what they wanted.

After so many years, I definitely feel more at home here than I do in Lithuania. In Lithuania, I'm a bit lost. I don't even know how to deal with people in Lithuania; it's just very different. I don't even know how to get from one place to another.

My daughter has an Irish accent. It makes her laugh how I speak rubbish. She's like, 'Oh mom, Jesus Christ'.

I have never come across any racism. Even if I hear other people complaining [about racist comments] I never understand, because I've never came across anyone. If people are rude, they will be rude in general, but no, never because I'm from somewhere else.

I really like the people here. I remember coming back from Lithuania and my friends back there were saying, 'Ah stay here, we have lovely weather and blue skies'. I remember saying, 'Listen, I rather people who are smiling than blue skies'.

You walk down the street here and random people say hello. You would never get that back home. I'm still fascinated by it; you can talk to anyone over here. You can stand at the bus stop and have full conversations with people.

If I could change anything, I would love a bit more sun over here, but I think Ireland is beautiful. Ireland is home. This is my home, and I'll stay here for the rest of my life.

Name: Laura Majore

Age: 19

Agency: Assets Model Agency

From: Kuldiga, Latvia

I was eight when we got here. I knew the basics - 'yes', 'no', 'puppy', as we had English classes in Latvia. I remember the first day of school. My sister was in sixth class, and I was in fourth. I just hung around with her at lunchtime. I couldn't really understand anything at all, so that took a bit of getting used to.

I feel like this is my home now, because I was so young when I moved over here. I still love going to my other 'home', back to Latvia.

When I was in primary school, some of the girls would say, 'Go back to your own country, you foreigner'. As I get older, I feel like people understand, and are more accepting of me. It was horrible at the time.

When I was younger, I never really hung out with the Irish girls. My best friends would have been from Lithuania or Poland, and we're still best friends to this day. I wouldn't call myself Irish, but I do think I fit in, and I don't feel left out.

When my mum moved here, she couldn't really speak English and she had to learn. I think it's harder, when you are older, to learn a new language. When I was younger, she would bring me to translate, so that was a hassle, but then it got better.

I still do it, because she always gets so nervous and underestimates herself. She thinks she won't be able to understand, and she actually can. She struggles when people talk fast - and Irish people talk really fast.

Ireland is home, this is all I really know. We try to go to Latvia at least twice a year. My granny passed away recently, so it won't be as much anymore.

My mum had a job in Latvia, but lots of other people don't have a job, as there is not a lot of work there. I would love to go back if I could survive there, but I couldn't survive, so I can't. I speak better in English now, and it's so much easier to be here.

Name: Ieva Paulikaityte,

Age: 19

Agency: Distinct Model Management

From: Raseinia, Lithuania

Ieva Paulikaityte

I moved here about 15 years ago, when I was turning five. My dad came over here, and then my mum and the rest of us, because of the lack of jobs. We had to live in a house with other people, because we couldn't afford much.

In school, I picked up English pretty fast, so I wasn't too bad. I thought I fitted in well. I remember not being able to communicate in English, and it was tough. I watch videos back and I had such broken English. I don't know how I communicated with the kids. They were so welcoming. I had Irish and Lithuanian best friends.

I'm still on the border about whether I am Irish or Lithuanian. I don't know which to say. It's a real identity crisis sometimes. It's like you feel like you're Lithuanian with your family and you still speak it, but my life is here, and I live here.

Ireland is home, but we go back every two years or so to Lithuania. I always crave to come back to Ireland. I integrated more with Irish people. My brother, for example, has more Lithuanian friends and foreign friends.

I didn't understand people saying, 'Go back to your own country' and I'd be like, 'Huh?' So confused. It got tougher as I got older. You do start to feel a bit different and people would say 'that foreigner' and you're sitting there thinking, 'But sure I am foreign; it's OK'. My friends might say, 'But sure, you're Irish', and I'm there saying, 'No! But I'm not'. It still hurts.

