Things I’ve Learned in My First Year Abroad
A year of living in Dublin, a year of working at Amazon, a year without visiting home
The year 2020 is over, and after many days of procrastination, I finally sat down to fill in a 2020 Global Tax Questionnaire I got. Sounds like a treat, I know. So I opened the link and the first question that I got was “Do you consider Israel as your home?”
Do I consider Israel as my home?… Is home where my family and friends and previous life are or is it here, where I’m currently living?… How long am I going to live here?…
Well, the tax people only wanted to know by which country’s laws to take my money, but it shows how meaningful the passing year has been for me. So I organized my conclusions and other amusing stories into categories. I feel like I matured 5 years in the last 12 months, and this is why.
I work as a software development engineer in Amazon’s payments security. The sheer amount of things to learn when I just started was overwhelming! There is still so much I don’t know yet, but there is also so much I’ve already learned. Well, that sounds simple and easy. It wasn’t easy and I’ve dealt with the famously known imposter syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. — Wikipedia
I don’t know if you have older siblings, but it is similar to the following: Every once in a while, when I really annoyed my older brother, he used to say: “beware, the revenge will come when you least expect it”. This sentence always frightened me so much, that I ended up wishing revenge would come already.
That is sort of how the imposter syndrome feels. I would rather be exposed than keep hiding. But the exposure never comes, so I just stay anxious. It pretty much stopped once watched this YouTube video, called Software Engineer Expectations vs Reality.
Apparently many people feel like I do, and her “reality” situations resemble mine so much! The thing I relate to most is when she talks about her productivity being unknown. What did you relate to?
Another change worth mentioning is the work culture. Well, I don’t have much experience in either country, so I’ll put some data to back me up, but I arrived from a culture where the longer you stay in the office the better, and the daily 9 hours are a given. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as your face is shown.
I surely appreciate the understanding that it’s all about quality and not quantity. It’s refreshing to see that a good employee isn’t measured in the sacrifice of nights and weekends, and people are not competing who stayed up working the longest.
Working From Home
Working from home was something to get used to. The interactions with teammates are apt to become less common. This might be great for the senior developer who now has more uninterrupted time to get things done, but not for the junior who needs help but doesn’t feel comfortable calling.
I was also shy for a while, but as much as I wanted to avoid “bothering” people, I did need that help. So I called.
At some point, I realized that it can feel more comfortable to reach out if we knew each other better, and if our interactions were more than just questions answered. That’s when I came up with the idea of team coffee breaks!
So overall, work is great. I am surrounded by teammates I enjoy working with, I get challenging tasks and I feel that my work is appreciated. If it wasn’t for this job I wouldn’t have come to Dublin, and if I wasn’t pleased with it — I wouldn’t have stayed.
“A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet”
Arriving in Dublin in January, I didn’t have much time to make new friends before the COVID situation started. Luckily, I did find a few. I found people I could meet in person and talk openly with, and I am very grateful for that.
The problem is that I don’t have any Israeli friends. Many Israelis come to Ireland to work with the Israeli market, so they have Israeli colleagues, but I don’t. Combine that with months of social distancing and cancelation of every after-work activity and you’ll understand why it’s more challenging.
Something about making new friends in this era feels so unnatural, it’s just easier to give up. Sure, you can say it’s my fault because I deleted my social media, but the truth is that I quit social media because it is so isolating, so that is not my problem.
Because of all that, I told myself that Skype calls with friends back home are enough. I told myself that I don’t need Israeli friends here. The truth is — it would be nice to have some Israeli friends. It would be great to have people who understand what I face here and what I miss from there.
Also, because of all that, I appreciate the friends I do have. I am grateful for every phone call I get and every time I spend. As much as I love keeping myself busy and can swear that there aren’t enough hours in the day — I will always prioritize a talk with a friend. I appreciate every occasion where someone wanted to hear my opinion or was willing to dedicate time for me. As I concluded before — The connections that were strong enough to survive got even stronger.
Due to the worldwide pandemic, I couldn’t go home to visit. Well, technically I probably could have, but it was a risk I didn’t want to take.
First of all, I didn’t want to get infected. Second, I can’t work from abroad, and what if a flight back would get canceled suddenly? Finally, and the most important one: A total of 28 days of isolation sounds too harsh. So I stayed here.
When December arrived, I was thrilled. It was the first time I’ll celebrate Christmas! I was so excited that I finished my Christmas shopping in the first week of December.
After being so happy, I started feeling very sad. Christmas’s arrival also means Hanukkah is coming. My family is not religious, but we do celebrate Hanukkah. I miss them so much and I don’t think a European Christmas is worth more than an Israeli Hanukkah. Not that it matters what I think. I am in Europe after all.
Some would say that I had bad luck, with COVID following my relocation. Actually, I find advantages as well; If it wasn’t happening, I would’ve been giving up on so much more.
COVID moved us all online, and due to that, I can keep doing things I love, despite being in another continent: Participate in webinars, volunteer at AliceCode, and even celebrate holidays with my family! That surely brings joy, diminish the loneliness, and helps to differentiate between the days of the week ;)
After a whole year here, I can say confidently: I don’t understand Irish people. I am not talking about them walking with shorts in the freezing cold or chugging such large amounts of beer. I mean literally — I don’t understand what they say. My colleagues are cool, but if I have a handyman coming home or a phone call with the bank — I’m doomed!
