Caroline McKenna is the host of the podcast A County Down Under and in her 5+ years living in Australia, has built a huge community around her all centred on connection, activity and inclusivity.
We’re so excited to be joining forces with Caroline to help her get her podcast to an even bigger audience and to bring some more Make Life Richer vibes Down Under!
Learn all about Caroline below, in her own words.
My name is Caroline Mc Kenna and five years ago I took a leap of faith and moved from County Down to Australia.
I am from a small seaside town called Newcastle in Co. Down and as much as I love my home, I always had itchy feet and wanted to get out and see the world.
I was fortunate enough to travel for extended holidays in the States and Thailand as well as some short European trips, but every time I came back home, I was craving more travel!
After I graduated as a teacher in 2014 I spent time looking for work in Ireland but found it really difficult to secure anything permanent. When I was offered a job in the UK, I made the move but there was something that didn’t feel quite right about it. I was working long hours and wasn’t getting the balance that I craved. Sitting at my desk one evening around 7pm, I had had enough and that week I booked a flight to Australia.
I had never been that far from home before and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The most I knew about Australia, I had learned from watching Neighbours episodes as a kid!
When I landed down under in October of 2015, I had this instantaneous feeling of being ‘home’. Australia is completely different in some many ways to where I grew up, but there was something about this place that just felt like the right fit for me.
I started seeing things in a different way and the people around me were living this unbelievably healthy + social existence. It felt like all of Sydney was up at the crack of dawn, exercising, surfing, going to work, getting a coffee, walking the dog - doing things! They were seizing the day from the moment the sun rose. I fell in love instantly.
I was very lucky to obtain a position at a secondary school in the heart of Sydney, overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Harbour. Every morning I wake up and pinch myself, because it feels like this is a dream. My favourite part of teaching abroad is when my students introduce themselves at the start of the year and without fail, at least one student in every one of my classes will say “Miss, my parents are from Ireland.” I get so excited to meet them at the parent-teacher night and discuss how they came out here. So many came here on working holiday visas to Australia and years later, they haven’t left. The conversations with them are a wonderful mix of nostalgia for Ireland and excitement about living here.
After moving here, I struggled a lot with building my community. I love it here, but being away from home can be really isolating. I decided to start a podcast on my experiences over the past five years, where I discuss all the highs and lows of living abroad.
The podcast, A County Down Under, was a huge release for me and a platform to talk about my own mental health challenges and settling into a new country. For me, being able to discuss without judgement, my own personal battle with depression and how having my CrossFit community to go to everyday helped me.
Fitness and connection were core to my healing and I have had some amazing guests on the podcast who know that fitness and mental health go hand in hand. Your mental health needs as much time and commitment as your physical.
My listeners now span the globe from Ireland to Dubai, Canada to the UK and I’m delighted that we’re reaching so many people who are either going through these experiences in real-time, who can relate or who are just interested to hear new points of view.
I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me saying they were struggling too and were craving that sense of community.
On the back of this, I started to organise events for the Irish living in Australia to get a bit of balance back and to be surrounded by the familiar, in an unfamiliar place. Now, every Saturday, every week, all year, we gather in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth for a coffee and a swim at sunrise!
Part of this now is our Sunrise Social, where we volunteer and fundraise for partnership events like Darkness Into Light. The Sunrise Social Club symbolises a new day, a new start, regardless of how dark your day or week was, the sun will rise again tomorrow- there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I now hold monthly events too, to keep the community connected during this difficult time away from home. Sports days, mental health fundraisers, boat parties, bottomless brunches, singles night etc. It is great craic! We still love a drink but now there is a better balance in our lives abroad!
The Irish community in Australia is like nothing I have ever come across before. We are very close-knit. COVID-19 has brought us together more than ever as we cannot get home to be with our families, so we have become one another’s family. And I’m delighted to say that the community is extending beyond just our Irish ‘family’. We’re branching out into new countries with sunrise and Sunrise Social events and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us all!
This last year has made people change their attitudes, their lifestyles and it is clear that this year, people want to Make Life Richer!
I couldn’t be more proud to now be a part of the Gym+Coffee community. Their values and community are everything I stand for.
You can follow Caroline’s journey @acountydownunder or download the podcast on Spotify or Apple!