Cory and Sara: The Narcissistic Expat Diaries: from Iowa to Ireland
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Ireland, etc.
Cory and Sara Hanson are a music educator and research scientist, respectively. Both grew up in the great state of Iowa in the U.S.A, where the cities are small, the people are friendly, and the vast ocean of corn and soybeans stretches as far as the eye can see. After Sara graduated from the University of Iowa in the spring of 2013 (Go Hawks!), we left our landlocked slice of heaven for the Emerald Isle. Sara works as a postdoctoral research fellow at University College Dublin, while Cory is blogging, brewing, and exploring music career options in this exciting city.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
We have an amazingly supportive and loving network of family and friends. Foreseeing the difficulty of keeping in touch with everyone back home from so far away, we wanted to find an easily accessible venue that would allow them to check in on us. The freedom of the blog format allows us to tell our stories with words and pictures in a way that we find very appealing. We started journaling our experience from the beginning as we prepared for our move and said good-bye to all of our favorite places and people. It has since been a fun way to keep track of our adventures and learning experiences as we adjust to a new country and culture.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The blog began two months before our move, and one of the most emotional posts was written when Sara received her official job offer in Dublin. We immediately began packing up our home and getting rid of larger items. We wrote a whole series about our successes and failures in selling and trashing our belongings, my favorite of which may have been about the old exercise bike. After we packed up the house, we took a month-long Farewell to America (for now) Road Trip, after which we published our thoughts, reflections, and statistics. In Dublin, we griped about the lack of useful and easy-to-read Road Signs and reported the state of some of our hobbies like brewing and knitting. On the day of our first Irish Thanksgiving, we embedded a series of live Tweets and photos to tell the story of our day with a new medium.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Ireland differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Surprisingly, life did not change much for us. Ireland and the United States have a great deal in common, and most of the adjustments we had to make were small. Learning where to get things that we needed and getting used to the local colloquialisms took some time and patience, but was largely enjoyable. Our transition almost seems like a “spot the differences” puzzle, where we enjoy finding new things that are just slightly different from what you would see or hear in the U.S. Our greatest challenges largely stem from moving to a large urban area without a car. Our previous experiences were living in very small cities with populations smaller than 100,000. Now we live in a city of 1.5 million people and rely entirely on public transportation, cycling, and walking for getting around. This requires more preparation and organization when it comes to running errands or planning trips to explore the city. It is a challenge that we readily accept!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Ireland? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
We brought very little with us, which was a very good decision. In retrospect, we left some things we should have brought and brought some things we should have left, but it was difficult to know what might be difficult to find inexpensively once we got here. Ireland can feel surprisingly isolated in some respects. Some items can be difficult to find or are much higher-priced here than in the U.K. or the U.S. Sometimes even availability of items and shipping from amazon.co.uk can be complicated even though Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. Flexibility and creativity are sometimes required in order to find alternatives or solutions when these problems arise.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Sara once had a very hard time figuring out an email address given by the electricity company over the phone. Neither of us had looked up the names of the major power companies in advance, and she didn’t know how the company spelled its name. Eirtricity? Eartricity? Airtricity? Aertricity? In Ireland, it could be any one of those things, and accents can make it even more difficult to distinguish – even when spelled out letter by letter. The sound, “Eh” could be the letter A, E, or I, depending on the specific local Irish dialect. After a stressful/laughable exchange, we got the address. “Air” as in breathing, “tricity” as in… tricity.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Ireland?
- Take time to learn local history. Ireland, much to the surprise of many Americans under 30, has only recently called a tenuous peace with the people of Northern Ireland. Within living memory of many Irish and Northern Irish citizens, this island was torn by violence and fear. Today, the wounds are healing and people aren’t afraid to embrace the peace and accept their neighbors, but the pain of such recent conflict is very much a part of the identity of the proud people here. As a guest (temporary or permanent) in this country, show respect by reading and listening with an open mind.
- Be flexible and patient. Setting up residence and employment in a new country will always be difficult and tedious. Avoiding long waits, endless paperwork, and hair-pulling frustration is impossible – in Ireland or anywhere. During these times of trial, breathe deeply, relax, and go with the flow. Don’t be surprised or insulted when a business or government employee doesn’t extend you the Royal welcome. Learn to sing and enjoy the hold music when making crucial phone calls to people who literally hold your legal existence in their hands. Be ready to smile, ask polite questions, and use the toilet before getting in line.
- Never feel embarrassed to ask. City streets and country roads are not always well marked and easy to navigate. Finding one’s way can be difficult, particularly if one is expecting grid patterns, numbered avenues, and brightly lit signs at every intersection. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions or for assistance getting around. The people here are friendly, welcoming, and usually happy to help a visitor to their land. Be ready to listen carefully because directions in the tangled web of Dublin are long, complicated, and often scary. Don’t know what to order in a pub? Don’t know what an aubergine is? Don’t know if this bus stops on O’Connell Street? Ask! Ask and listen.
How is the expat community in Ireland? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The Irish, in our experience, are not so unlike Midwest Americans. They are courteous, good-natured, and outgoing. Because of the great people, Ireland didn’t feel very lonely, isolated, or far-from-home. That said, Dublin is a cosmopolitan European city. Tourists, expats, and born-and-bred Dubliners mill about every corner of this great city. When we want to meet someone from America (or specifically Iowa) we can easily go to City Centre and look for Iowa Hawkeyes logo baseball caps.
How would you summarize your expat life in Ireland in a single, catchy sentence?
We have only begun to learn the inner workings of the people and systems in Ireland, and we suspect we will never fully grasp what it means to be Irish, but we sincerely look forward to trying.