Ireland! A remote green island on the edge of Europe, a country that did not catch my interest initially, much less living in it. I knew Dublin to be the capital, heard about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, loved Johnny Logan and his songs in the Eurovision song contest and like probably all who were watching the Eurovision broadcast from Dublin in 1994, was spellbound by the Riverdance. But other than that, I hardly knew anything about Ireland.
Before moving here, I had visited Ireland twice. Both times the weather was absolutely miserable. It was raining with occasional hailstones and I was soaking wet. I thought how ugly Limerick looked in the cold rain, that January. How different it was from Finland!
But in May 2016 I found myself sitting nervously on a flight from Helsinki to Dublin. A few months earlier, my current boss in our office in Helsinki offered me a position in Shannon. I accepted the position without actually knowing much about Ireland or about my future work. I think that my need for change was bigger than my fear of the unknown.
It was on the plane when the fear kicked in. Am I going to get any friends? Am I going to be any good in my work? Will I find a church to go to? Will I like living in Limerick? Can I drive on the wrong side of the road? What if I really hate it? I was excited about this new phase in my life but also nervous about adjusting to a totally new country and culture. For some reason I got adjusted surprisingly fast. After two weeks, I had to travel back to Finland and on my return when I jumped on the Limerick bus at Dublin airport, I felt like I was on my way home. And now, a little over four years later I have friends, a church to attend, a great job, no accidents on the road and am loving this beautiful country. Even Limerick feels cozy and doesn’t look so ugly anymore, at least most of the time.
What has been my experience of Ireland during this time? Here are a couple of things…………
The people. I was lucky to have a Finnish colleague in our office and I got lots of help from her in the beginning. Then I went on to make more friends - both Irish and non-Irish people. I find the Irish very warm, easy going and easy to talk to. Coming from Finnish Lapland, my family is a story telling family and we enjoy a good banter. So that’s probably why I enjoy and feel at home with the Irish.
I bonded with non-Irish friends as we share several similarities: leaving our families and home countries behind. We supported each other as we had to learn how to adjust to the Irish way of life.
Although the Irish are friendly, it is actually quite hard to make true friends with the Irish. In a conversation, they make you feel like they are genuinely interested in you but at the end of the day, invitations for coffee or activities remain empty promises. In the beginning, after waiting in vain for phone calls to confirm social gatherings, I thought that it was something to do with me.
But I was later told that this kind of empty invitations was ‘normal’. So I have learned that if you really want to have a night out with the Irish, you need to take the initiative. That has never come naturally for me so it has been a real learning curve.
I have also been surprised that Ireland is a mañana-country i.e. nobody is on time and there is no rush. At first I was really annoyed by it but then decided that if I am planning to live here without getting a heart attack, I just have to accept it. I have learned to relax a bit when it comes to punctuality, even though punctuality is still in my Finnish core. Nowadays when meeting local Finnish ladies, I also always check if the meeting time is Finnish or Irish time. Then I know what time to arrive, on the dot or 15 minutes late.
Nature in this country is absolutely incredible. I truly love the green fields, the Wild Atlantic waves crashing against the rugged cliffs, the smell of the sea, narrow roads in the middle of nowhere and small lakes nesting quietly in the mountain valleys. When I stand on top of the hill looking at the beautiful scenery, I feel inner peace. There is quite a lot of variation in landscape. I have learned to accept that without the rain there is no green Ireland. I still miss the Finnish winter though i.e. snow, temperatures below zero and the northern lights. That is winter for me and I feel that I have not had winter for four years. I feel that Ireland has also taught me to appreciate the nature in my home country more.
The history of Ireland goes a long way just like Finnish Lapland when the Sámi people were still living as nomads in tents made out of reindeer skin. I love to visit churches, monasteries and castles where you can see and feel the history. I also love to drive through small villages with colorful houses and stop at the local pubs for lunch, sometimes with the accompaniment of traditional irish music in the background. The “Fields of Athenry” has become one of my favourite songs.
The church has been a big part of me getting adjusted to this country. As an evangelical Christian, it has always been important for me to find a church wherever I live/travel. I have found my spiritual home and made close friends in a local limerick church. As Finland’s State church is the Lutheran church, I have learnt much about the Catholic church and its history and impact on Ireland.
The struggles that I encounter have been challenging especially this year with Covid-19 messing up our lives. I miss my family and friends in Finland now more than ever. But Ireland has brought many good things to my life and I have really been blessed to have had the chance to live in this beautiful country. I feel that my heart will always be in two places: Finland and Ireland.
Even though I have not been able to participate in actual IWO events as much as I was hoping for in the beginning due to work, travelling and now this Covid-19 situation, during these four years I have gotten to know women from all over the world. Strong, beautiful, unique and wise women from whom I have learned a lot and whom I love spending time with. And maybe once this madness is over, I am hoping to get to know more of this kind of women through the IWO.