My name is Sarah Whelan and I’m the Founder of Irish Women Abroad. I’m a Sydney-based Dubliner and have been living in Australia for 14 years with my Irish husband (who I actually met in Sydney). Before I left Ireland, I graduated from UCD with a Bachelor of Social Science in 2002. Two years later, I undertook a Graduate Diploma in Business Studies (HR) from NCI and worked in the IFSC as a fund accountant for a couple of years. When I first moved abroad I worked in the world of Investment Banking before deciding to change careers. I then qualified as a Social Worker in Sydney in 2010 and have been supporting families ever since and feel very grateful for my career and life abroad.
In 2016, my daughter was born in Sydney away from my family and friends who live back in Ireland and the feelings of loneliness prompted us to return to Ireland when my daughter was four months old. After over a year and a half of living in Ireland we decided to return to Sydney as we missed the lifestyle and we have been very settled ever since.
The move inspired me to start Irish Women Abroad which was initially an online community of Irish women supporting each other while living away from home. I realised quickly I wasn’t alone in the isolation I felt living abroad and didn’t want other Irish women to feel the way I did.
Since then, we have organised face to face events for Irish women to socialise together to break isolation. It’s a great way to network and connect with each other and share our lived experiences. The main benefit of being a part of the Irish community abroad is meeting like minded people and supporting each other. It’s such a nice feeling to be with people who understand what it’s like to be away from home and our loved ones.
How to overcome homesickness/loneliness
Homesickness is an intensely personal thing that touches different people in different ways. Moving abroad can be an exciting chapter in a person’s life but it comes with a cost. Homesickness and loneliness being major issues for Irish people.
My top tips are:
- Stay connected – keep in regular contact with friends and family, video calls on Skype or What’s app are a great way to communicate regularly with loved ones.
- Favourite foods – if you can buy Irish food where you live or get them sent over to you it helps a lot! Also, there’s nothing better than cooking your own “Irish food” for the sense of comfort and familiarity.
- Plan regular trips home – hopefully in the near future travel will return to normal. It has been particularly difficult for the Irish abroad community since Covid 19 and travel restrictions.
- Acceptance – coming to terms with the fact that homesickness comes and goes, and the feelings do pass. It’s so important to acknowledge the feelings and journaling is a great method for self-reflection.
- Meet new people – whilst it can be very overwhelming at first, getting out and meeting people definitely helps to break isolation and to meet likeminded people. There are Irish organisations all across the world and with social media you can even set up groups of your own.
How to build a network outside of the Irish community
- Connect online – social media is a great way to meet new people, you can join local groups in your city or groups set up specially for Irish people where you live. There could be meetups in your local area or events posted online.
- Put yourself out there – it’s not always easy to do to start with but you never know who you might meet. Join a gym, sports club, book club…whatever your interests might be. Try to get to know your work colleagues or your neighbours, it takes time, but you never know where it might lead to.
- Be patient – Genuine networks are built one person at a time. It’s more crucial to build one deep relationship, than to meet lots of people, none of whom you stay in touch with.
How to connect with the Irish community where you are moving
As well as the above tips, here are other ways become familiar with the Irish community in your new city.
- Use your existing network abroad or any friends who have connections where you are moving. Remember Irish people are always willing to help each other out, and do not worry about meeting up with people you have never met as you may find you have lots in common.