Say hello to Aisling Smith, Cavan woman making a mark in Melbourne
Aisling Smith from Mulllahoran, Co Cavan, packed her bags and headed to Shanghai in 2010, where she met and fell in love with Shaun, an Australian man. Now living with him in Melbourne, she returned briefly to take part in TV3's The Apprentice in 2011.
She chose to head straight back to Australia after her time on the show, where she's thrown herself into the Irish community, from the chamber of commerce to the Rose of Tralee committee.
Here, she tells us what it's like to move away, the differences between Melbourne and Cavan, and what she misses from home.
1. What brought you to Australia?
I left Ireland in 2010 and moved to Shanghai with The Porterhouse Brewing Company in Dublin, who opened up a bar and restaurant at the World Expo in Shanghai. I was the Marketing and Event Manager for the venue that ran for the six months of the Expo in Shanghai. It was an amazing experience working at The World Expo, we hosted events for people from all over the world as well as for President Mary McAleese, Minister Brendan Smith, Minister Michael Martin and many other Irish ministers and delegates that attended the Expo during the 6 months.
We had performances form Duke Special, Liam O'Connor, Liam O' Maonlai, Frankie Gavin and DeDannon and as well as our own mini Riverdance ensemble that was formed and performed daily for the opening month of Expo to bring elements of Irish heritage to the Chinese.
During my time in Shanghai, I fell in love with Shaun, a young Australian man who worked in the Australian pavilion and as the Expo was drawing to a close I was lucky to have been offered a job from the directors of Think!OTS (Outside The Square) who created and built the $85 million Australian Pavilion at the Expo. They are a special events company who mainly deal with major international events such as Expos and temporary exhibition pieces. After the completion of the Shanghai Expo I moved to Melbourne with Shaun and sponsorship from Think!OTS.
We have just completed the Australian Pavilion for the International Expo that was held in Yeuso, South Korea this year and are looking forward to creating more pavilion masterpieces for the next World Expo which is being held in Milan in 2015. I have even started designing plans for an Irish pavilion for this expo, should it be something the Irish government feel they will be a part of it.
2. How does life in Melbourne compare to growing up in Cavan? Do you have any plans to come back in the future for long-term stays, or are you staying put?
Well I live in Middle Park in Melbourne which is located right beside Albert Park, (and holds the F1 Motor Racing annually), it is also one block from the beach. It's a fantastic location in Melbourne city which is Australia's capital for sport, arts and food (it actually reminds me a lot of Galway). But it is quite different to Cavan, you'd never have the Formula 1 in your front yard and the beach in your back yard in Cavan.
Melbourne weather in spring / summer is beautiful but there can be a lot of Irish weather days here, which makes it quite like home too! My boyfriend Shaun loves Ireland and he wants us to do five years in Australia and five years in Ireland and see how we go from there. I love home, and look forward to going home, but I also love being an ambassador for Ireland abroad and that is a hat that I wear with great pride while living abroad.
I think the decision to come home long term will weigh hugely on our careers and where we can see ourselves doing better, we are both in our prime and as I embark on a new career path I would like to get well established within the industry before moving anywhere.
3. What do you miss most from home?
My family and friends. I think it is hardest being away from them. I miss sitting in front of the fire with my mum and chatting, going down to the local with my dad for a pint, popping in to aunties, uncles and cousins houses for a quick visit and catching up with my girlfriends. Being in Australia is not like being in the USA, where it is very easy to fly home for an event, be it wedding or the dreaded funeral (if you are lucky enough to have a Green Card that is). Flights are cheaper and distance is shorter.
But in Australia, you are always at least 24 hours away from home. I missed our local team winning the Cavan County final last weekend, that was very hard. Especially when you see the celebrations and the joy that it brings to the parish and local community.
If there was something else I could bring over here it would have to be that community feeling that we have in rural Ireland. It is something special and very unique that we have and I hope that with the fleeting generations and way the dynamic of rural Ireland is changing, that it is not lost.
4. How did you find appearing on TV3's The Apprentice changed things for you? Has it opened any doors, or is life much the way it was?
Initially the Apprentice and my experience on the show hugely dinted my self esteem and confidence. I was a wreck after the experience. But now I look at it as another great opportunity that I had in my life. It was a challenge that I had set myself for many years prior, that I would one day make the show. And that I did, so it has thought me that if I put my mind to do something I can do it. The Apprentice was extremely different to what I thought it would be, but a challenging and rewarding experience none the less. And of course it looks great having it on the CV.
Had I stayed in Ireland it may have opened some doors but I decided to return to Australia immediately after the show. There are many doors here in Australia yet to be opened, I just need to decide which one I want to walk through.
5. How do you find the Irish community in Australia, and what groups are you involved in?
As I am relatively new here in Australia (almost two years) it has taken me a little while to become an integral part of the Irish community. By attending meetings and events, I am always engaging with new people and hearing inspiring success stories from people within the Irish community and related networks. I find it gives me great confidence in myself that it is possible to achieve great things in a country a long way from home with a lot of hard work and determination. Which are both traits we Irish have been blessed with.
I found it difficult to find the Irish community initially - as unlike New York where you have Yonkers and McLean Ave, which is the hub of the Irish community out there, the Melbourne Irish are much more spread out. But if you do enough googling you can find them!
I am involved with the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, The Rose of Tralee Festival Committee, and I am also on the organising committee for The Irish Festival that is being organised by the Immigration Museum in November.
I recently became involved in an Australian group called The League of Extraordinary Women and last week at the 125th Anniversary of The Celtic Club here in Melbourne both myself and Shaun joined up as new members. I would like to do something for Bloomsday and Shaun wants to do some Irish language classes, we will certainly be kept busy in the year ahead with events and the like.
6. You seem to be heavily involved with the Irish Chamber of Commerce. How did you discover it, and what difference has it made to you?
I joined the Irish Chamber of Commerce after I had participated in The Apprentice. I spoke to Barry Corr, the CEO of the Chamber, explained about my participation in The Apprentice and how I wanted to capitalise on the experience. I thought they could utilise me for the better of the group in order to target more young Irish people and help create awareness within the younger Irish in Melbourne.
And that we did, as an event manager I have helped in any way I could with the various events we run throughout the year and our IACC TV has been very popular, a great way to provide people with an idea of what the chamber do and the type of events we run as well as speakers at the events.
We launched a mentoring programme in February and this was another new initiative of the IACC to help the young Irish integrate into their work environments easier, to allow them access to advice from seasoned professionals in their industries that have been here for many years and started from the ground up themselves.
Because of my involvement in the mentoring programme over the year, I am now pursuing a career in TV presenting and am beginning to study Journalism and Radio. I find it hugely rewarding being part of the IACC and having the opportunity to speak to and meet these well established Irish business men and women who did it for themselves out here from the ground up. It is very inspiring.
7. Do you have any advice for young Irish people considering a move to Australia?
I would say not to expect that things are easy over here, or that everything happens in a minute. Wages are good, but living is expensive. There are good jobs to be had, but it takes a while to build yourself up within a company and it sometimes takes a while to get to where you really want to be. But with hard work and determination you can do very well out here.
I would advise people to join the IACC check them out on LinkedIn or Twitter and look out for the different events that are happening around the city. The events are great places to network and be introduced to people within your industry.
I am happy to help anyone along the path if I can and you will find that most people will. But of course if you don't like the business environment there are plenty of GAA clubs around Melbourne to join and get involved with. Best of luck with the move!
You can find Aisling on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @AislingSmithCN.