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Laois Abroad: From Portlaoise to the bright lights of Toronto

Meet Lisa Moylan!

Lisa moved to Toronto over two years ago and has been enjoying the Canadian lifestyle so far.

The Portlaoise woman spoke to us about how she made the move, funny stories about her travels and what she has learnt most since leaving Ireland.

She really sells the Toronto life well!

When did you move away?

July 2017.

How did you end up in Toronto?

I knew I wanted to move away somewhere. I considered Australia briefly but I don’t deal well with extreme heat or bugs! A close friend of mine moved to Toronto in 2014.

While he was here and I was in Ireland, we spoke in depth about what it was like to immigrate and what it was like in Toronto. It was really helpful because he didn’t sugar coat anything. He didn’t skip on telling me all the challenges that he had faced which, in a way, was comforting.

He told me about all Toronto had to offer and with all my own extensive research it became a no-brainer. When I had finally decided to take the plunge and apply for a Canadian visa, my friend was quick to offer any help that I needed. Immigration is hard but it really made a big difference to have even just one friendly face in this huge city.

What’s the best thing about living in Toronto?

Oh, so many things! There is always something to do here, it’s impossible to be bored. So many festivals take place here, even in the dead of winter.

There’s so much opportunity to expand on or learn new hobbies. There’s clubs and classes for almost everything. With almost 3 million people populating this city from all over the world and so many ways to network, you can easily meet some new and interesting people.

Toronto is also the best of both worlds, a bustling city with high rise buildings but also has some of the most amazing parks and nature trails I’ve ever seen.

Plus, being right on the edge of Lake Ontario, Toronto has many beaches and view of a lake so large it looks like the ocean.

It’s wonderful to know that if I ever get tired of the city world, it won’t take me long to escape to a more natural scene. There’s also the Toronto Islands that are a 10-minute ferry ride away. You have an amazing view of the city’s skyline and the islands are just so cute!

There are loads of winding paths, adorable houses, beaches, parks and some cafes it’s hard to believe that it’s still Toronto. The city has such an exuberant personality. It’s divided into neighbourhoods that are all unique.

You could be in Chinatown, take a twenty-minute walk in one direction and end up in Little Italy. Everything is so accessible too with streetcars, buses and the subway running all over the city.

There are restaurants from every corner of the earth so you can easily expand your palette (which I have done immensely) and never be stuck for something to eat. I’m obsessed with live music concerts and have seen some of the biggest bands in the world here in some unbelievable venues.

There are also countless local bands, there isn’t a day of the week that doesn’t have a show. Toronto truly has everything I’ve ever dreamed of. It excites me all the time and I still have more exploring to do.

Have you visited Laois much since you left?

In the two and a half years that I’ve been here I’ve only visited home once. Flights can be costly and whenever I had time off from work, I was excited to explore Canada and even took a couple of trips to New York (which is only an 8-hour drive from Toronto).

I wanted to have a decent chunk of time while at home to visit everyone and treat it as a holiday and relax.

When I did go home, it was for almost two weeks which was definitely needed! I had so many people to see and a little bucket list of places I wanted to visit (plus it took me a while to recover from jet lag!)

What have you learned most since leaving Ireland?

I guess I’ve learned a great deal about myself. In Ireland, I wasn’t really pushed to do anything. I had the same job for six years; I had the same routine and there was little opportunity to do something new.

Genuinely, I felt I was doomed to be the same Lisa every day, or month or year. I struggled immensely to find purpose and figure out what I wanted or even what I actually liked. I had no idea what I was capable of. In 2016, I spent six months in China teaching English to primary school students and boy, was that an eye opener!

When I came back, I knew this is what I had to do in order to figure Lisa out; scare myself silly! My move to China and Canada were both extremely scary but for many different reasons. In China, my training, my job, apartment and roommate were all arranged for me.

In Toronto, I landed and…..I had to figure out everything! At home, whenever I thought about doing something like this, my brain would say “that’s so scary, so much can go wrong, you can’t do this”, but because I just went ahead and planted myself in that situation, it became much clearer just how much strength I actually had. My first year in Toronto was definitely extremely difficult.

Not everything fell into place and it really took a lot energy, persistence, discipline and positivity to get where I am.

These are qualities I never knew I had as at home I felt that I had nothing to work up to, I was just coasting along. To be honest, I think what I’ve learned the most is to not be so hard on myself and that being able to rely on myself was an extremely powerful asset.

I learned to not see an obstacle and think “you can’t do that” or when I fail at something, to not beat myself up about it. To not see it as failing either, to look at it as a minor set back and come up with solutions to move forward. I’ve learned to have a different perspective on things.