I'm proud of where I am from, and I'm proud of Ireland, too. Sometimes I don't know where I stand. I do think Irish people are welcoming. At football matches and when Ireland goes abroad to play somewhere, they're just so nice. I feel proud. My uncle always says, 'It's so true. The Irish are always so happy', and I say, 'I know, it's lovely'.

Ireland is home. I see myself settling here. I love the people, the mindset and the culture. I even did Irish in school, because all my friends were doing it, and I insisted. I was awful.

Name: Ania Jankowska

Age: 27

Agency: Assets Model Agency

From: Wroclaw, Poland

Ania Jankowska

I moved here in October when I was 22, and now I am 27. I was in Norway and my contract finished. I was looking for a new job. My sisters and brothers were here. They just said, 'Listen Ania, come over here for two months and get a job and be with us'.

Five years on, I am still here. When I came here, I found people very relaxed. Everyone was smiling and saying hi to each other. Life is better. I am from Poland where life is not so colourful, and not so easy with our government.

Here, of course, the payment is better; we can earn so much more than we can in Poland. Loads of people just come here to save, and then go back to Poland to build their house and enjoy life. We are so happy that Irish people and Irish government are so helpful here. It is better for sure; a better life.

I went to Poland for the first time after two years here, and I was crying and I was missing them so much, and was thinking I should go back home to Poland. But my friends started to speak of the reality in Poland: how hard it is to survive; how small the wages are. It's so hard for the government to do anything. Life is hard in Poland.

There will always be situations with my English, because it's not so rich in words. It is not so perfect. When I'm stressed, I don't speak as properly as I should. In a past job I had a boss tell me, 'Shut up and stop speaking your broken English', which was shocking for me. It made me feel really bad. I said to him, 'Listen, how many languages can you speak?' I'm working hard, I can communicate, my English is not perfect, but I make the effort to learn it.

I do have a lot of Irish friends. I love Irish people, but the best friends I have here are Polish. I think it is to do with cultural differences. If we look deeper at the way Irish people think, and the way we think, we have a different lifestyle.

There is a mixed culture here, which is great, because we can meet people from all over, and now I feel great in Dublin.

Name: Anna Zborilova

Age: 24

Agency: Fraser Models & Actors

From: Slavikov, Czech Republic

My sister was here working and I had the opportunity of coming over and studying English. I came to do transition year and then decided to finish off doing my Leaving Certificate here.

I had some English from the Czech Republic - some basic English. While in transition year, I had the chance to speak with lots of people, and I made lots of friends, so I think that helped me to push myself. In about four to five months, I was able to communicate pretty well, I think, because I had no choice.

I was just lucky to make friends from Poland, and lots of Irish friends who were very helpful. The start was very difficult for me; I would just try to read books.

What's nice here is people are definitely much friendlier, and very kind and very helpful. Whereas in our country, people are not that nice - they're cold. I would say Ireland is home. I can't tell you that I will stay for the rest of my life, but it is definitely home for now. My sister also lives here, and she has a kid with her partner.

I never had a problem with any racism here. In fact, I actually had more problems in Czech, because I am mixed. My mother is Mongolian and my father is Czech. I just have memories of when I was a teenager. Maybe it was that people in Czech were just not used to seeing someone who looked like me. Even though I was fluent in Czech and you can tell I'm Czech, I don't look Czech. They would call me... you know. To be honest, I don't want to sound too negative.

Here, even back in school, they were just all very nice. Maybe when I first got here people weren't so chatty with me, but that was actually because they couldn't chat with me. I have just had a really good experience so far.

People are friendly. I think everyone says that, but I enjoy that. It is a small city, and I know everything about it. People are very open-minded. You could have a conversation with anyone from a taxi driver to a bus driver to a random person at a bus stop, and it's just nice. In Czech, they would think you are a stranger, a weirdo.

I can still struggle with the language. I am always trying to read and educate myself more. I know when I speak Czech, I can use certain words in a certain way. In English, I am still finding those words.

Photography by Aaron Hurley

Styling by Liadan Hynes

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