You can get me out of Ireland, but you’ll never get Ireland out of me

Oct 03, 2016
When reading my colleague Nigel Grillet’s blog, it brought back fond memories. After completing my studies in Belgium, I took the plunge to go live and work abroad. When I found a job opportunity in Dublin, the plan was to go there for 1, 2 years max. It became 9. And if it wasn’t for me having met my husband (another Belgian who moved to Dublin for the same reasons), I might never have left Ireland.
I learned some valuable lessons when living abroad.

1. Blend with the locals

When moving abroad, no one will expect you to put aside your own values and upbringing. However it is important to be eager to learn more about the local values and traditions. I found that a good way to do so, is by moving in with some locals. In Dublin it is very common to share a house or apartment with other people. It is a great way, not only to learn how the Irish think and what makes them happy, angry, thrive, … but also to improve your language skills – slang included. By being curious you learn to appreciate and respect the local way of doing things. It even broadens your own knowledge and look upon life, without losing yourself. I have seen other foreigners in Dublin moving in with people of the same cultural background, who moved back quite soon. Often because they couldn’t get used to the Irish way of life.

But sharing so many moments with the ‘locals’ was a priceless experience. It creates a two-way cultural exchange that was very enriching. A lot of it happens through pulling each other’s leg but, at the same time, you are exchanging so many valuable thoughts, ideas, views on life …. priceless human knowledge.

In some way Delaware is doing exactly that with its GLocal strategy: giving people the opportunity to join another Delaware practice abroad, a Belgian going abroad to spread not only knowledge, but also to bring a bit of the Belgian spirit to other cultures across the globe.

2. Keep focused

Probably one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from the Irish is to put things in perspective and get your priorities right. 

Don’t panic at the first sight of trouble, but take a step back, breathe, relax and have a fresh look at the situation. Something I still practice today. And it even helps to calm down the people around me.

3. You win some, you lose some

There’s a lot of truth in the saying: ”Out of sight, out of mind”. When I was working in Ireland, I met lots of people, from all over the world, but I also lost friends. My friendships at home underwent a natural shift: I lost a lot of acquaintances, and got to know who my true friends were: the few who didn’t mind that I only had 2 hours to spend with them during the weekends when I was back in Belgium.

4. Belgium isn’t that bad after all.

Belgium is notorious – amongst other things – for its high taxes and poor road infrastructure. Well, believe me, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. Our high taxes pay for our social comfort and good healthcare. So don’t forget the return we get for the taxes we pay!

5. Educational differences

In earlier years, I went to quite a few evening classes in Belgium. 6 years, in fact, of spending a lot of hours behind books, writing papers, doing exams, … In Ireland, however, I learned that there is a much more practical way to follow a 3rd level education. Since, in Ireland, evening classes have the same value as daytime classes, they are sometimes perceived as more valuable, since you demonstrate perseverance (by going to evening classes and keeping a full-time job), juggling (between your job, classes, writing papers, meeting with fellow students to perform group assignments, not forgetting about your social life, ….) and flexibility (in order to juggle, you need to be flexible and demonstrate you can adjust quickly). Three highly appreciated skills by employers. 


Moreover, the educational system in Anglo-Saxon countries in general is more geared towards the practical side. Whereas, in Belgium, I was more required to learn everything by heart, in Ireland I needed to be able to demonstrate that I actually understood the theory, by being able to apply it in my papers and answers. That’s where the combination of a full-time job with evening classes came in handy. I could learn and apply the theory in my job, and provide practical examples from my job, in the classes.

The new me

Back in Belgium, I needed to adapt again. Which is not something that is done lightly. I noticed that a lot of people forget that such an experience does change you as a person. You get new perspectives on life, you grow up. They expect you to still be the same person. And sometimes it was hard to make them understand, to let them get to know the new me. But as my experience in Ireland is so dear to me that I do not want to give it up, and I’m still fighting every day to keep the memories and lessons learned vivid and alive. So if you ever want to talk about Ireland, you know where to find me .. with my thoughts and heart still half in Dublin :)

Author: Elke Toebaert. You can connect with Elke on LinkedIn