And what makes it even harder? The masks. Ordering a coffee is not so peaceful anymore, because trying to participate in the small talk when between us are two masks and a transparent wall is just frustrating and awkward.
In general, be sure that most times I don’t understand 100% of the words I hear, especially the jokes. I just learned to live with it.
Well, it’s not like I’m a treat. I learned that no matter how much you want your accent to sound American, and how much you practice it — the Israeli one will come out, especially when you are tired or excited!
Another thing worth mentioning is sayings and expressions! Only when you communicate in English on a daily basis, you realize that:
a. You use them more than you’d expect.
b. Most of them cannot be directly translated.
c. It can be very awkward when you do decide to translate them.
d. Most of the time you don’t know the equivalent in English.
Despite that, it’s nice to see the progress in this area. I also find myself thinking in English. The progress that can be made in a year is impressive! :)
Here is a harsh truth: I don’t speak with indirect questions. When someone asked me “Hey, don’t you want to do X?”, I just declined politely. X is an option, but no, I don’t. I didn’t know it has an undercover meaning. It took me some time to realize it actually means “Hey, I want you to do X”.
Another cultural difference, that might come out as rude but is very common in Israel — is passionately interrupting someone in the middle of a sentence. Also, we sometimes raise our voices a bit in conversations. Well, if you ask my dad, the later is due to the distance between Israel and Ireland ;)
In my defense, I’ll say that Irish people are too nice! A good example of that is that in Israel when a bus is out of service, the sign says “out of service”. In Ireland, it says “sorry, out of service”.
One thing I still haven’t got used to is the response of “thanks a mill (million)!” for arbitrary regular things. I feel like it is devaluing the meaning of “thank you”. With that said, the Irish kindness has definitely influenced me, and this year, my amount of “sorry”, “please” and “thank you” has increased tremendously.
Lastly, I have a confession to make: I still look in both directions when I cross the street. Not because I’m so safe, but because I still haven’t got used to that whole driving-on-the-wrong-side. That was extra concerning when I rented a car. For some reason, manual gear is very popular in Europe (but not in Israel!). So, as much as I enjoyed circling in the parking lot — I quickly switched back to the passenger seat.
Chasing the sun
Three days after I arrived I was lucky enough to have a friend come to visit. We explored Ireland together and it was super fun! Being an Israeli in Europe herself, she warned me that I shouldn’t take the sun for granted. It may sound funny but she wasn’t kidding, and a few months later she tattooed a sun on her body! At the time I was sure she would be wrong and it wouldn’t be a big deal for me, but I was wrong.
The combination of social distancing and cold weather made staying at home a very natural decision. The problem is that it is not a natural act. I guess it is our human nature because not leaving the house can get quite depressing.
Since that discovery, I make sure to go out of the house every day. And if the sun is out — I don’t even think twice! You’ve got to understand, there are days where you don’t see the sun. There is some dim brightness outside that the Irish register as daylight.
I wish the sunshine also brought warmth, but it doesn’t. Now I know why people here say “it’s not too cold, it’s you who is not dressed warmly enough”. I didn’t dress warmly enough for most of my stay here, so I’ve definitely learned my lesson.
Another thing I learned is that rain isn’t supposed to stop you: not your walk home, not your rest in the park, not your run. I wear glasses, so you can understand it is something that requires getting used to.
Only while editing I noticed that I forgot that actually, in summer, the sun is out for 17 hours. Well, excuse me, there have been many cold and dark days since July.
When restaurants were open I scheduled to meet a friend before work. I gotta tell you, eating breakfast when it’s still dark out is just weird! That is SO different from the breakfast with friends I was used to!
Do you know what else is SO different?? The food! But I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Was there anything good?!
So if you are reading this — you read a bunch about the challenges I faced in the passing year. If my story distanced you from your relocation dream: Don’t let it.
Of course, good things happened as well! Don’t worry, I may not have mentioned them, but I assure you I appreciate them. The blue lakes, rivers, and quays. The adorable pigeons, seagulls, and swans in the parks. The interesting stories from all around the world, the laughs from the jokes I did understand, and so much more!
I appreciate the personal growth I achieved this year, learning how to be a better flatmate, a better teammate, and a better friend. I learned to be more responsible, learned how to cook things, and finally learned when to use “then” and when to use “than”!
Many times I found myself wondering “why did I do this to myself?”, thinking that “life back home was perfect and easy” (spoiler alert: no it wasn’t!), but I never once thought to pack my stuff and go back.
A few months ago I got a phone call from a friend whom I haven’t spoken to since arriving. I am used to been asked “how is it there?” but this was the first time I was asked if it is easy. I was surprised by the adjective she chose to use. There are many words I can use to describe my experience here, including some that might contradict each other, but the only word I would never think of using is “easy”.
Before coming here, many people were proud of me for the decision to do it, saying I was brave. The truth is — I wasn’t brave — I was just naive. I didn’t realize what I am about to face. The decision to stay, though — for that I’m proud.
In a recent interview with Taylor Swift, Jimmy Kimmel mentioned that someone on Reddit made a chart tracking the number of swear words Swift has per album and that in the last two, the ones that came out in 2020, there was a huge increase. To that, she responded:
“It just has been that kind of year, you know?”
A special thank you to every person that helped me get through this year.