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A New life in Chicago

At the time of writing, it has been 715 days since I last stood on Irish ground. It will likely be another 365 until I can once again return. I was eager to leave Ireland, impatient to experience something new, and ready for bigger opportunities in the grand old U.S. of A.

My departure from Dublin airport on the 1st December 2019 was one filled with excitement and hope towards a J1 year abroad in Chicago. One that was only supposed to be a year long. The tears I cried saying my goodbyes to friends and family were those of trepidation and the notion of not seeing them for a year. I cannot say how I would have acted had I known the true length of time that would eventually pass, or if I would have even left. It's a good thing that isn't relevant.

Life is unpredictable, and the past two years here in the States have taught me that nothing is set in stone. A global pandemic, a travel ban, transitioning to remote work culture, the fear of getting sick with no health insurance in a foreign and notoriously expensive country, the ominous threat of an upcoming recession, the uncertainty of going through the immigration process, experiencing life as an undocumented immigrant. These hardships have taught me so much about myself and what I am capable of - and how things truly do happen for a reason.

I was advised early on in the pandemic to leave America for the safety of my mam, free HSE healthcare, free housing at my family home, the fall-back of more job opportunities from former employers and networks. However, I saw that option as a failure and a disservice to myself, to the year I had so vividly planned out in my head. So I stayed.

I was fortunate enough to have an amazing employer, a fellow Irish Immigrant herself, Founding and Managing Attorney of McEntee Law Group, Fiona McEntee. Her dedication to maintaining my employment status through the worst of the pandemic is the only reason I am still here today. She fought so hard for grants and budgeting to allow me to continue working for her even when business was badly affected by the pandemic and travel bans. Never before had I known just how much the Irish community looks out for each other, especially whilst abroad, and I will be forever grateful to Fiona for her dedication and support to me during those uncertain times. Her law firm is now actively working on my permanent residency and continues to help me in more ways than I could ever imagine.

We aren't taught how to make friends as an adult outside of the workplace. When even work turned remote, I was in complete social isolation outside of my partner, his friends, and his family. With social distancing, masks, and indoor capacity limits it was nearly impossible to meet new people. This is something I struggled with the most by far, and some of my darkest times were driven by this feeling of complete loneliness that I know so many other people were also going through. Thankfully I can say that as we moved out of the pandemic I was quickly able to make the most amazing friends who have been such a fantastic support system.

I stayed past the end of my J1 ultimately because I fell in love with my partner who is an Irish American. At the end of my J1 visa,Ireland was still under complete lockdown while Chicago was pretty much up and running at full capacity again. I had made friends, got a dog, made a home with my partner whose family had also quickly become my own, and I dreaded the thought of leaving this new life to return to social lockdown. So again, I stayed.

This decision began the process of Permanent Residency, and I entered into an unknown and scary realm of undocumented immigration status through the transition. Homesickness from the continued travel bans to the U.S., the financial drawbacks of not being able to qualify for health insurance, credit cards, and employment, continued to make my fight for my "American Dream" hard, but if anything it has certainly built up my resilience. My mental health certainly reached new lows, and I learned how to lean on my partner and friends instead of my absent family.

With the travel ban finally lifted by America, my friends and family from Ireland can finally visit me so I can at least see them in person for the first time since I left. Our reunion is something that I am waiting for with a heavy heart, as I am already dreading the moment they will leave.

I want to urge Irish people, and any immigrants living away from their home and loved ones, that life gets better. It is important to remember why you left home in the first place and to continue seeing the future you imagined for yourself. While not always easy, I truly do believe that Immigrants are one of the most resilient and admirable groups of people out there because of what we have to go through. The additional weight on our shoulders may seem like a heavy burden at times, but it is one we carry with pride and purpose. Know that there are services and resources out there for us and that asking for/accepting help is not a sign of failure or shortcoming.

While Chicago has become my new home where I plan to stay, and I love it with all my heart - a piece of me will always live in Ireland. I do not know when I will be able to go to Ireland again, it will likely be many more hundreds of days still. I can only pray that sometime soon I will be able to visit, and once again enjoy an overpriced pint in Dublin with my friends and complain about the weather with my mammy over a nice cup of tea.

Le grå,

Tia Treloar | IG @tiattreloar

Living in Chicago, IL U.S.A.

From Dublin, Ireland

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Mar 14, 2022

We're glad that you're here. Know that like many of us Ireland will always be your heart's home. My grandparents came to Chicago from Munster. We can yearn for Erin while loving Chicago (especially the White Sox).

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