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I return to Ireland this week. My time in Texas with my family has been amazing. I feel FULL and grateful for the abundant amount of time; bills, credit cards, and expense be damned. It isn’t cheap visiting Austin for over a month, even if you sleep on someone’s spare mattress!

But as I sit here, suitcases half packed, I grapple with the urge to cancel my ticket.

Sure, why not? I just pay the penalty and use that flight for something else. I don’t have to go back. My stuff can be boxed and shipped back. It might be a hassle, but certainly Himself would understand.

I have been conflicted about expatriation since I arrived on Ireland’s green shores two years ago. The land and its people are the stuff of romantic legend: from the mist covered hills to the laughter filled pubs. But romanticism, like sentimentality, is nothing to build a life around.

Living abroad has been a wonderful opportunity; it has allowed me to experience another culture from an insider perspective and has been a truly epic adventure, but acculturation is challenging. When two cultures meet, change (and discomfort) happens. The prolonged exposure to Irish society changes me culturally and psychologically.

Heck, even if I remain in Texas now, I am no longer the woman who left.

As a psychology student interested in research on acculturation and Seasonal Affective Disorder, I know that those who integrate (defined as being engaged in both their heritage culture and in the larger society) are better adapted and more successful at acculturation. My intent, after this visit, was to return and dive in. To engage the society I now live within, while letting my Texan nature shine a bit more brightly.

But that determination is wavering.

I now wonder whether my time in Ireland is done. Whether I have had enough and am ready to return to the hot, dry nest of my bones.

In a way, I am my own research subject. And perhaps that, more than anything, answers my question. Another six months?

Ah, come on then. Let’s be havin’ ya!

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I often wish my current Self could have had a little chat with my past Self before I moved. Today I was thinking about one of those important topics my past Self should have been made aware of. But since I can’t go back in time, I am sharing it here with you in the hopes someone will find it helpful.

Don’t expect to hit the ground running. You won’t. Ok, there are always exceptions, but generally speaking it takes 1-2 years (*) to acclimate to a new culture, no matter how familiar that culture is (my fatal flaw: thinking that because I had visited Ireland so often, spoke the dominant language, and knew..oh so much about its history, that I would jump in with both feet and need no life vest). You may be one of those beautiful exceptions but be prepared, and know that feeling culture shock is NORMAL. So be gentle with yourself. Even brave adventurers who take the leap and move abroad need TLC.

It has been two years for me and I only now feel acclimated.

Let me reiterate some of the small and seeming insignificant areas I experienced culture shock when I first moved here:

  • Nobody else sounds like me!
  • If I open my mouth, everyone will stare at me because I sound / look / act differently.
  • I don’t understand that social cue. What am I suppose to do / say?
  • Where do I stand at the check-out?
  • How do I stand in line at the post office?
  • What type of jobs are here? Do they do those jobs differently than back home?
  • Where do I buy white vinegar…crazy glue…a hand-held peeler…[fill in the blank]?

This list is not exhaustive, but the items represent the relevant point I want to make, and which is imperative for you to consider if you are planning a move abroad. At some point, you will feel out of your element ,and potentially silly, frustrated, disenchanted, stupid, and disgruntled. The whole endeavor may seem like a horrible mistake, a bad idea, and you may declare to yourself and your friends, “What WAS I thinking!?”

Take heart, in all likelihood you will move through this stage, and if you don’t, it is OK to have an exit strategy. Going home, hopefully, is an option. Culture is culture, and in the same way not every State in the US is a good fit socially, ethically, or geographically, for my personal tastes and interests, so too every other country out there. (Also, each country contains regional differences just like back home. Maybe this county or provence isn’t right for you, but the one next door is.)

I came across this table today and liked it enough to save the image, though I don’t remember where I found it. (If you made this table, please know I wish to give you credit.) It’s a great reminder that culture shock happens, even to the best prepared.
*
“In many cases, it takes at least a year to acclimate to a new country.”

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I am a massage therapist and had a small private practice back in Austin, in addition to my job working with some AWESOME people at the University of Texas (hook’em horns!). Now that I can look for employment and start a business, if I wish, here in Ireland, I am slowly reaching out. I joined the Irish Massage Therapists Association and have attended a regular meeting, and plan to attend their upcoming annual meeting. I’ve registered a business name so I can purchase a domain here. (strange side note: seems you must have a business number to register an .ie domain – this is very different from the US. For those wondering..I did try for the .com, but it was taken) In my first attempts at networking, I scored an interview. Can you feel the story building?

