When the stock market took a dive in 2008, the world economy followed suite. Wall Street collapsed and fears of another “Great” depression arose.
In Europe, soon entire nations became entangled in the mess. It became known as PIIGS. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.
Riots broke out on the streets. Governments became in-permanent. Buildings foreclosed. Companies moved abroad. Mass lay-offs and job losses lead to a rise not only in unemployment but in homelessness.
Before 2008 silicone valley found a new home on the emerald isle. Ireland became a strong and prosperous country. They called it the Celtic Tiger; and it appeared Ireland was sprinting miles ahead into the new century. Now Ireland was facing the same fate as Greece.
While Celtic Tiger was dying the slow death, I flew right into the middle of the storm.
I had just graduated high school, yet to be hit by the brute force that is what so many teachers had referred to as “The real world”. I had applied for university, but unlike my classmates – I did not have the desire to stay local. I had been accepted to universities abroad, but there was no scholarships available to cover the thousands for the cost of a single semester.
I attended a workshop earlier that year on the various ways to travel abroad. Study, work, volunteer… about half a dozen opportunities crammed into a half hour slide show. Tucked inside my stack of university prospectus and application forms were the brochures from that workshop. SWAP to Ireland was on the top. While my classmates were gearing up for university, I was gearing up to cross the ocean.
The move was in one word, like I was, … Naive. Just barely eighteen and my first move away from home was across the Atlantic. I had not lined up a job, nor so much as a place to stay. I half expected to conquer Europe with little to no regard of what experience I lacked. And much like Napoleon… I met my Waterloo.
Many firsts hit me within a week. This was the first time I had ever traveled alone. The first time I walked through the arrivals gate not to be greeted by a familiar face. The first mistake I made getting into a taxi rather than finding a cheaper way into the city. The first time I had ever stayed in a Hostel. The list goes on. Looking back on it, almost laughable at what a shock all of it was to me.
I lucked out when it came to finding a flat. My first viewing was a room in a shed behind a house in Raleigh. The second was a Georgian home on Upper Gardiner Street. I opted for the latter.
What I had no such luck on was finding work in the eye of the storm.
For months on end, everyday I walked out my door was a new experience of what happens to a nation under debt. The concepts of debt, economy, and the psychology of it all was a new one to me.
Half tourist. Half job seeker. New immigrant. Foreigner. In a city of one million I truly felt alone.
I spent my days walking down each and every street in central Dublin. Handing out CV’s to every shop in sight. I would pass students on the street juggling homework in one hand and a paper cup of loose change in another. I would become so common place to see people begging for change that you would have passed at least five on a simple run for groceries. Walk the streets enough you could start to tell the ones who were truly in need apart from the ones who had been taking advantage of the situation.
Protests became common place. Occasionally fires would break out. Theft was common.
Outside my flat alone was a man who slept in our rubbish bin who I came to know as Jack from the square bottles he surrounded himself with. A decent enough lad who was just battling his own personal demons. Inside, my flatmate, who was an immigrant like myself was facing deportation after loosing his job.
Twice I had the police at my door. Once because my flatmate had been daft enough to leave his window open and had his laptop stolen. The second I was on my own and a small riot broke out down the way. The police were urging residents to vacate for the night.
That’s when it hit me. At that point I was not only unemployed… but I knew no one in the entire city. A strange concept to be in a strange city and have nowhere to go, and nothing holding you to stay.
That’s when I made the decision to pack it in. Here I was looking forward to starting a new life, and being hit with the reality of what the world was like outside of the protective bubble of home. I left defeated.
I have to applaud the people of Ireland. Unlike myself who could go ‘home’ at anytime, this was their home. Over the years I watched Ireland from afar in admiration that they were able to face adversary and fight for their country.