Throughout February, we’re getting people from all over Northern Ireland to contribute personal pieces in the run up to the election on March 2nd. 28 days in February for 28 different voices.
“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realise what’s changed, is you.” – Eric Roth
I had graduated from Queen’s in 2011 and soon after I decided I needed to experience life outside of Ireland. Northern Ireland. At 21 I was itching to travel, to be taken out of my comfort zone, wanting to embrace new cultures, meet new people. I had travelled before but for shorter periods of time. No more than six weeks at a time in America, Europe and Kenya, but this time I had a one way ticket. I didn’t know when, and if, I would return.
Before I knew it the day had arrived. Saying my goodbyes to family and friends was not easy, but I knew I had to do it even with the feeling of what next. It was time to embrace the unknown. At that time a lot of people were applying for working holiday visas abroad, with Australia being the most popular destination. There were more opportunities to be had.
I started my adventures by spending six weeks volunteering in the Mother Teresa Centre and teaching children in Calcutta, as well as travelling to the North and South of India. Taking several overnight trains was most definitely an unforgettable experience that everyone who travels to India should undertake. It is how most Indians travel and you can be guaranteed to get a sense of Indian life off and on the train. From loos with a view, cockroaches and mice, to the endless cups of chai tea and socialising with the locals in overcrowded carriages, embarking on a journey through India necessitates a positive attitude, a sense of humour, a little understanding and a lot of smiles. I promise you won’t regret it.
After heading to Bali, Vietnam and Cambodia for two and a half months, I landed in Brisbane, Australia. After a couple of weeks I found a job and everything was falling into place. I was settling into Aussie life, both in the city and the outback. I was over 10,000 miles from home and I still managed to cross paths with people from all across Ireland so I always had that sense of home. As much as I loved Australia, I decided a year was enough for me so I flew back to Ireland and surprised my family in March 2013.
Northern Ireland was still Northern Ireland. There were still stories of rioting and certain tensions at that time with marches. “People are living in the past,” was what I thought in 2013 and now in 2017 I find myself saying it again. Before long, I felt that urge to travel again.
I moved to New Zealand for two years and it was similar to my experiences in Australia, no matter where I went I was always meeting Irish people. Everyone loves the Irish! There are Irish people in every country and it’s always nice to have that sense of home and be proud of where you have come from. I remember one day a man asking where in Ireland I was from, I told him the North. I don’t usually say I’m from Northern Ireland. Usually the North of Ireland. The first question he asked me was, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” I thought to myself, what does it matter. I guess that’s what many associate Northern Ireland with, religious divide. They only have a media perspective of Northern Ireland which is not always a positive one.
As well as living in New Zealand, I travelled across South America, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I arrived back home to Northern Ireland in December 2015 and left again to spend 3 months over the summer in South Africa in 2016 Volunteering as a Team Leader with Restless Development, a youth led development agency working and living in rural communities in the Eastern Cape, empowering young people and raising awareness of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, Livelihoods and Gender Based Violence. I lead a group of UK and South African volunteers working to deliver sessions with in school and out of school youth to put young people at the forefront of change and development as well as working with other government departments such as social development and department of Education.
I have returned to Northern Ireland and settled here for now to continue my studies with a Masters in the Republic of Ireland. Studying my masters in Dramatherapy has always been something I wanted to do, but I wanted to travel first. Now that I have had a feel for travelling and an opportunity to experience the world I question whether I will settle here when my studies are complete.
I know times are changing, and they have changed, but it’s time to move on for a more better and positive Northern Ireland. I feel young people have the power to make positive change in Northern Ireland but for many they need to form their own opinions and not the opinions of their parents. With the elections soon approaching it is an interesting time for Northern Ireland politics. We need open minds and to be open to living in the present not the past but working together to create a positive future for generations to come. It saddens me to think that still today in Northern Ireland same sex marriage is not legalised.
I learnt so much from travelling and spending time with people from different cultures and religious backgrounds, from learning to communicate in different languages, to tasting and learning to cook new foods, experiencing cultural traditions and celebrations, but most importantly I learnt to appreciate what I have, the simple things in life.
There is no place like home and to have that sense of community is something I have been lucky to be a part of across the world in rural communities towns, villages and cities. Even in places where I have stayed for short periods of time I still felt part of a community. Moving back to Northern Ireland, there is somewhat a sense of community for some people but for others, a divide still exists. Travelling across the world has allowed me to become more open minded and less judgemental especially when it comes to religion, race and culture.
It has been hard settling back into life here. I’m not that same person I was when I left 5 years ago. For now Northern Ireland is my home and I will embrace what it has to offer. There are questions of what the future will be for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, especially with Brexit, and I get a sense that we could see a United Ireland in the future. No matter where I travel I never forget my roots and where I came from. I am proud to be Irish and Ireland will always be home.