Ara City Radio presenter Vanessa Phelan s a relative newcomer to the grand duchy. She talks about the challenges, and joys, of setting up life in Luxembourg.
Photo: Matic Zorman
Coming to Luxembourg was not in the plans for Vanessa Phelan or her husband, Diarmuid, until coincidences gave them food for thought.
New York native Vanessa Phelan, or Vanessa Stanley as she is known on Ara City Radio, had been living and working in Dublin for 13 years--following an ambition she had as a youngster when she visited Irish family every summer—and had just been made redundant. Diarmuid, whom she met in Dublin, had just finished his chartered accountancy exams. “We were both ready for a change but didn’t really have a plan.” But following a recruitment fair and a Skype interview, Diarmuid landed a job in Luxembourg. “It all happened very quickly and unexpectedly. So, we had to scramble to find out where and what is Luxembourg.”
Vanessa had been through Luxembourg on a bus trip from Strasbourg, where she was studying, to Amsterdam, but had little idea about the country. Indeed, the fact that French was one of the official languages was a draw for Vanessa rather than moving to a country where neither of them understood the language. “Plus, it is like going to France, without having to go to France.”
The couple did all their research on their own rather than use a relocation company. “We were clueless about where to live or finding a crèche [for daughter Grace, then just over 1].” After taking a furnished apartment for 3 months to give them breathing space and time to seek a more permanent home, they eventually settled in Belair and placed Grace in a French-speaking crèche. In September 2019, she will start pre-school classes in the Luxembourg public education system. “That will be a challenge for everyone,” says Vanessa. She has experience as a teacher at primary schools in France but helping Grace with homework in German--the language in which pupils at Luxembourg primary school are taught to read and write--will be daunting.
The couple also found it daunting finding a home--“dealing with agencies… a lot of fees, money that you don’t get back”--and even were involved in a lawsuit with their first landlord. Indeed, one of the big changes they noticed since living in Luxembourg is a lack of spontaneity. “The Irish attitude is ‘ah, sure, it’s grand’, and anything goes. Here, you have to be quite organised. If you want to go for something to eat and it’s not between 12 and 2 or 6 and 9, it can be quite difficult.”
On the other hand, they have been pleasantly surprised by the facilities for kids, the benefits for crèche and healthcare. “I say it’s one of the greatest little countries that you don’t hear anything about. It is very good not just to its citizens, but to people who come to live and work from elsewhere.”
Vanessa and her family have also taken advantage of the grand duchy’s location to take day trips to Metz and Trier, weekends away in Maastricht, Paris or and recently undertook a rather more ambitious road trip that took in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland.
She has also landed on her feet at Ara City Radio, whom she contacted on spec. She had taken a broadcasting course in Dublin and then worked on a temporary rock radio station. She was eventually invited to fill in when one of the regular presenters, Marina Lai, took maternity leave. “We have a pool of listeners that are quite vocal about their likes and dislikes and really participate in the show.”
Her advice for newcomers who may find themselves in a similar position? “Use Facebook groups to ask for advice or help. Brush up on your languages and keep an open mind--it is unlike any other place I’ve been. But don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t fit in with your ideas.”