“How amazing must a country be if the only real complaint I have is rain?”
Spinning the globe a little further north in Europe, our expat parent in the spotlight this month is Marta Correale, joining us from Dublin, Ireland.
A mum of two living in the Irish capital, Marta’s story is unique to many of our previous interviewees as she is the one coming from a foreign language into an English speaking country, leaving her lovely birth home Rome for the green fields of Ireland, and as is so often the case, love! Let’s hear more about the great things, but also the challenges of being an expat parent in Dublin
OG: Firstly let’s hear how a lovely Italian lady ended up calling Dublin home?
MC: I was born in Rome, Italy and for the first 20+ years of my life, I thought Rome would be my home forever. My family is from there and while my parents always liked to travel, the idea of moving abroad and living as an expat never really occurred to me. Then, on the day I turned 27, I relocated to Brussels for work. I was studying for my Masters degree in Development and Brussels was very much the place to be for that kind of training. The idea was to stay there 5 months, but these stretched to become well over a year!
A big reason that made me stay is my now-husband. He is Irish and he was working in Belgium in a field similar to mine. We dated in Brussels for a few months and, when I had to return to Rome for work, kept up the relationship long distance. After a year of that, we decided we wanted to be together full time and chose Ireland. It was easy to find a job here, at the time, and it was his home, so we thought we would try for a while and possibly move away again.
11 years later, we are still here and our two children were born here too!
OG: What were your first impressions on moving to Ireland?
MC: I had been to Ireland before I decided to move here, so the very first impact wasn’t overly dramatic. I always felt drawn towards this part of the world. I love English as a language, the green landscape and the fact that the country runs more efficiently than Italy! Despite this, there were things that took some getting used to; the weather here is just awful (it really is, I miss proper summer!), the food is… well… not quite as nice as the one back home and for a long time I did feel very far from my friends.
OG: What was your experience integrating into the local community?
MC: I was immediately fully immersed in the local community. My English was already strong when I arrived and this allowed me to find a job in a fully Irish office, where I was the only foreigner. It wasn’t as easy as it may sound (strong second language and proficiency are two pretty different things), but it helped me feel like a local quickly. Also, my husband being from here meant I could tap into his circle of friends. Again, this doesn’t mean I made friends overnight and I often missed someone from home but it was surely a starting point.
OG: What is Dublin like for young children?
MC: In Ireland, families tend to have many children and facilities for them abound. Green spaces, playgrounds (outdoors and indoors), mum and baby groups, activities…. Honestly, I have never been as active or social as since I had children!
In Ireland you see mostly nuclear families: mum, dad and (many) kids, with the grandparents often living in the country or in smaller centres. In this sense, locals and expats are very similar. Hired help in the house is common; being an English speaking country it is very normal to have foreign students working here as au pairs – they mind the kids and in return you offer accommodation and the chance for them to practice English with you.
But there is one he problem here and it is the cost of childcare. The cost of full-time care is so high if you have two children it will eat up your whole salary. This means that many women do not go back to work and while this is fine if it’s a choice, it’s not quite as fine if you want to keep your career. The many activities available are a way for many mothers to keep the children entertained but also to have themselves a social outlet, if not working outside the house.
OG: Can you explain the Irish schooling system
MC: Kids start primary school between 4 and 5 years of age and the year before that they get a free year in playschool (3 hours per day). The schools here are mostly state-run and free but, apart from few exceptions, they are attached to religious denominations, the most common being Catholic and Church of Ireland (Anglican).
This religious element is not just nominal but can be felt in everyday life: kids are encouraged or even expected to go to church and Christmas, just to use it as an example, is celebrated for its Christian meaning and not as a ‘winter holiday’ as I can see happening in other countries. Some schools make provisions for children belonging to other religions but let’s put it this way: your religious beliefs will be scrutinized for your child to be accepted almost anywhere.
This poses a good bit of a headache if you come from abroad or if you are non-religious. Your child will find a place, but it might not be in your school of choice or in a particularly convenient location. Not surprisingly, schooling is one of the topics new mums discuss the most and now that Ireland is turning into a more diverse society, huge efforts are on the way to make schools non-denominational. I am optimistic than in the future Ireland will open up more and become more able to provide an inclusive education system; there is already a huge popular demand for it.
