Sarah Whelan is a certified transition coach and founder of the Irish Women Living Abroad or Returning to Ireland online group. She has kindly agreed to share with us the origins of this Facebook group, what she has experienced since going live, as well as touching on some of the ongoing issues for Irish women living abroad but thinking about returning to Ireland in 2019 or further down the line.
Moving2Ireland: Hi Sarah. First off, thanks for agreeing to share your story with us. Can you tell us a little about the Irish Women Living Abroad or Returning to Ireland group?
Sarah Whelan: This private group and community on Facebook focuses on the needs and interests of Irish Women living abroad, on the move, by themselves and with their families. Members live in every corner of the world, particularly Australia, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Canada. I started this group in 2019 to create a platform that would allow Irish women to inspire, help and support one another no matter where we were in the world. An online village, if you will. Our online community is centred on the tenets of caring, friendship, participation, ideas exchange and cultivation, networking, as well as the potential for face to face meet ups, workshops and online learning where possible.
M2I: Great! So, what made you set up the group?
SW: In January 2018, I started a Facebook blog about my experiences of returning to Ireland after living in Sydney for 12 years, and then deciding to return to Sydney after a year and a half. Overnight, so many Irish women started to reach out to me for support with the emotional impact of living away from home, not to mention those both providing and seeking advice on the agonising decision for Irish women abroad: “should I stay or should I go?”
M2I: But the group is also for Irish women who have made the decision to move home to Ireland?
SW: Yes, for sure. Many members of our group are people that have moved back to Ireland but are very surprised to find out that the transition to life back in Ireland is often the most challenging step in the relocation process. Reverse culture shock is extremely common in returning migrants They feel stuck, overwhelmed getting to grips with so much change at once and are not sure where to from here. On the inside they feel neither here nor there. Not a migrant anymore, but not quite at home either.
M2I: That’s a very interesting insight and one that I’m sure is shared across many Irish female emigrants. Did these experiences shape your decision to become a Certified Transition Coach?
SW: Yes, in a big way. I became a Certified Transition Coach and started to support Irish migrants going through the agonizing decisions I faced myself in the past couple of years. Naturally, mostly women were reaching out to me, so I thought why not have a place for Irish women to come together to talk about all things related to living abroad, as well as share insights and experiences of moving back home. So the idea to set up a group became a reality – an open and honest conversation, and place to just be amongst a tribe of Irish Women.
M2I: Do you feel that Ireland is an attractive location for returning Irish women?
SW: Ireland has so much more to offer returning migrants in recent times and the pull for me to go back became a lot stronger after once I had my own family which is a totally natural part of the human experience – wanting to part of a “village” and being part of a community is all part of our make-up. There’s no roadmap for parenting never mind parenting abroad in the absence of the “village” so it is understandable why so many Irish people are leaving places like Australia in their droves once planning or starting a family.
For lots of migrants (myself included) home is where your heart is – and for me right now this is not Ireland. This can change at any time which I am open to. We make our own way on the road less travelled and bear the losses than come with it to some extent.
M2I: Do you think your group helps Irish women and their families return home easier?
SW: Yes, but that’s only one part of the process. Preparation and planning for moving to Ireland is the key but there is only so much you can do emotionally, psychologically and physically to prepare for it. As the lived experience is something you only get from living in it. The group helps women to prepare as best they can by voicing their concerns and asking questions from each other. Some have started to organise “meet ups” in the counties that they are returning to Ireland from.