Personal Experiences of Welcome

Everyone who has moved to Northern Ireland will have been faced with different opportunities and challenges. Some people have incredibly positive transitions to life here, we also understand though that others face negativity, barriers and even racism. In this piece we have featured short interviews with Emilia and Falemaka and included a video from EMBRACE NI to highlight some of the positive and challenging experiences faced by those who move here.


Emilia and Fal:

Tell me about yourself?

Emilia: My name is Emilia, and I am a Mum of three daughters: Lucia, 12, Isabella, 8, and Camila who is 23 months old. I’ve been married for 17 years to a local.

Falemaka: I’m Falemaka Vave. I’m 21 years old and I’m an intern at Newtownbreda Baptist. I love music; both listening and playing. Also, enjoy playing rugby and various outdoor activities.

When did you move to Northern Ireland, and from what country?

Emilia: I was born in Argentina and came to Northern Ireland when I was 22 years old in 1998, to study English. I stayed for one year and fell in love with the country. In 2006 I moved here for good.

Falemaka: We are originally a family from Fiji. I moved to Northern Ireland in 2003 and went into year 7 just before first year. I moved from England, and with my dad being in the military we had previously moved around a bit.

When you arrived, what was your initial experience of life in Northern Ireland?

Emilia: My initial experience of life in N.I. was a bit of a shock. Everything was different, the weather, the culture, the language and even the food!

Falemaka: I attended boarding school in England for five years, so I didn’t really experience life here till after school. After school I initially was sad to be leaving England and all my friends, but I then became part of a Lisburn City Church who helped me get involved in church life and make friends in Northern Ireland.

Can you recall one act of welcome or kindness that meant the most to you when you arrived here? Or that makes you feel at home?

Emilia: The people make me feel at home. Everyone is so friendly, kind and pleasant. Strangers greet you with a smile in the park and say ‘hello’!

Falemaka: The one act I remember was when my best friend and I first met, and he was so welcoming. He invited me to hang out with him, and even invited me to his house and made me feel very welcome. This meant a lot to me at the time due to me just arriving back from England and not having many friends.

Since then, how have you found life here? Have you felt welcomed by both society and church?

Emilia: I have felt extremely welcome here: by my husband’s family, society and by Church. I joined The Seventh Day Adventist Church when I arrived and got baptised.

Falemaka: I have felt very welcomed by both church and society since moving here. I was able to easily fit in with my church and was able to make friends easily with not many problems or attack.

Have you experienced any difficulties or negative attitudes since you have been living here?

Emilia: It’s not easy to live in a foreign country, but I have never experienced any negative attitude.

Falemaka: I have actually not experienced any difficulties or negative attitudes since living here. I have found that in both society and church I have been very welcome

What could our society and churches do better to welcome people from other communities?

Emilia: There are many things you need when you first move to a different country, but the the one thing you need and miss the most is family and friends. It would be great if a member of the church or community is designated to be the new Friend.

Falemaka: In my own experience I have felt very welcomed to the church but I have heard of some parts of society where my friends have felt some kind of racial abuse towards which has often taken form in some kind of physical attack. This would be something that I pray would be in improved upon. There are still a lot of people out there who see the colour of my skin as a problem, who think that not being from Northern Ireland and living here as a problem. This would be the one thing I would see that would need improving.


EMBRACE NI are a group of Christians working together to promote positive responses to people seeking asylum, refugees, migrant workers and minority ethnic people in Northern Ireland. EMBRACE seeks to equip the church to fulfil its call to welcome our new neighbours, by providing information, training, materials and channels for practical help. This resource, titled; ‘Hear my voice: voices of migrants and people seeking asylum’, incorporates both the positive and negative aspects of life here.