Rose of Tralee 2007

Diversity Stories

Oliver Wang, PR consultant and radio presenter

I moved to Ireland in September 2000 as a language student from China. I still remember the day I arrived was Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – a very traditional family gathering time in China. But I didn't feel lonely at all when I met my host family – a very nice couple in Bray.

Everything was new to me, the architecture, the people, the culture…all so different from China. I didn't feel nervous at all. I was fascinated by everything here, it was like being at home.

However, it wasn't all easy. Simple things like opening a bank account, applying for PPS number, even going to town took time for me to learn. But I have to say that most Irish people were very friendly and helpful.

I remember once I fell asleep on the Dart late at night. I was supposed to get off in Bray but woke up in Greystones. I had only been here for a couple of weeks – you can imagine how scared I was when I realised that there was no one else on the train.

I ran to the driver and explained my situation. I was so amazed and surprised by what he said to me – 'Get on the train and I'll drive you back to Bray'. It sounded so easy for him, but as a stranger, at that time, I was totally moved. It's eight years ago now, but I could never forget this story.

Time moves on, from a language student, now I have my own PR & Marketing company. I have organised and run four Karaoke competitions, Chinese Community Gala evenings, culminating in most recent celebrations with 2008 Dublin Chinese New Year Festival. I have worked with RTÉ on several media projects such as 'George Lee in China', 'No Place Like Home' and 'Nationwide'.

Ireland has been a place of opportunity for me. Who knows where I will be in the future, but Ireland will always hold a special place in my heart.

Zbyszek Zalinski, presenter, RTÉ Radio's Spectrum

I first came to Ireland in September 2001 to study in the Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. After a year in Limerick I went back to Poland. I returned to live in Ireland on 7 September 2004 to study for a Ph.D. in Trinity College in Dublin. I have lived in Dublin ever since.

When I was moving to Ireland, the direct flights between Poland and Ireland were only starting, so I had to fly via London. There weren't any direct cheap flights. I remember I had a lot of excess baggage and that it was a beautiful, sunny day when I arrived in Dublin.  

At first I stayed in Goldsmith Hall on Westmoreland Row and then I moved to Trinity Hall in Dartry.

It was rather easy for me setting up, as I had a PPS number and a bank account from my time in Limerick. The big difference was that in 2001 I needed to register with the Garda and after Poland joined the EU in 2004, I didn't.

I fell in love with Ireland and the Irish immediately. I really enjoyed my time spent in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and decided to do my best to come back to Ireland after finishing my Masters degree in Poland.

I have lived in Dublin for almost four years now and I love it. I feel this is my home now. All my experiences in Ireland have been very positive. The people I've met, the friendly welcome I received. On a beautiful, sunny day – just like the one when I arrived in September 2004 – Dublin is the greatest city in the world and I grin from ear to ear that I can live here.

Shalini Sinha, newspaper columnist, counsellor, anti-racism consultant and former presenter of RTÉ Television's Mono.

Shalini grew up in Canada with Indian parents. She arrived in Ireland by plane as a student in 1996. Her first home was a flat in Monkstown in Dublin.

Renewing visas were difficult. I remember the days when you had to go to Harcourt Street Garda Station and they only had the capacity to see a few people. Individuals would travel from all over the country and line up outside the station early in the morning in hopes of being one of the few they could see that day. They began handing out tickets at 8:30am – 50 of them. If you didn't get a ticket you would have to try again the next day. You had to take at least the day off of work or college or whatever you were doing.

One day the newspapers published a photo of all these people lined up in the rain. After that they wouldn't let you line up, so we'd have to hover in coffee shops and on corners trying to spot when the person would come out with the tickets so we could all run for it! Burgh Quay is completely different. I went recently with my mum who had come to visit. Still takes at least half a day!

Although I love to write, describing the experience of living in Ireland isn't easy. Its very complex with deeply up and down feelings. The up-sides are this: Ireland is a small country in size and population. As such, it maintains much of the warmth, connection and groundedness that are only possible in smaller places. Still, Ireland as a country of culture and international connections offers facilities, excitement and opportunities I wasn't used to in western Canada.

Ireland seems to consist of a lot of 'inner-circles', and as an outsider it can be hard to break in. However, I believe from experience that if you can figure out how to get in – either by your talents, connections or charisma – life seems limitless. In my life here, I've had experiences, met people and achieved things I never imagined I would growing-up on the prairies of western Canada. I think it's something particular about life in Ireland.

The difficulties have to do with feeling at home. I moved here in my early 20s and as such have lived a third of my life here. Although your early years, and so the environment in which you spent them, always form the most familiar, comfortable and core part of your identity; your 20s is when you do all your growing up into adulthood.

Part of me has grown up here. However, so far this nation hasn't been able to let 'outsiders' into the heart of what is Irish. As such, there's no permission for me to identify fully as part of this country where I live, grow, contribute and participate. That's difficult. As an Indian ethnic minority I will always add diversity. I also intimately understand the effects of colonisation on a people. As an Irish immigrant I have actively learned more about the history, language and way of thinking than most Irish people I meet. Yet, I never feel welcomed to settle down and be at home.

Still, the biggest struggle will always be racism. You see it less in the big moments of your life, and more in your regular, everyday living. I'm still shocked by it. Mostly it shows through lack of awareness: people with good intentions unaware of their close-mindedness, judgements and how they hurt you. The odd time it actually translates into some scary behaviour. It rarely gives you a break and you can never relax and be yourself.

Rose of Tralee 2007
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