I was trained as a therapist at the nationally recognized Lauterstein-Conway Massage School. I received a wonderful grounding in professional etiquette and best practice, in addition to superb theory and hands-on training. To employ healing touch through soft tissue manipulation is a gift, a sacred encounter that has been honored as a healing modality for millenia. A therapist must also be mindful when approaching the body. Systems are interconnected. What heals and nurtures one system, could impact another in a harmful way when certain conditions are present. These conditions are called contraindications. When a therapist discusses a clients medical history, or general health, they are looking for these signs. Primum non nocere . Once I verify that it is wise to proceed, I encourage my clients to relax into the nurturing glow of therapeutic body work, which will either entail a softer holistic approach (think Swedish, with long strokes) or a session working targeted muscle groups with a deeper focus, whichever we have discussed beforehand. Or so I was taught….. :sound of breaks screeching:

So, I saw that a center in Dublin was looking for a holistic massage therapist. The website seemed interesting, and expressed a relaxed environment. They even had a purple treatment room! (all hail The Purple Room – how I miss thee) The owner phoned and we arranged a time for me to come in. When he indicated that I should plan for an hour and a half, I “assumed” it would include a massage, though he never communicated it directly. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised by the very hippy vibe. The rooms were full of gorgeous art. Every square inch of space was covered in a bright painting, rocks and crystals lined the shelves, books were stacked and spilling. If you know me, you know I was immediately smitten. The owner walked in, and I “expected” him to greet me. He looked at me, gave a weak hand gesture, then walked into another room. Puzzled, I started rifling through books. lol. His partner soon appeared and she greeted me, shook my hand, asked me a bit about my website, joyfully commented on my “not a dog, cat, or chicken free environment” disclaimer, and explained that the owner would be receiving a massage from me, and that he would want it deep. She then takes me into the room where I will work. Their purple room. joy, joy….

Until I see the table. OMG. There must have only been an inch of padding. It must feel hard as a rock! She proceeded to place three bed pillows on top, and cover the entire thing with a sheet of paper roll, like at the doctors office, and handed me a towel. I must have had my mouth completely open at this point. No sheets? No blankets? This is Ireland..it’s COLD. She places a small bottle of oil (oil for deep tissue massage??) on the radiator, to warm. She then leaves me, but before she leaves she asks if I need to get changed. What??? I was wearing nice linen pants, a fitted short sleeved top, my great little leather shoes… basically, my therapist get-up. I admit, I had a moment of panic. What if this is a Happy Ending place?? What if they aren’t real therapists at all!! No matter. I was in charge, and I was just happy to finally work on a table again! (I still don’t have mine!!) When he FINALLY (30 minutes late) comes into the room he barely looks at me. He mumbled something about whether I needed anything else. He had a classic forward head rounded shoulders, almost collapsed in on himself, posture. He needed deep work. Since he wasn’t giving me any direction, or communicating clearly, I took over. I told him I would like to sit down for a moment and discuss the work I was going to do, and whether there were any conditions or injuries I should know about.

He looked straight up for that one! “Look, I know you were trained in the US where they go in for continuing education and learning new methods :hand flourish: but we don’t do that here. This is just a massage after all!” Alrighty then. I can see he and I don’t agree on some things. I step out so he can get on the table, when I return only his genitals are covered with the towel. So THAT’S what it was for! geesh. No draping, no covering of muscles not being worked. How on earth will those muscle groups stay warm and pliable. 😦 I can’t imagine receiving a massage here without a nice toasty sheet and blanket on top of me. Then the table! Oh, lordy the table. It was a good thing I was focusing on deep work, because any amount of rocking or vigorous effleurage or petrissage would have ripped the paper. There was no face cradle, just a hole in the table for the face in the prone position, which he wasn’t using, instead there was a bed pillow covering it. His neck was always craned to one side or the other, never achieving spinal alignment. It was a nightmare. lol. I did my best and counted it as a learning experience.

At the end….his only words were, “You are technically very good, but massage is an ancient art. I prefer the hands never leave the body.”