OG: So both your children were born in Dublin, can you explain the maternity and health facilities that are available
MC: My pregnancy and childbirth experience in Dublin was AMAZING. I gave birth in hospital and found everyone incredibly efficient and well prepared. As well as anti-natal care, it is standard for you to be visited by a midwife at home for a few days after you give birth – they check on you, help with breastfeeding and are very alert to postnatal depression for which they keep an eye out. I felt really safe in their hands.
The one thing that surprised me is how breastfeeding is not really the norm here. It is encouraged by the medical profession but many mums make you feel weird and disgusting for choosing to do so. The first time someone told me that breastfeeding was ‘gross’, I couldn’t believe my ears! In Italy breastfeeding is absolutely standard practice, you are questioned more if you don’t do it than the other way round! But even in this case things are changing. More and more women are now doing it and some public places are offering private rooms for feeding babies. It’s still not as easy as it if was fully accepted in public but it definitely helps.
In general, I find Ireland a pretty safe place health-wise. You don’t have environmental hazards and availability of care is good, especially if you can go privately. My advice for families moving here would be to get health insurance. It is not compulsory but it does mean you have shorter waiting times and get back money of GP visits. Big companies tend to offer it in their employment contract so it’s sure worth checking.
OG: Tell us more about the costs and standards of living?
MC: The cost of living is high compared with many other parts of Europe but reasonably in line with salaries, so the average standard of living is good. The working week is about 38-40 hours and Saturdays and Sundays are usually free. Most jobs here are in the service industry, especially in big cities, while in the country you still have many farms, big and small.
In their free time, people with children tend to leave the city and for on day trips and excursions. One really nice thing about Ireland is that nature is never far away. Between the coast and the mountains, you can reach places of incredible natural beauty with a short drive from almost anywhere. The only problem here is the weather! It is so wet and cold during the winter, sometimes all you feel like doing is to stay at home in front of the fire!
A big day in Ireland for family outings is St Patrick’s, which falls on the 17th of March. It’s the day of the National Saint patron and in Dublin there are huge celebrations culminating in a parade. You might think families flock there but the reality is, we all run away from it! It can be a fun event but it’s very crowded and unfortunately, people tend to drink a lot here, so it easily gets messy, especially for children.
If you are visiting though, there are plenty of wonderful places you could stay in Dublin.
OG: Have you found challenges as a parent in Dublin?
MC: School aside, one of my biggest concerns here is alcohol. In Ireland, there is a big drinking culture and drinking yourself into a stupor is considered a normal and necessary part of socializing. As a mother, this worries me, especially for my boy. He’s still small, but coming from a culture where drunkenness is just a non-issue, I can’t help but wondering how to handle it.
This concern aside, I find being a parent here reasonably easy (well, it never is, but you know what I mean!). Availability of care and baby products is great and there is support available. I didn’t know anyone with children when I first got pregnant and through pregnancy and baby groups now I have a huge network of mum-friends!
OG: Finally, would you recommend Dublin as a great city to live with kids?
In general, I like Ireland and it’s a country with a lot to offer to expats. Overall, people are welcoming, services work and job-wise there are many opportunities for both men and women. Also, it’s absolutely stunning! On a bad day, I will say to you that you should not move here because the weather is awful but how amazing must a country be if the only real complaint I have is rain?
Ah, the many parallels to our life in London – if only we could have removed the cold, wet winters too!! Thanks so much to Marta for joining Baby Globetrotters in the Global Parenting hot seat this month. Marta now works as a part-time study abroad agent and is also a family travel blogger at Learning Escapes – she has many detailed guides on her website about visiting Rome and Dublin with kids as well as a focus on slow travel, green travel and cultural tourism.
For more expat parenting interviews from across the globe, head to our GLOBAL PARENTING home page
Next month we are skipping continents and will be picking up a story from Africa! Can’t wait to bring you more on this…
Images © Marta Correale