Emily: From China Village
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Dublin, etc.
I was born and raised in Maine, USA, and moved to Dublin in November 2008, a few months after I married my Irish husband. We met in college, and were married two years after we graduated. We were waiting to see if my husband would get picked up for another year playing professional basketball in Europe when, the morning after our wedding, we decided to move to Dublin for a year instead. We knew we wanted to live in Europe for a little while before settling in the States permanently.
In Maine, I got a degree from Colby College (Maine) in Political Science, with a concentration in American politics. I worked on political campaigns, presidential, congressional and local, before I moved to Dublin. When we decided to move, I decided I wanted to change my career path - and I’m glad I did. If I had tried to pursue politics in Dublin, I think I would have been frustrated. It’s a very different world! I tried working in several non-profits as a communications officer here in Dublin, and I am now a freelance writer and blogger. I write for various print publications and blogs, here in Ireland, in America, and around Europe. I write about a range of things, from Dublin city guides to weddings to marriage to interiors. It’s a wonderfully flexible job and I’m so glad to have finally taken the leap to working for myself!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided to start blogging in the first year we were in Dublin because I wanted to be able to show my friends and family back home what my new life was like. Once I started writing, I realized how much I loved it - I had spent the previous several years writing for political campaigns - speeches, memos - but I hadn’t spent any time writing for myself or even expressing my own opinions. It was really refreshing and therapeutic.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- This is my favorite post, and it explains the name of my blog: “From China Village”.
- I’m really proud of the series I write about exploring Dublin by neighborhood. It has helped me get to know my city SO well, and I’ve discovered spots I never would have otherwise.
- I also really love the series I created called Styled in Ireland, designed to let visitors know what to wear in specific situations in Ireland. I also try to highlight Irish designers whose work so inspires me.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Dublin differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I grew up in a VERY small town, so living in Dublin presented a plethora of urban challenges for me at the beginning. I had lived in Washington DC, and spent time traveling around the States planning motorcades when Senator Kerry ran for President, so I’m embarrassed to say the public transportation system terrified me. I used to be so scared of taking the bus - because I would never know where to get off! Everything looked unfamiliar!
I also think I imagined Ireland would be a fairly simple place to adjust to culturally, mostly because everyone speaks English. But there are certainly cultural differences. The slang, for instance, seems to make up half the language! At the beginning, I had no idea what my husband’s friends were saying. It took me a while to understand that the teller at the bank was staring at me blankly when I said I wanted to “deposit” a check, because they use the term “lodge a check”.
I was also newly married and on the hunt for a new career (and no one understood my liberal arts degree and political campaign experience!), so those challenges added to the cultural challenges. It took a full year to feel myself again.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Dublin? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I absolutely wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared for what awaited me in Dublin. However, I don’t think anything could have prepared me better. The one thing I wish I could change is not being so hard on myself. I wish I had given myself a break - new country, new husband, new career all in one fell swoop is a lot to get used to.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My favorite anecdote has to be this one: “Ham Surprises”
I also love to tell the story about the time my husband and I were heading to a friend’s engagement party. We weren’t sure of the directions, so we stopped at a light and rolled down the window to ask the car next to us. We asked if this was the correct turn for the pub we were looking for, and the man in the next car nodded. Meanwhile, the guy on the other side of our car had heard us ask about that pub, and he shouted out Yeah, but you’d wanna wear your bullet proof vest! Sure enough, just a few months later, one of the city’s biggest drug lords was gunned down in that pub.
It’s not the nicest story, but I think it’s important for people to know that Dublin isn’t all Guinness and Aran sweaters. Eighty percent of it is beautiful and lovely. But there’s an edge that can be quite tough. That said, gun violence is minimal (even beat cops don’t carry guns here) and is almost always restricted to gangs. We never feel unsafe, although we did leave that party before it got dark!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Dublin?
- Try to look at differences between where you come from and where you are in a positive light. When I started my blog, I knew there was no way I would ever complain about the Irish or my new home. I just didn’t want that to be my mindset. In fact, one of the by products of writing my blog was that my perspective changed - I was always looking for positive things to share about my new life. Both America and Ireland have their pros and cons, and I try to be fair to both as much as possible. I do make the exception with laundry - it takes SO LONG to wash clothes here!
- Call home, email home, write home. Every time I call my grandmother, she’s surprised at how close I sound. It’s hard on the people you’ve left behind, so try to help them understand how close you can seem by calling, emailing and writing as much as you can.
- Take advantage of expat communities where you are, but mix those experiences with people, events and experiences from your current city. Don’t live in an expat bubble, you’ll regret not meeting and experiencing your new home when it’s too late.
How is the expat community in Dublin? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
When I moved to Dublin, I didn’t really seek out any other expats. My in-laws, who live near us, are from the States but have lived in Ireland for thirty years. So they helped bridge the gap and translate things for me. I have inherited a wonderful group of friends from our church that my husband grew up with. They’re a mix of Irish, German, Swiss, Dutch, and American.
I have met more Americans in the last few years, as I try to help answer questions that people ask through my blog. It’s sometimes nice to chat with other Americans, but I try to focus on our lives here in Ireland when I speak with them. Thinking and talking about America too much gets me a little homesick!
How would you summarize your expat life in Dublin in a single, catchy sentence?
My life in Dublin is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and it has gifted me with the most wonderful opportunities to find myself, make a home, and see a different side of Dublin than I would have by simply visiting.