I translated that as….. We don’t think of massage as a complimentary therapy here and we don’t bother wondering whether our clients have high blood pressure or just found out they are pregnant or are taking blood thinners. And when we say we want a deep massage, we just mean Swedish with a bit more pressure.

It’s a pity he communicated so poorly. I would have enjoyed understanding his own approach, learning where he trained, and engaging in a dialogue about deep massage as I was trained. Any Irish therapists reading this…. how in the world do you work on a paper strip?? help???

or becoming a legal resident due to my de facto relationship with an Irish National.

I arrived on these fair shores in mid-September. Himself had already been in contact with the Department of Justice (INIS) before I arrived. We immediately sent off paperwork, were asked for further paperwork, and finally on 18 December, exactly 3 months later to the day, received my letter saying I had been granted permission to remain. All we had to do now was go down to our local Garda station to be stamped and given a residence card. As it was Christmas, and we were headed north to Donegal, we waited till after the New Year.

I thought I would be able to pop down fairly easily, since it’s never too busy down there (thank goodness for not being in Dublin!). You can imagine our surprise when I was given an appointment some 3 weeks later! Since patience is a virtue (and that, debatable), I waited. The day came, but instead of a card I was given a form to present at a local bank along with my €150 fee. We were going away to Cork later that week, so another 2 weeks passed before I got an appointment to receive my official card.

That in hand, my next stop to seeking employment was to secure a Personal Public Service number (PPS). Since I was driving finally, I arranged to have the car and journey to Navan, where the Social Welfare Office is. The same office that handles welfare applications and payments (the dole), assigns PPS numbers. I had all my paperwork in order (passport, utility bill showing my name and address, residence card) and hoped I could handle it in the same day without needing to come back. I presented at the “hatch” (the irish don’t call them lines, they are queues..but also, the station where you queue is called a hatch) for reception and was told I could be seen a few hours later. No problem, I didn’t mind having lunch and exploring the town a bit, even though I have a general aversion to Navan. You see, a few years ago I rented a holiday cottage near there and every time I so much as got near the town, I got lost!

Back to business. I presented myself at 2pm at hatch 1 (“no queuing required”), as requested, only to be told she should not have scheduled me then, someone else had that slot. Unsure what to do, and probably looking on the verge of tears, the man told me he could see me at 3:30. I had to feed the meter no less than 3 times on this little visit to Navan, which took a good chunk of my pocket money. I also noticed how uncomfortable I was queuing with social welfare recipients. Did people think I was on the dole? Why did I feel bad about that? Why do people call them “dole scum”? This was an unnerving response on my part. I have long believed the U.S. should provide an unconditional safety net to its citizens. In fact, I am a firm believer that no citizen should be without shelter or food. If a country decides to embrace an economic system that requires humans to exchange work for currency, and currency for food and shelter instead of providing those with their own hands, through building and hunting, then it should ensure everyone at least has food and housing. The hard truth is that many in the U.S. are unable to earn enough money to provide these most basic of necessities.

End of rant, and back to the story. I noticed discomfort, and that is something I need to sit with. I wandered around the town, in the growing cold, for a little longer and finally presented myself at 3:30. The man who processed my application was friendly enough. “surname? that’s a northern name, isn’t it?”…”mother’s maiden name? another ulster name! don’t worry, we won’t hold that against you. :laugh: (serious) do you have any business or financial ties in The North?” After being investigated on InterPol, having my documents copied, and a “delicate” conversation about the benefits of having my PPS number attached to Himself, I was done. He informed me the number would arrive in the post anywhere from 4-10 days later.

It arrived yesterday. As of today…..just 3 days shy of 6 months, I am officially able to seek employment. Equinox to Equinox…..rather fitting, don’t you agree?

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

Well, the signs are pointing toward my ability to look for work! As well as offer my services to private clients. I have an appointment on 7 Feb to acquire my residence card, which will allow me to get my PPS number, which will allow me to send letters of enquiry, along with qualifications, to suitable clinics and health centres.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply

I ran across a brochure in town the other day for an acupuncturist. She is using the same graphic motif used on my business website. It’s a beautiful brochure, and since it would work so well for my upcoming marketing strategy, I emailed to ask which printer she used. She got them for reduced rate from vista print. What a great money saver!

Now, if we (i.e. “He”) can just decide whether we are staying in Meath or moving to Dublin or Cork, I can get some business cards printed and sort out my own treatment room.

:fingers crossed:

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