Irish Women In Business: Sinead Muldoon, Home From Home Ireland 7 years ago

Irish Women In Business: Sinead Muldoon, Home From Home Ireland

Sinead Muldoon from Galway lives in Tuam, Co. Galway with her husband Martin and the couple have turned their rural setting into a burgeoning business.

After her childcare business fell victim to the recession, Sinead considered several options for making a living from the land and decided to set up Home From Home Ireland, welcoming international students to the area for cultural exchange.

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She and Martin are also now the Irish head team for international company Aventuro and organise exchanges between Ireland, France, Spain and Germany.

How did you originally get into your current sector?

Leaving school at 18, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. I was in awe of my older sister Michele and followed her lead into the Hotel and Tourism sector. I studied my way from a CERT course in GMIT to a BA Hons Degree in Hotel and Tourism from the University of Ulster.

I had my daughter Saoirse in the middle of this process, which slowed me down slightly. But with my mother’s encouragement, didn’t stop me from fulfilling my educational goals.

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Raising Saoirse as a lone parent wasn’t suited to my chosen career due to the hours required so on returning to Galway after my studies in Co. Derry, I became involved in childcare. I returned to college at night, gained my relevant childcare qualifications and started my own business in preschool and afterschool as Gaeilge.  Mol an Oige was expanded to a second service after one year and the two businesses were successful until the downturn in the economy in 2009.

On moving to the countryside from the city in 2009, I was determined to start something new in our new location. I considered lots of things from organic farming, a pet farm, an outdoor play area for teens etc. Our new business is something my family had been doing for three generations.

A combination of the tourism and childcare led to Home from Home Ireland. I decided to set up our business but make the experience epic for the international kids coming here to learn English! I wanted them to see the very best Ireland has to offer, being safe and loved while away from their family and friends.

Why did you decide to set up your own company?

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I wanted to create a business that the entire family would benefit from. My children are my world. I have seen my younger cousins and my older cousins’ children all leave Donegal and go to London, America and Australia. I do not want my children to leave Ireland once they are educated and not to come home again, except for Christmas and summer holidays. I want my children to leave Ireland and travel because they want too, but I want to provide them with choices.

They can choose to come home and we will have a business here to provide them with an income to raise a family here. I do not see the Government providing this stability so I knew it was up to us to provide a sustainable, finically viable and really enjoyable business for the Muldoon family. It’s so much fun as my family gets to take the students on trips and really great fun-filled activities along the west coast.

My latest additional service came via European marketing. I was introduced to an international team of amazing women from France, Spain and Germany that work together as Aventuro.org. This is a reciprocal exchange programme for international families to exchange children for up to six months for a cultural and linguistic exchange.

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What were your goals when you set up your business?

Simple, my main goals were primarily to create something special for our family’s future, create an income to live off and have an excellent service. Word of mouth is crucial so we need to insure all aspects of the experience for the students are of great quality. I wanted a future for my children and to expand the farm in a viable manner.

What sets your company apart from its competitors?

We are home grown, local, Irish and family run. I feel what makes us different is that we care. We genuinely care for all the children that come through our company. I personally train all our host families each year, thus ensuring that all our students are looked after very well.

I think the fact that we sent our daughter at 16 to France for the school year and I was an exchange child at 15 also to France helps us identify with the parents and the students. We know their fears and can address them, and help reassure them safety is paramount with us.

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We take all our students on amazing trips each month, from climbing Diamond Hill in Connemara by night, to cliff jumping and cave exploding of the Wild Atlantic Way! We ensure they experience Irish culture and some traditional farming while they are here with us.

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What are the biggest challenges that you have faced?

The biggest challenge, I suppose, is trying to market ourselves internationally. We are a small fish in a really big sea! However, I believe in hard work combined with positive thinking, the law of attraction and paying it forward. So far, this is working. Our website is our shop window so we need to keep on top of this and social media marketing, which is ongoing learning.

Another challenge is the difference between the cultures, although we do prepare our International students that life in Ireland is different, we often encounter problems. Parenting has changed so much over the past decade or two and nannies are very popular in Europe. We often have difficulties in settling the children into our society but once they settle in, they love the interaction, endless cups of tea and feelings of belonging in the family at home etc.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?

I have many! I love when my students are leaving. You take a moment to remember the shy introvert child that arrived and you see a bubbly, self-confident, independent half-Irish child going home. It’s a great feeling.

We had a lovely group here for the summer camp last summer and went to the local bog. No one left the bog until everyone had been thrown into the ditches and was black from head to toe. We walked home and the French boys started to sing a song I had thought them in class. I remember looking over my shoulder as the whole group joined in for the chorus of The Fields Of Athenry. That was definitely the most memorable to date, to hear them singing their hearts out to a song I had taught them, that they understood the history of, young love, torn apart in times of war in our country. It was amazing. I had a grin from ear to ear and shed a little tear of ultimate happiness. We had done it! We had made something so truly special and unique and it was ours!

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Do you think that women face additional challenges in business or has this ever been an issue for you?

I think that the challenges for women are family related. I have not had any issues with barriers networking or pushing myself forward professionally.

I personally find the work-life-family balance difficult. I find it difficult to juggle it all. I have recently put an office in another house on the farm so I can concentrate better but I often have the two boys with me, watching the Ninja Turtles on TV or drawing on the floor while I’m working. I feel emotionally conflicted having them in full time day care. I would prefer to have them home with me with an au pair here to help.

What is your favourite/least favourite part of your job?

I love going to the airport in Dublin collecting groups of students. I am so proud in the arrivals hall, knowing that all my work and preparation is bringing these children on an adventure to Ireland. I am contributing to the Irish economy and recovery; we are making a real difference.

My least favourite part of the job is when we have an unsuitable candidate, when a child comes over and rebels against the programme, finds faults where there are none. This is beyond our control and I understand that, but I feel terrible for the loss of such an amazing opportunity.

What do you hope to achieve with your career in the future?

I would love to see HFHI grow to 30 students each week on my summer camp, maybe 50 on the immersion programme and possibly 50 on the high school programme. That would be excellent. I would not like to grow any bigger as I want to keep the personal touch.

I would love to see Aventuro.org in every school in Ireland! I intend to go national with this and I am bubbling with excitement to be bringing this opportunity to Irish families at such affordable rates. It is an amazing way of introducing travel, adventure, culture and language to children in such a safe nurturing manner.

What piece of advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in a similar career path?

Have relevant experience in the area and have a good support system in place. Believe in yourself, try and stay positive and keep moving forward! You need to be very confident of your product and service. These are children we are dealing with and safety is paramount so you need to be organised and on top of your game 24/7.

For more information, call Sinead Muldoon on 087-1238576 or email sinead@aventuro.org.