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Caroline McKenna: A County Down Under

Caroline McKenna is the creator of the 'A County Down Under' podcast which has become a phenomenon amongst the Irish community in Australia. To date, the podcast has been downloaded over 100,000 times and continues to go from strength to strength. Caroline's guests have included a wide variety of people who have had an influence on both sides of the world. Her ability to hold candid conversations with such a variety of people has seen the podcast become a key facet in the culture of the Irish in Australia. Caroline is just another example of the great deeds being done by the Irish abroad.

Caroline wrote this blog for the The Irish Abroad website and we are very thankful.

This is her story.....

My name is Caroline Mc Kenna. I am 29 years old, and five years ago I took the leap of faith and moved to Australia. I am from a small seaside town in County Down called Newcastle. I always had itchy feet and travelled many places for extended holidays such as America and Thailand. But every time I came back, I craved more.

I graduated as a teacher from St Mary’s University College, Belfast in 2014. It is extremely hard as a graduate teacher to find permanent work in Ireland. There are temporary positions that come up from time to time but few that are permanent or secure. I decided to move to Ashford, Kent to take up a full-time permanent role as an English teacher in a Secondary school. It was clear to me from very early on that this was not what I wanted. I remember sitting in the classroom a few weeks into the job and looking around me. It was 7pm at night, I had not been at home since 6am that morning and I was far from being finished my workload for the day. I quietly whispered to myself. “There has got to be more to life than this.

The very next week, I booked my flight to Australia. I had never been to Australia before and I had no idea what to expect. Episodes of ‘Neighbours’ from throughout my childhood were all I had to really go on! I thought I had a good idea of what to expect! When I landed in Perth, Australia in October 2015, my life changed instantly. It wasn’t like the series ‘Neighbours’. It was better, it was magical. I saw life differently. I saw people up from 6am exercising, surfing, going to work, getting a coffee and walking the dog. I had never seen anything like it before. People were seizing the day from the moment the sun rose. I fell in love instantly. Every corner I turned there were gyms, healthy cafes, protein shops, gym clothing shops, and meditation centres. I had never seen this before. A better quality of life. I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

Perth is a beautiful city, that looks brand new and has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and an amazing Irish community that welcomes each individual who arrives in the city. Usually, to a BBQ in a “friend of a friend’s” house. However, I struggled to get a teaching job there and that was my goal, to continue my career. So I made the decision to move to Sydney. It felt like moving to the other side of the world again because the flight from Perth to Sydney is nearly five hours.

In Sydney, I was very lucky to obtain a position in an All-girls Catholic college in the heart of the city, overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Harbour. Every morning I wake up and pinch myself, because it feels like my life is a movie. I teach Religion, History, Geography and English to 11-18 year olds. My favourite part of teaching abroad is when my students introduce themselves at the start of the year and without fail, at least one student in every one of my classes will say “Miss, my parents are from Ireland.” I get so excited to meet them at the parent-teacher night and discuss how they came out here. So many came here on working holiday visas to Australia and 14 years on they haven’t left. The conversations just bring me back home. The Irish community in Australia is like none I have ever come across before. We are very close-knit. COVID-19 has brought us together even more than ever as we cannot get home to be with our families and we don’t know when we ever will.

I started a podcast on my experiences over the past five years of living here called “ A County Down Under”. I discuss all the highs and lows of living abroad and I talk about how it isn’t all it seems on social media. We Irish have to work hard and we have gained a reputation for this with the Aussies. They know when they hire us, that we are loyal, hard-working and we will do whatever it takes to get the job done. The podcast has gone global, with listeners from all over the world including Ireland, Dubai, Canada and the UK to name a few. It reached 117k downloads this week. It has also made the Top 10 in the charts in Ireland, UK and Australia!

Since starting the podcast , I decided to hold events for the Irish living in Australia. Every Saturday we gather in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth for a coffee and sunrise.

I now hold monthly events also, to keep connected during this difficult time away from home.

They are always a sell out! Boat parties, bottomless brunches, singles night. It is great craic.

A little bit of Home away from Home – having said that I can’t say I attended many boat parties in Newcastle Harbour – It doesn’t have the same appeal as Sydney harbour, and it certainly doesn’t have the weather!

Follow my journey @acountydownunder on Instagram or download the podcast on Spotify or Apple.

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