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Opinion We see the happier side of expat life splashed across Facebook – there's darkness too

The Irish like to save face a lot of the time, and especially when it comes to emigration.

RECENTLY MY NATIVE county of Wexford enjoyed some overdue victories in the GAA’s Senior Hurling Championship. I phoned home match day. My father was preparing to hit the road to Nowlan Park in Kilkenny to watch Wexford take on the Deise in an eagerly-awaited clash of the ash. I boasted to him about my impending trip to Japan. He simply replied: “But Kate, where else in the world would you want to be today but here?” He was right. I would have swapped my plane ticket to Japan for a ticket to that game in a heartbeat. It got me thinking.

I am currently in my fourth year living away from Ireland. The first two I spent in Australia, and I am now residing in South Korea. I work here as a TEFL teacher. South Korea is a country that has seen a huge rise in the number of Irish citizens coming to teach here in recent years. Some for travelling/experience opportunities but the dominating reason being “there’s nothing back home”. Well, that’s not entirely true for me. For me, my life is back home.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Korea. It is, simply put, a great place to live. I like my job, I like eating out every night of the week, paying 2% tax, free trips to the doctor and dentist, I like the fantastic public transport and I like embracing another culture so different to my own.

Indeed this is the happier side of the expatriate life. This is the side that we see splashed across Facebook and Twitter. This is the “living the dream” aspect that is reflected in the statuses that fill up our news feed everyday.

There’s a dark side in being an expat

That’s a huge problem with social media. It is designed to allow you to portray a picture of the life you want, not necessarily that you have. It doesn’t always convey the reality. There is a dark side in being an expat too but who wants to publicly admit that sometimes, their lives are a bit shit? I feel the Irish like to save face a lot of the time especially when it comes to emigration. Whatever they’re doing, it is better than home. All of us twenty-somethings have sacrificed so much to live the lives we do abroad. I’ve missed my sister’s wedding, funerals, hen parties, Christmases and loved ones getting engaged. Happy moments that I would loved to have been a part of and some sad ones I ought to have shared. I haven’t seen my best friend in over two years and, due to her residing in Australia and me residing here, we won’t meet again until at least Christmas 2015.

When your circle of friends are each experiencing their own new unique adventures in Hong Kong, Sydney, London and Toronto, it can be a challenge to find common ground. Our chats are no longer about our plans to do things together but memories of the past that we share. Being an Irish expat is now the theme that unites us.

Unstable relationships

The toughest challenge for me is the instability of one’s friendship circle. Sure, it is easy to find a dozen people to party it up with you at the weekend; it is not so easy to find someone you could call at 2am if you needed help. Friendships seem flimsy at times and almost temporary. Everyone has an expiration date be it because of visas, contracts, adventure-seeking in other countries or duties back home.

I am not trying to slander living abroad. I definitely am not. Perhaps I felt it important to write this to those in Ireland who haven’t left. The people you see who comment “I am sooooo jealous” under the Facebook photos of somebody climbing Sydney’s Harbour Bridge or diving the Barrier Reef. Sometimes, we are soooooooo jealous of you too. The classic case of the grass is always greener on the other side.

Those who have left have not turned their backs on Ireland. In the end, Bondi Beach is not Salthill, The Statue of Liberty is not the Spike and Wimbledon isn’t Croke Park. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteàn féin.

Kate O’Shaughnessy is a 27-year-old TEFL teacher in South Korea. You can follow her updates on Twitter @kateos25 or wordpress (irelandsadvoKate).

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Read: What can the new diaspora minister do for the Irish abroad?

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