Jennifer Bladen is the quintessential Irish woman. In fact Irish is her nickname. She has loads of character, is a walking thesaurus , has old Irish sayings that roll off her tongue and melt your heart and she talks with an special Irish lilt enough to be fully understood but one that you could close your eyes and listen to forever. Listening to her is like listening to a lullaby. She is smart and kind and genuine and helpful and will step out of her way to help a person settle in a new country with a “have you met so and so ” or you should come for ..GIn/Cofee/wine….”. She also is very good at being brave when adversity is staring her in the face and with a suck it up attitude she gets on with the job at task whether saying goodbye to her expat friends , holding court while her husband travels, whisking sick children off to seek urgent medical care or giving informed advice. She owns the stage and sweeps it too whilst making you a cuppa or during you a gin. As far as reports go she has done it more than a few times. She has lived in ireland, England , Australai and Mongolia where she pretty much stated a crew. She is a gentle soul and one I can call a friend. She repatriated to ireland for the 3rd time in as many years and is about to embark on a new life with her husbands work in Brisbane Australia. I asked her what it was like to be a repatriate and here is her interview.
Welcome to WIIYKF Jen. Many of our readers are looking at returning “home’ or have returned home and there are so many discussion groups about fitting back in and the difficulties of repatriation. Expat life is one that is celebrated by many and those with one foot in each camp like yourself are great to hear from.
Where were you born and where are you currently living?I was born in the Bronx. I now live in Ireland, which is where I grew up (north of the border). We are a family of mongrels as my husband is Australian but was born in Malaysia. Some eagle-eyed passport inspectors have gotten a bit twitchy with us over the years.
What other places have you lived? We are getting ready to relocate to Brisbane in the next few months. Most recently, we lived as a family in Mongolia on and off for a few years. Our home in now in a tiny ancient village in southern Ireland. Before that we lived in Perth, Western Australia. Our first family home was in the Irish- Australian Republic of Shepherd’s Bush, West London.
Why did you return “home” and how long have you been back? We returned to Ireland almost two years ago as part of a group of families being “rolled off” a copper mining project in Mongolia.
What are the main differences living in your home country compared to life as an expat? Ireland is famous for its fresh air, green fields and gentle climate. We really enjoy the cleanliness and good food here after living in Mongolia where there are difficulties breathing the air safely in winter (due to pollution). The expat food available in Mongolia was mostly imported and heavily processed and not very nourishing, which is concern if you have little kids. (The parents could survive on gin and tonic with lots of vitamin C from the lemons!) Also, the medical care available in Mongolia is limited and you have to go abroad for any serious conditions. At one very scary point, our Bulgarian doctor in Mongolia told us to get an aeroplane organised to airlift our son to Korea: he was very sick and they only had one more medicine available to try before they needed to get him out. Fortunately the medicine worked but it was a terrible experience. So I don’t complain about the healthcare in Ireland.
How have these changes affected you? It has been great living in Ireland, near family and with standards of living so high. But we miss the lovely Mongolian people and all our expat friends from all over the world: lots of mongrels like ourselves. We brought back a mini-“ger” (a sort of traditional felt tent or yurt that most Mongolians live in, especially in the countryside) to remind us of our travels! It will be perfect for Brisbane!
What was the easiest thing settling back in your home country? We were so happy to be back with family and our old friends. Life here is familiar and easy and Ireland is lucky to have a great culture for families. Educational standards are very high and there is lots of sport and other activities for kids.
What was the hardest thing settling in? No-one had their extended family abroad so friends became family and we miss all those people who shared the Mongolian experience with us. We are still in touch with so many people thanks to Facebook and email and we are trying to get together around New Year!
What was your favourite part of being an expatmumma? Mongolia is a very unique country and was completely fascinating. Some things don’t work very well, such as road traffic and air pollution, and that can be grinding after the initial excitement wears off. But overall we found it so interesting to understand a little bit of the Mongolian culture and history and plans for the future: it’s an exciting place for entrepreneurs and business and offers lots of opportunities for growth. Simple things like great new international-quality cafes opening (hello Rosewood!) transformed our lives in the short few years we were travelling there: initially we lived in homemade soup and imported chocolate! We always felt very welcome in Mongolia and muddled through every situation with goodwill and pidgin language.
What languages do you speak? We seem to be specialising in weird languages. The kids speak a bit of Mongolian and a bit of Irish. They now have to become fluent in Australian-English!
How many children do you have and who are they? Three kids, Dimity (9), Benedict (8) and Maggie is 6.
What do you love the most about your children? I am really enjoying their differences. Dimity loves school and makes friends easily. Ben is completely obsessed with soccer which is strange because my husband and I have no interest whatsoever. Maggie has a very strong sense of self but is very affectionate and caring.
What school do your children go to and what other schools have they attended? We go to our local primary school which is a three minute walk away! It is a little Catholic primary school and is surrounded by green fields and ancient stone walls. Dimity went to school for a while in Perth and they all did a few years in Ulaanbataar, mostly at the International School. The kids just adored that school and still talk about their teachers and friends.
What is your job? If you are lucky enough to be a lady of leisure then what are your hobbies? I am a solicitor, qualified in England. I’ve worked in London and Perth on projects all over the world. I’ve now been at home with the kids for a couple of years as my husband travels a lot for work. While I can, I’ve done lots of volunteering with local toddler groups, Scouts and sporting stuff like nursery football (soccer and Gaelic). Not much “me time” but I have some brilliant friends and we have so much fun when we do get together.
How do you live your life differently now you have the hindsight of your expat experience? Can you give examples of where you changed habits of “home” to fit your new belief system about living life and family? in Mongolia we learned as expats that, if we wanted something to happen – soccer for the kids, pilates for the parents, babysitting and helping when someone has a sick child – we had to organise it ourselves. So I have tried to keep this habit up by volunteering for the community groups that exist in my village. It’s easy to drop your kids off to these activities, but if you can put some time in yourself or your partner, your kids will get a lot more out and it can be great fun and very rewarding! I haven’t got much of a clue about soccer but I really enjoyed teaching the little ones how to kick a goal! Australians have a great drive to organise things and I am looking forward to getting involved in a new community in Brisbane.
Describe a usual day? Rush, rush, rush until school drop off, making lunches and putting on uniforms, then a few hours of time to keep the household running – cleaning, shopping, organising – and somewhere along the way a few minutes to send a few messages or have a coffee with a friend. A run in the fresh air a couple of times a week and a big night out with the girls every so often! The kids have an activity most evenings but we try to keep Friday free for play dates. Weekends are extended family gatherings, piano lessons and swimming. Not exciting but we love it.
What is the best thing about living in this place? Ireland has a fantastic lifestyle and ancient culture and I love it here. We are really looking forward to reconnecting with our Australian family and friends and lots of sunshine and swimming!
What is it you simply KHAN’t Face anymore living back in this country? It’s been very wet and cold here in 2015 so bring on the sun!!
Where would your ultimate expat posting be and why? I love the MIddle East and find the Arab culture fascinating. I worked as a nanny in Cairo for a diplomatic family and that was my first exposure to the concept of an expat life. I would love to be able to write a few words in Arabic and speak a lot more. I’d also love to live in America for a few years with the kids. They haven’t met their great-grandparents yet!