Awareness is the first phase of any change journey. 

We develop a growing sense that we are not quite where we want to be.

A multitude of emotions emerges that may include guilt, homesickness or yearning. I call this symphony ‘Emigrant’s Ache’. We begin to explore these feelings.

This phase concludes when you desire a decision, one way or another. Your open expression of your thoughts and feelings to someone is a typical signal of your transition from Awareness to Decision.

Our values change naturally over time. Life events force us to re-evaluate what is important to us and update our mental models of the world.

Births, marriages and deaths prompt significant shifts in our priorities.

These events and transitions have likely happened to you already. 

Did you go back to Ireland to get married? Were you forced to grieve the passing of a loved one from afar? Did you miss the birth of a new nephew or niece?

As these events occur, we question further. We re-examine how we live. Hopefully, clear answers emerge. These moments of truth help us crystallise thoughts that were percolating below the surface.

As emigrants, we tend to question ourselves in different ways, both deep and shallow!

  • Why are my children talking strangely?
  • Do I want to spend the rest of my life here?
  • Why are my children correcting the way I speak?
  • Can I see myself dying here?
  • Do I want my children to grow up speaking that way?

Having children is another perspective-changer. 

We think about when we flew the nest. The freedom enjoyed because of, not despite, a stable home. Our wings acquired their strength from the place of security and love provided by our parents. 

Deep down within our souls, we remember. During this phase, recognising the importance of ‘home’ (however we define it) becomes louder – from a whisper to a voice. Eventually, it may become a roar that we cannot ignore.

We began by noticing differences more easily than similarities. The children started school, and we didn’t feel completely at home. Nobody made us feel out. We simply did not feel like we belonged.

For many Irish, the craic is not the same abroad. People don’t ‘get’ you or your sense of humour in the same way. After a time, that might outweigh the novelty and excitement of a place.

For us, it was gradual. For others, the event may be more abrupt. For example, during Brexit, some people immediately felt that they were not fully ‘in’.

Whatever your reason, awareness is when you reconsider whether this is the place for you.

The Big Question during this phase is how do you tune in and figure out what you want? 

  • Have you suppressed any emotions – understandably – to protect yourself so you could create the happy life you have? 
  • Should you continue to ignore them? (No) 
  • If you healthily acknowledge them, do you conclude that these are just the natural price you pay for living overseas? (They are.)
  • Are you willing to pay that price? (That’s up to you).
  • Are you willing to contemplate a future that means you have to deal with these?

These are not small questions.

You may feel overwhelmed by doubt or confusion. You are at a crossroads. Do not mistake doubt with regret for emigrating in the first place. It is simply that, now, at this moment, you might feel differently about the future. Honour it.

This part of the journey is inward. You tune into feelings as they arise and you ask the right questions.

  • Is this feeling valid?
  • Where does this feeling come from?
  • Can I do something about it? Do I want to? 
  • If I do, can I live with the consequences of that decision? 
  • If I don’t do anything, can I continue to live with it?

This phase can last a long time. For us, it was a few years. We sometimes considered out loud going home with Irish friends. It didn’t seem a crazy idea. 

The best piece of advice here is not to rush it. You don’t have to make a decision. It might just creep up on you. The growing awareness may decide for you if you sit on it. 

Let it percolate.

James Parnell is the founder of A New Dawn in Ireland community and provides online coaching for anyone inspired to change their life.

This article is an excerpt from the book A New Dawn in Ireland. If you would like to be notified when the book is published simply register here.