In Ireland, I was painfully consumed by anxiety and mentally punished myself for every little thing. While I don’t believe my anxiety could ever completely go away, I have a much better handle on it and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Throughout the couple of years, I had support from friends and family during times of struggle which was much needed but ultimately, it was down to me to push forward. I have always thought of myself as ‘weak’ but reflecting on everything I’ve been through I don’t believe that anymore and I think that’s pretty incredible.

What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you on your travels?

Oooh, this is difficult to answer because a lot of weird things has happened since coming here, it’s hard to think of just one.

Actually, funnily enough, and this happened a couple of months ago; I was in a tiny bar a few minutes walk from my apartment with my friend. It’s not a particularly popular or well-known bar and it wouldn’t be in what’s described as “downtown”.

I had just walked out and this man passed me and I did a double take. It was Portlaoise’s own Robert Sheehan! It’s so funny because being from Portlaoise myself, and seeing so many people I know just meeting him in Portlaoise town, I end up meeting him in Toronto. We chatted for a bit and I got a picture with him before he left in fancy car.

He lives here while he’s filming The Umbrella Academy and as TINY as Portlaoise is in comparison to Toronto it’s just hilarious to bump into him here and not there.

There was another time, while I was living at my first apartment, on the corner of the street is this really pretty Italian restaurant that I’ve always admired.

I walked past it everyday to get home and one day I was walking past and caught this incredible shot of blue eyes and immediately thought ‘hey, that’s just like Alexis Bledel!” (Gilmore Girls, Sin City, Handmaid’s Tale) and sure enough it was!

I grew up watching Gilmore Girls and always loved her, it was just crazy to see her half a minute from where I lived in a restaurant I’ve been dying to go to. Timing is a funny thing.

Do you meet many people from Ireland or Laois where you’re living now?

I have met so many Irish people here, one of which from Portarlington! The Irish are everywhere! I like having a touch of home in this massive city.

I’ve had numerous jobs here and in most of them, I’ve had a handful (if not more) of Irish colleagues. There’s a Facebook group called “Irish and New in Toronto” which is exactly as it says, a community of Irish people within Toronto helping each other out.

It’s heartwarming to see just how much we look out for each other. I’ve reached out to this group a few times when I needed a job or a place to stay or even just looking for recommendations.

I lived with three Irish girls for a few weeks when I first moved here because I had reached out to that group and hadn’t secured an apartment yet. My first Christmas here, one of the Irish pubs (run by a family from Cork), were serving free Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. It was amazing.

The pub was PACKED with Irish people and you can easily get chatting to people and swap stories.

During the summer there’s an Irish meet up party in one of downtown parks. Dozens of people showed up wearing green, bringing Ireland flags and just up for the craic! It was like Paddy’s day in summer. The Irish community is very strong here you’re always bound to run into someone.

What do you miss most about Ireland?

FOOD. Everything dairy is far superior. I miss things like Galaxy chocolate, Avonmore milk and Dubliner cheese to name but a few.

Rashers are a thing that I urge you all not to take for granted and don’t EVEN get me started on deli sausage rolls! I brought back so much snacks when I visited home over the summer.

My suitcase was full of sweets and Pennys’ goodies. Every year my parents have sent me over a box of Ready Brek; there’s nothing like that here. Ireland’s food is truly spectacular and I never stop talking about it.

Also, Drumstick Squashies came out when I moved here and they are nothing short of miraculous (in my humble opinion).

Will you return to live in Laois at some point in the future?

Very unlikely! I know I’d feel very claustrophobic if I lived in Laois again. It never suited me. It never felt like home. I spent one week in Toronto and was filled with an energy I never knew I had in me.

I’m currently waiting for Permanent Residency to come through. I moved here on a two-year visa that expired in July 2019. I have a new visa now while I wait for Permanent Residency which would mean that I can live in Canada indefinitely.

I am still interested in travelling but I’d always want to be able to come back here. I’ve built a life completely from scratch over the two years, I’m not even close to wanting to let that go.

After five years of Permanent Residency I can apply for citizenship which would mean I’d have an Irish and Canadian passport, so that’s very exciting! I’m not sure what I’d do if I lived in Laois again.

Jobs aren’t exactly plentiful (at least when I lived there) and I found it impossible to meet new people. Also, I really don’t appreciate the Irish weather.

Granted, we can get a lot of snow here, the summers and even autumns are pretty incredible for long, warm days. It doesn’t rain much here either. I definitely prefer three months of snowy, (sometimes brutally cold) winter here over year-round rainy Ireland.

SEE ALSO – Laois Abroad: From the green fields of Killenard to Bondi Beach