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I feel that same old new year pressure even in the midst of a burning Australian summer

So much has been new since we emigrated that there hasn’t been much time for immersing ourselves in the present. The new year seems as good a time as any to change that

The new year is always a bit of a reset but when it passes on the other side of the world, things take on a different aspect.

A little over four months into our new life in Australia, we’ve left 2023 behind. For us, the year was largely chewed up by preparations for moving. There was the seemingly endless life admin paperwork. The visa delays which left us living in temporary accommodation without furniture for six months – sleeping on a mattress on the floor and eating your dinner off an upturned cardboard box every night really helps to clarify what you need to bring when you emigrate and what you don’t.

There were the many “lasts” – the experiences to savour as though they might be the very last time you got to enjoy them, just in case.

Sitting in Bewley’s having coffee and cake with my best friend in the afternoon. Walking down Grafton Street on Christmas Eve after the shops have closed, enjoying the settling atmosphere after the din and stress of all the last-minute shoppers panic-buying blenders and socks and other undesired things.


Cradling the soft, wriggling little bodies of laughing nieces and nephews in the knowledge that time will have rendered the current version of them obsolete by the time you get home to them again. For us, much of 2023 was about letting go of our former life – and all the many things we loved about it as well as those we didn’t – to take the chance on something new. A severing.

This fresh year is only days old and the season is unrecognisable to me. I’m accustomed to excoriating January self-reflection conducted in the frozen darkness of Irish and British winters, yet I certainly feel that same old new year pressure in the midst of a burning Australian summer. Not to start exercising or cut down on salt or email old friends I’ve neglected for too long (though none of those are bad ideas), but to actually notice what’s happening in the present before it whirrs past and becomes bent and distorted by memory.

Emigration pulls your awareness backward, distracting you with what you’ve lost and what you miss, and simultaneously shoves you forward, discombobulated, into an unfamiliar, uncertain and in many ways unrecognisable life.

This is liberating, frightening, lonely and exciting but it often robs you of the luxury of the present. From the moment you make that enormous decision to leave while standing together in the kitchen – “right so, I suppose we’re going then” – you shift into a sort of reactive version of yourself. Everything is a situation to manage, a problem to solve, news to break and emotions to take care of; your own and everyone else’s. Everything is a step in a process, and the process ends in Australia, or so you think.

However, this doesn’t change when you land in your new home. For months you are in “receive mode”. Or, at least, so you’d hope. There’s a new culture to witness and navigate. New phrases to figure out (Australians say “too easy” in shops when you have a friendly interaction instead of our own “no bother”, and they greet you with “How are you going?”).

However much you arrange your face into an expression that you hope reads as ‘I swear I don’t have a codeine problem’, you can’t buy Nurofen Plus over the counter

There are new foods to eat and products to navigate. You need to find a new favoured laundry detergent. A hand soap you like for the bathroom. The tiniest elements of your day, from your morning ablutions to washing the dishes after dinner, feel and smell different. These seem unimportant until they are all suddenly different and the texture of your mundane everyday is suddenly something you no longer do on autopilot.

Your favourite cheese is unsurprisingly not available here so, both a pleasure and a pain, you must, and you get to, find a new one. No matter what time of the month it is and however much you arrange your face into an expression that you hope reads as “I swear I don’t have a codeine problem; I only use it sometimes”, you can’t buy Nurofen Plus over the counter – many Irish women will feel my quite literal pain at that unfortunate reality. Rental housing comes unfurnished and you need to supply your own fridge and washing machine.

Things just work differently. The work of learning about a new country is lifelong but these four months have been an intense stretch of reactivity. Learning, responding to a new environment, figuring things out. There hasn’t been much time for passively existing, for immersing deeply in the present, or for thinking about what I might like to do – now, and in the future.

A new year seems as good a time as any to change that. After all, it’s what I’d be doing if I were closer to home – contemplating everything I’ve done, and everything I haven’t, over the course of the last 12 months. Engaging in the traditional January cocktail of ambition and delusion that leads us by the hand into another year filled with hope, regret and the faint sense that we – and “it”– could be different if we put the effort in.

After emigrating, “it” is different, and so are we. The task now is to make the most of it, not to forget what brought us all this way, and to find the courage to actively live the life we sacrificed almost everything we know to access.

That’s the challenge for all of us really; not to miss out on our own lives.

It’s a comfort to know that even so far from home, January is the same, when you think about it.