Camila Munoz Garcia, originally from Chile, is so used to the Irish weather now that when she returns home to visit family, “the heatwaves give me a headache and I have to sit inside the house”, she says with a laugh.
Growing up in Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city, Garcia had “a lovely childhood, surrounded by family”.
“I’m an only child and we were very close. Birthdays were always great and we had meetings almost every Sunday with my grandparents. Because I was an only child, I was kind of spoiled, so moving away and having no one was tough,” Garcia recalls.
Garcia had gone to the same Catholic school for 12 years, spending every day in “the exact same place, with the exact same lifelong friends”.
The hardest part about moving to Ireland 11 years ago was leaving her family and friends, she says.
“I was 18. I was still a baby, I didn’t know what I was doing. It was random enough, ending up in Ireland. It isn’t even on the map for us in South America to be honest; it never crossed my mind.”
After finishing school at 17, Garcia wanted to study engineering and was excited to go on to university.
“But at the time my English was really bad, I had failed it twice in a row in the class and I wanted to be better at it. I thought I’d like to take one year to go away and learn it and then go back and do engineering.”
Garcia’s uncle was living in Ireland at the time with his French partner and encouraged Garcia’s parents to allow her to move there for one year.
“I arrived in April 2010 and I remember it was so sunny and nice, and I thought ‘Oh great, I can live here’. But Christmas of that year was heavy snow and I thought ‘What am I doing here? I can’t do this coming from like 40-degree weather back home,’” she laughs.
“I used to get lost on my bike and I used to stop with my map – an actual map! – on every corner to get to school on Capel Street”.
Garcia’s uncle encouraged her to volunteer with St Vincent de Paul “to get used to Irish accents” because, at the time, her only friends were other native Spanish speakers at the school.
“Volunteering was so hard, just trying to understand what they were saying. It’s mad, Ireland is so small but there are so many different accents, even so many different ones in Dublin alone.”
Six months later, Garcia had her first “actual job interview with Argos and I was still clueless,” she says.
“But I got a job in the warehouse with all Irish people and I was so excited.”
Garcia moved around lots of different jobs after that, including one at Dublin Zoo, where she took pictures of visitors, and The Church bar, where she was a hostess.
Later, she worked for Facebook as a content moderator, and now she works as a financial adviser at Irish Pensions and Finance.
“I’ve worked in this job now for four years, it’s the longest job I’ve had and the only one as a real professional career, using my qualifications,” she says.
“I absolutely love my job. I help people who don’t know anything about their pension or what to do with their savings. I put plans in place with them to protect themselves. I feel like it’s a very important and rewarding job.”
Looking back on her time in Ireland, Garcia laughs at the thought of having only planned to be here for one year.
“I planned three times to get on a flight back to Chile, and each time, a week before, I changed my mind and stayed here. Now I plan to get my citizenship next year. It’s expensive but it’s worth it, if for nothing else then for the shorter queues at the airport,” she jokes.
“I became an adult here. I can’t really remember things from Chile when I was 10 years old or a teenager”.
“I do miss the food, and the way of talking. I don’t speak Spanish here at all except to my parents when I call them once a week. When I go back to Chile, I talk what I would call ‘gringo’, the way people from America speak Spanish when they come to Chile. My Spanish is so broken for about a week when I go home, every time I have to readjust”.
“Last time I visited Chile was in 2019, then it was the pandemic. But I was lucky to bring my parents and my grandfather here last September, we also travelled around Europe”.
Garcia’s parents have been to visit her in Ireland four times over the years, but Garcia prefers to travel to them or help them pay for their flights here.
“It’s very expensive. Last time it was almost €8,000 for the three return tickets. It’s not as bad for me but for them they’d have to save for like three years because the peso is so low,” she says.
When Garcia’s parents visit her in Ireland, they tell her it’s tough not to have her at home any more, but they’re happy when they see the life she has built for herself in Ireland.
“You can work as a bartender here and you can have a lovely life and go on holidays but in Chile you’d be very stuck for rent and need a much higher paying profession,” she says.
Garcia currently rents in Blanchardstown, and hopes to buy a home in Dublin in the coming years. She would love to return to Cabra, “where it all began”, but it has become too expensive to buy there in recent years, she says.
Life for the past 11 years in Ireland has been “very chill, and people here are very open”.
“I think we’re very similar to Irish people in Chile, because we have a similar sense of humour and love sarcasm. But life here is much easier and nicer; in Chile everything is so hectic, and there is no living – it’s all just work and paying bills. Here, there’s so much more living,” she says.
Garcia would love to bring her parents to live in Ireland because she misses them so much.
She also hopes to bring her uncle back to Ireland someday.
“He went back to France with my auntie a few years ago and unfortunately she got a brain tumour. She fought it for a long time but she died two years ago. He’s there on his own now, and I’d love to bring him here and help him the way he helped me when I came to Ireland.”
“I have to try to be strong,” she says.
“It’s tough, too, because now when I go to Chile, I don’t feel Chilean, but I don’t feel fully Irish yet either,” she says, but she does now have quite a strong Dublin accent, and understands cultural norms and references “thanks to being friends with only Irish people, and having an Irish boyfriend”.