Here is an article of mine that was published on the website of The Irish Times, one of Ireland’s biggest newspapers, in July 2016.
As I arrived into Utrecht Centraal Station on a summer’s evening in August 2015 with a well-travelled backpack in one hand and a bouquet of Dutch flowers in the other, I knew I had made the right decision.
Ireland was a difficult place to say goodbye to. But unlike a significant proportion of my generation who have left in search of better employment opportunities or a fresh start, my choice to say “slán go foil” to places and faces I care about and move to the Netherlands was motivated by a crazy little thing called love.
As long-distance relationships go, the one my German girlfriend Larissa and I shared during the previous 12 months had built up its fair share of air miles. From the enchanting Christmas markets of Berlin and the exuberant nightlife of Hamburg, to the breathtaking heat of a summer’s day in downtown Toronto, we had tried to maximise our free time together whenever and wherever possible.
But for every eagerly-anticipated embrace at an airport arrivals hall, a more poignant farewell at a departure gate was waiting around the corner, and for our relationship to have a promising future, this emotional cycle needed to be addressed.
Graduating from Dublin Institute of Technology with a journalism degree in May last year, the world suddenly presented itself to me. With an increasing number of opportunities in the media industry, graduates like me were perhaps better placed to find a job in Ireland than the class of 2011 or 2012 had been, but my heart was still set on leaving for pastures new.
Emigrating – or e-migrating as it could be called these days due to the proliferation of messaging apps connecting loved ones living in different time zones – has proven to be a challenging yet life-changing journey for me.
I first grasped the opportunity to experience new cultures, cuisines, landmarks and languages abroad in January 2014, when I took part in the EU’s Erasmus Programme, an educational exchange scheme that has been offering students the chance to broaden their academic and social horizons for 30 years. I have a lot to thank Erasmus for, as it introduced me to both the beauty of the Netherlands, and my girlfriend, who had been studying there for two years.
The charismatic Dutch people are extremely welcoming, and the country’s blend of quaint rural villages, sand-dunes beaches, and multicultural cities means there is always something new to be discovered.
With 800,000 people and what seems like a million bicycles, Amsterdam is a vibrant capital city. As I make my way to and from work every day, over Unesco-admired canals, around a palace fit for a king, and past cafés, coffee shops and questionable window displays, I often think of the many rainy Thursday mornings spent standing in a packed Dart carriage in Dublin, when the idea of living in one of Europe’s coolest countries and being able to see the woman I love every day was only wishful thinking.
I like to think Larissa and I have earned our current daily routine. As we wander through the ageless cobblestoned streets of Utrecht, the city where we met two years ago, it doesn’t seem like a step back in time; if anything, it may just be a peek into our future.