In 2019 Igor Meleshchenko was offered the chance to relocate for work to California or Ireland. Having spent years in Moscow, where he worked in IT, Igor had already discussed the possibility of moving abroad with his wife, Anna.
Anna had long wanted to visit the United States, and was excited about the adventure of living in a totally different place. But, after visiting both countries through trips organised by Igor's company, the couple opted for life in Cork city over sunny San Jose.
"I was always wanted to live in the US. I had thought of it as a type of heaven," says Anna. "But once we actually got there we realised it wasn't for us." The couple had struggled to get medication for their children during their month-long visit. "Our kids have asthma and needed new inhalers, but it wasn't possible to get them without a receipt from a medical doctor in the US. We were disregarded as just tourists."
Anna also had a friend who had spent six month in the US but was unhappy with the school system.
"What she told me about the schools, I didn't like. The process of schooling is a bit stricter, similar to what we have in Russia. We realised there were problems in the US, that it wasn't an ideal country."
The week the family spent visiting Cork was not easy either. The couple's two sons, Mike and Alex, became ill on arrival, and Anna spent most of the visit in the hotel looking after them. On the final day, once they were feeling better, the family rented a car and drove around west Cork.
"The most important thing for me was how I felt in the place, and I felt good in Ireland," says Anna. "The atmosphere felt calm and comfortable," adds Igor. "There are some practical reasons, like Ireland is closer to Russia, so we can visit our parents. But the main reason was our feelings here."
Having made their decision, the family had to put their relocation on hold because of the pandemic. They eventually arrived in Cork in September 2020, quarantining in a hotel room. While spending 14 days together in a small space was challenging, the couple agree it gave them time to breathe before officially embarking on their new life in Ireland.
"There were a lots of things we needed to resolve, like finding a house, getting a bank account, getting a PPS number, but because we were locked in the room it was kind of a break before that all started," says Igor.
Once they had moved into their home in Garryvoe, near Midleton, the couple made arrangements for their seven-year-old son, Mike, to start school. He spoke no English, but they hoped that his young age would help him pick up the language quickly.
"When I drove Mike to school that first day and left him there, it was the worst day of my life," says Igor.
"He was very nervous and scared. But then a few hours later we got a call from the principal, who was a lovely woman, and she said Mike was doing great."
The couple were similarly happy with the preschool they found for Alex. "People here are friendly and open, so you just don't have any doubts when you leave your child with them," says Anna.
However, just one month after starting school, restrictions were reimposed, and Mike transferred to home-schooling. "That was very difficult and definitely pushed him back," says Igor. "We tried to help him with adapting by talking about school and found an online tutor in Russia to help him with his homework and English."
Anna, who did not speak as much English as her husband, struggled with the home-schooling set up.
"It was difficult to understand the exercises, and there was no description of what we were supposed to do. We asked the Russian tutor for help with the homework for the things I couldn't do."
Before leaving Moscow the couple had started an online English course organised by Igor's company through AllTalk Training company in Cork, which also offered guidance about moving to Ireland. Anna relied heavily on her tutor Steve's support in the initial weeks and months in Ireland.
"Steve in my hero: he helps me very much, and I could understand him," she says. "I'm feeling better now, and I like our lessons. I think the most difficult thing is I still don't understand a lot of people."
Having previously worked in publishing, Anna set up her own business in Moscow after Alex was born, advising parents on how best to manage their time with small children. As a mother of two young boys, she specialises in supporting other mums to make the best of their time during very busy days and runs her own time-management business. In particular Steve helped her to translate her blog posts into English in order to expand her audience.
The family has settled and are comfortable in their new Irish home near the sea.
"We have a beautiful view: I can see the sea from my window," says Anna. "We see rabbits in our garden almost every day. We were in Moscow recently o visit family, and I felt that I wanted to come back to Ireland."
"Moscow is a huge city with a lot of people, cars and noise," adds Igor. "It has its own charm, but sometimes it's too noisy with too many people."
The couple say there are very happy with the primary education system in Ireland. "We worried a lot before moving here, but Steve said schools in Ireland were like a 'big hug' for the kids. And we've really found this to be true. It means a lot to us that Mike has settled into school so well."
While Igor's work contract only lasts two years, the couple hope to stay in Ireland until Mike finishes primary school. "I think this will give us enough time to properly understand Ireland. I'm happy here although I do still find the weather confusing," says Igor.
He's learned never to step outside without an umbrella. "We enjoy the weather here: it's not too cold, not too hot. And you can't get tired of the sun, since it might go away at any minute."
The couple are confident they made the correct decision in choosing Cork over California. "We can't explain it, but we just feel better here. And, looking back at the last 10 month, we know those feelings were right."
Article by Sorcha Pollak. The Irish times.